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A day || Emily Dickenson || Compulsory English Grade 12


A day || Emily Dickenson || Compulsory English Grade 12

Compulsory English

Grade 12




A Day

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson

Before Reading

Answer the following questions:

a) What kind of day do you like: rainy, sunny, or foggy? Why?

Ans:-  Despite every day begins with the rising of the sun in the East. But because of weather climate and season every day is different to other days. It can be rainy, sunny, windy, dusty, misty, cloudy or foggy. The sunny days are my best days. It looks beautiful in sunny days. We can go to everywhere without any trouble and take photos in beautiful sunny days.


b) How does the sun tell us about the different stages of a day?

Ans:- From the dawn to the dusk, there are different stages on a single day. The arrival and the departure of the sun bides goodbye to the dawn and to the dusk respectively. The warmth and temperature of the sun make us feel the different stages of a day. The tempeature gets gradually increasing in the morning, goes into climax in the afternoon and gradually fades aways in the evening, same happens to its brightness, of which we know the different stages of a day.

About the Poet:

v Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886), is an American Writer, born in Amherst, Massachusetts, USA

v  Little-known during her life, but regarded as one of the most important, prolific, best known sensitive lyrical poetess,

v  Has written more than 1800 poems, 10 were published during her life time and the rests were published posthumously,

v  Famous for idiosyncratic/peculiar structures, short lined, quatrain, unconventional capitalization,

v   Influenced by English metaphysical poets (17th Century)

v  Her themes are: love, death, isolation, nature, immortality, god, love, death etc.

v  Her poems are rich in metaphorical languages (images, metaphor, simile)


About the Poem:

v This poem "A Day" describes the rising and setting of the sun in surface level, but in the philosophical level, as a metaphysical poem, it talks about birth, journey of life and death,

v Metaphysical poems are philosophical poem in which conceits are used to make a forceful comparison,

v This poem also talks about transition from birth to death,

v The poem is composed in four quatrains,


Literary devices used in this poem

·        Symbolism: Rise and set of the sun symbolize the transition from life to death. With each stanza, the poet infers the human behaviors associated with life and death, finally implying what waits after death from her religious perspective.

  • Metaphor:
    • In stanza 1, line 2, she calls sunrays “ribbons”.
    • In stanza 3, line 3,  sunrays as “Yellow boys and girls”
    • In stanza 4, line 2, the “Dominie in gray” represents “God” or a religious figure; “flock” refers to humans.
    • In stanza 4, Line 3, “evening bars”, is a metaphor for the end of a day, or the end of life.
  • Simile: In stanza 1, line 4, where the “news” of sunrise spreads at the speed of a squirrel’s run.
  • Personification: In stanza 1, line 3, where “Steeples”, like human beings, swim; in stanza 2, line 2, where “hills” remove their “bonnets” in the same fashion as women.
  • Alliteration: Alliteration appears in stanza 1, line 3, with the repetition of the “s” sound; also in stanza 2, line 2, where the “b” sound is prevalent.



The speaker of the poem is confidently describing how the sun raises, the situation after the Sun rises, and setting of the sun. In the beginning, when the Sun rises, the ribbon like rays falls on the steeple of the church changing the color into amethyst. The news of Sun rise spreads as quickly as the Squirrels can run. The dark hills are uncovered in the Sun light and a small American bird bobolink starts singing in the beautiful morning. The warmth of the Sun makes everything and every creature happy and pleasant. The speaker talks to self to be confirmed about the Sun rise with beautiful and magical rays. The beautiful landscape, clean and shiny hills, singing og bobolink confirms the rising of the sun. The speaker is less confident describing the Sunset because of lack of confident. This speaker tells of the purpling of the sky as the sun sets until the sky turns completely dark. The boys and girls look yellow and they return back to their shelter. The caretaker/father in grey clothes waits the children to take back. He lets the children enter into the gate letting other flocks go into their houes.


Stanza One

I’ll tell you how the Sun rose –

A Ribbon at a time –

The Steeples swam in Amethyst –

The news, like Squirrels, ran –


Beginning- narrating how the sun rises,

Sun’s rays compared with ribbons (metaphor)

The rays of sun change the steeples amethyst (pale purple) in color

The news of the Sun rise travels as fast as squirrels run,

Sunrise suggests the beginning of a life (birth)


The poem begins with the speaker narrating to us readers how the sun rises. The persona refers to the sun’s rays as “ribbons”.  The layering of these “ribbons” is a gradual process. But the significance of the eventual sunrise isn’t lost on the world. “The news…” of this phenomenon travels fast. The eagerness of the child speaker to talk about sunrise portrays his/her innocent view of the world. This persona cares for the seemingly insignificant things, thus telling readers it’s okay to pause and appreciate the “normal” changes in nature. Like the sunrise. In a metaphorical sense, this stanza also hints at the excitement stemming from the beginning of life (childbirth). Additionally, we glimpse Emily Dickinson’s religious background with the mention of “Steeples”, a part of a church building.


Stanza Two

The Hills untied their Bonnets –

The Bobolinks – begun –

Then I said softly to myself –

‘That must have been the Sun!’

Tells us about the phenomena after the sun rises,

Illuninates the hills/mountains

Bobolinks begin to sing

The confirmation of the sun rise,


This stanza describes the events which occur due to sunrise. The sun illuminates the top of “Hills” and “Bobolinks” (a species of blackbirds) begins to sing. This stanza highlights similarly natural occurrences that seem to respond to the sun rising. It once again focuses on the beauty of nature around us, thus encouraging readers to be more appreciative of them. The speaker’s awe is apparent in this stanza when he/she exclaims, “That must have been the Sun!” This particular line confirms our speaker is a child, as no adult would need much description to recognize the sun or its rising.


Stanza Three

But how he set – I know not –

There seemed a purple stile

Which little Yellow boys and girls

Were climbing all the while –


In this stanza, the subject matter drifts from sunrise to sunset, and the speaker’s tone from excited to reserve. The child’s confidence wanes since he/she doesn’t know much about sunset. Yet, the persona describes the little they can, more sober than excited. This stanza is more symbolic than literal, as Dickinson uses it to show the transition from life to death. On a metaphorical level, ‘A Day‘ tells readers how little any living being knows about death. Like the child speaker, humans prefer to talk about more exciting things, and so reserve their thoughts on the dreadful subject. On the other hand, the literal imagery in this stanza presents the rising sun moving from the East to set in the Wes


Stanza Four

Till when they reached the other side,

A Dominie in Gray –

Put gently up the evening Bars –

And led the flock away –


In the final stanza of ‘A Day‘, Emily Dickinson’s faith comes to light. This dominantly symbolic stanza uses Christian references like “flock” and “Dominie in gray” to show the poet’s own view about death. Where a “Dominie in gray” means “God”, and “flock” means human beings, Dickinson believes God leads human beings wherever after they die. On the other hand, the stanza literally ushers in the evening when the sun finally sets. Due to the inactivity of the time, the speaker’s excitement, at this point, is non-existent. Hence, ‘A Day ends on a sober note.



Dickinson’s poem explores the beauty of nature from the phenomena of sunrise and sunset. Digging deeper, the poet also examines life, death, and the transition between the two in ‘A Day.’ Another theme is spirituality: a common one among Dickinson’s poems. With references to the “Dominie in gray” and “flock”, Dickinson reveals her Christian faith and the belief that God awaits humans at the end of their lives.


Understanding the Text:

a. How does the poet describe the morning sun in the first stanza?

Ans:-  In the first stanza of this poem, the speaker/poet describes the rising sun in the early morning. The first beautiful golden rays of the sun extend like ribbons around it. It makes everything bright and visible. It changes the color of the steeple into amethyst.


b. What does the line "The news like Squirrels ran" mean?

Ans:-  The line "The news like Squirrels ran" in the first stanza means that the news of the rising of the sun along with the casting its rays spreads as fast as squirrels run. The news of the arrival of the sun in the horizon is compared with the quick running of the squirrels using the word "like".  


c. What do you understand by the line "The hills untied their bonnets"?

Ans:- Before the sun rises, the hills are sunk in the bonnet of darkness. After the sun rises all the hills look beautiful in fine green color. The hills throw away their bonnets when they are touched by the first rays of the sunlight. The hills are personified in this line as they untie their bonnets like women.


d. Is the speaker watching the morning sun? Why? Why not?

Ans:- Yes, the speaker is obviously watching the rising sun. The speaker is observing the change in color of the steeple into amethyst, untied bonnets of the hills, is listening to the singing of the beautiful bobolinks and all these events confirm that the speaker is watching the morning sun. 


e. How does the sun set?

Ans:- Actually the speaker is unknown to the setting sun. She doesn't know where the sun goes after its sets. The purple and yellow colors indicate the setting of the sun, but she doesn't know what happens after it because of the lack of knowledge about the sun set.


Reference to the Context:

a. What, according to the speaker, is a day?

Ans:- A Day" by the speaker is about the simplicity of life's ordinary things through his/her innocent eyes.


b. What purpose does the hyphen in the first line serve in the poem?

Ans:- A hyphen (-) is a punctual mark used in writings to join works or parts of words. In poetry, a hyphen is used to show pause. Emily Dickenson uses punctuation marks in her poem in an innovative way. She uses hyphens if she doesn't find the suitable words to express deep emotions, for granting reader to imagine and complete the missing words and to show the power of silence in front of certain situations. It is also used to give a sudden emphasis.


c. What make the poem lyrical and sonorous? Discuss.

Ans:- The poem "A Day" by Emily Dickenson is both lyrical and sonorous poem. The poem is a lyrical poem in a sense that it expresses personal feeling or emotions in the first person narration. The first pronoun "I" used in lyrical poems indicates the poetic persona. This poem is very short and the poetess is expressing her personal experience of observing sunrise. Sonorous means full of sound and rich in verse or language. There several things that makes a poem musical and melodious. Sound devices alliteration, assonance, rhyme and rhythm make a poem musical.   


d. Who are the target audiences of the speaker? Why?

Ans:- The audience is the target people whom a writer writes or composes any poem. In the poem the world is seen through the eyes of an innocent child. It looks beautiful and miraculous but mysterious at the end. The speaker is narrating the sunrise as the first line says "I'll tell you how the sun rose." From this perspective we can say that the target audiences are those fellow children who have missed to observe this beautiful sun rise as they awake late in the morning. When we analyze the poem in a philosophical way, the entire humankinds are also the target audience. The beautiful sunrise indicates the beginning of a life, the activities of the entire day is a journey of life and the setting of the sun is death.  


e. The poet seems to describe a day for children? How would the adult people respond to this poem? Discuss this poem with your parents/guardians and write the answer based on their responses.

Ans:- Literally the poem "A Day" describes the sunrise, phenomena after sunrise and sunset. But in philosophical sense the poem talks about the transition from a life to death. The poem tells us about the excitement from the beginning of a life and, squirrel running like life and mysterious ending of a life. 



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