The parlor of the day

The day came slow, till five o’clock,
Then sprang before the hills
Like hindered rubies, or the light
A sudden musket spills.


The purple could not keep the east,
The sunrise shook from fold,
Like breadths of topaz, packed a night,
The lady just unrolled.


The happy winds their timbrels took;
The birds, in docile rows,
Arranged themselves around their prince
(The wind is prince of those).


The orchard sparkled like a Jew,—
How mighty ’t was, to stay
A guest in this stupendous place,
The parlor of the day!

~Emily Dickinson

First impressions: Oooh, colors! Imagery! This is good. Oh, wait, casual anti-Semitism. Ick.

Second-read impressions: I love all the color imagery. Sometimes Dickinson seems to be painting with words in an impressionistic sort of way, splashing them across the page for their affect as much as their precise meaning. “The sunrise shook from fold”–how do we read this? It seems meant to be felt as much as understood. Is it a sheep fold? or a fold of cloth? Regardless, we feel the essence of what she is getting at–something once contained, now freed.

And then there’s “The lady.” Rhythmically, this could just as easily be “A lady,” but Dickinson is specific. Which lady? Are we supposed to know this? Intuit it? Either way, the kernel of sense is clear.

And how do the birds arrange themselves “in docile rows” around the wind? Long experience observing chickens has taught me that birds + wind does not in any way equal anything remotely like “docile.” Again, it’s the feeling rather than the meaning that matters here.

We are always guests in the morning. We cannot remain in it, much as we might like to. It moves on–or we move on. One way or the other, our sojourn there cannot last.

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