An Explication of “The Day Came Slow Till Five O’Clock”
Katie Nichols Dr. Tyrer ENGL 3380 10/24/11 Explication of Emily Dickinson’s “The Day Came Slow till Five o’Clock” This poem, written by Emily Dickinson, explores the theme of nature and its relationship to a sunrise coming over a hill. The poem describes the appearance of a sunrise as a female guest in a large house is watching it from her window. The poet describes the unique splendor of watching a sunrise mixed with the sounds of a war battle.
The speaker seems to be speaking from an observant standpoint, perhaps from above or below, and has no role in the poem, except as a narrator. The speaker feels compelled to speak at this particular time because watching the sunset at this particular time seems to be significant to the woman. The poem is sixteen lines, written in Iambic Tetrameter, and follows the abcbdefeghihjklk rhyme scheme. The poet starts the first stanza by using references to jewels to describe the appearance of the sunrise as it comes over a hill.
She first describes the colors as “rubies” (3) and later, “topaz” (7). In the same stanza, after describing the sunrise, the poet mentions that “A sudden musket spills” (4), there is no mention of a year or an era, but the sound of a gunshot from a musket could symbolize that there is a war going on, and since the color of the sky is first described as “ruby”, it is safe to assume that blood may have spilled. The use of the rubies to describe both the colors of the sunrise and the notion of war is what makes the poem powerful in terms of the comparison between the two.
The reference to topaz could refer to the calmness surrounding the gunfire or the light at the end of the tunnel, as well as the other colors in the scene. The poet continues to describe the sunrise in the next stanza, but in darker terms, stating that “The purple could not keep the east” (5), and “The sunrise shook from fold” (6). Given that it is implied in the first stanza that a war is going on, the sunrise shaking “from fold” (6) may symbolize the sound of the gunshots and the sky appearing to shake from impact.
Also in this stanza, the poet mentions that “the lady just unrolled” (8). Unrolled can be defined as either to become unwound, uncoiled, opened up, or to disclose something gradually and smoothly. From the context of the first stanza and the beginning of the second, saying that the lady “unrolled” implies that she may be coming undone, whether from panic, sadness, or the notion that she could possibly lose her life. In the third stanza, the poet writes that “The happy winds their timbrels took” (9), a timbrel is described in biblical terms as a tambourine or a small hand drum.
In this case it is a drum, which implies that this poem takes place in the 1700’s, during the American Revolution, when soldiers used drums to announce their presence. The poet also describes the behavior of a group of birds outside, describing how they “Arranged themselves around their prince” (11) and that “the wind is prince of those” (12). These two lines explain how the birds flew away in sync with each other, possibly from the sound of gunshots below them. The birds could also represent the poet’s previous notion of safety fluttering away from her in a matter of seconds, as the gunshots become louder.
In the fourth and final stanza of “The Day was Slow”, the orchard outside is said to have “sparkled like a Jew” (13). The word “Jew” refers to a person adorned with jewelry, and if the poet comments that the orchards “sparkled like a Jew” (13), it is only prudent to refer back to the first stanza, where topaz and rubies are used to describe the colors of the sunrise. It is safe to say that the orchard may have been sparkling like a ruby, implying that blood had already been spilled on the property.
The last three lines of the poem are as follows: “How mighty’t was to stay,” (14) “A guest in this stupendous place,” (15) “The parlor of the day! ” (16). These last three lines are a celebration of the poet’s stay, but they also have sort of a “famous last words” air about them. The last stanza could be interpreted two different ways; either the poet is about to flee from that place, or the poet will die at that place. Either way, in declaring “how mighty’t was to stay, a guest in this stupendous place” (14-15), the poet is finalizing her opinion of the place, in all its splendor, and by calling it “the parlor of the day! (16), she is explaining that this is only morning, the sun just rose, and there is much more to be said about the hours to come, and whether they will reflect rubies or topaz, death or life. Referring to the setting as a parlor also indicates that there may be religious undertones in this poem, although they are not present until the last stanza, and that the place the poet is speaking from is a parlor to heaven, implying that life on earth only foreshadows life after death, instead of determining it.
Emily Dickinson often used imagery in her poems to deepen their meaning, leaving room for her readers to interpret them however they please. Regardless of the true meaning of the poem, and when and why it was written, Emily Dickinson certainly impacts her readers to this very day with the eloquence and poise she displays in her poetry. “The Day Came Slow” is a mixture of happiness and adoration, disputed by the notion of death that the gunshots so readily bring forth in the poet.
Dickinson often placed religious undertones in her poems, and this is no different. This poem contains many different meanings, and Dickinson may have been using this as a reminder that there is life after death, and that a human’s time on earth is only the beginning. Works Cited Dickinson, Emily. The Day Came Slow till Five o’clock. All Poetry Online. N. D. http://allpoetry. com/poem/8441323-The_Day_Came_Slow-by-Emily_Dickinson. 23 Oct 2011. Web