A Day_Summary, Analysis and Question Answers | Grade 12: English_Section II: Literature | Unit 2 Poems

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Grade 12: English

Section Two: Literature

Unit 2: Poems

Lesson 1. 'A Day' by Emily Dickinson.

Introduction

One of the most eminent American poets from the nineteenth century, Emily Dickinson’s (1830-1886) poetry was heavily influenced by the Metaphysical poets of seventeenth-century England, as well as her reading of the Book of Revelation and her upbringing in a Puritan New England town. These upbringings inculcated in her Calvinist, orthodox, and conservative approach to Christianity. Dickinson and Walt Whitman are considered the founders of a uniquely American poetic voice. While Dickinson was extremely prolific as a poet with her regularly enclosed poems in letters to friends, she was not publicly recognized during her lifetime. However, she has been steadily gaining popularity through her posthumously published poems. In her poem “A Day”, Dickinson, through the use of brilliant imageries and symbols, describes a beautiful day that leads the children from innocence to experience.

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Summary and thematic analysis of the poem "A Day" by Emily Dickinson.

In her poem “A Day”, Dickinson, through the use of brilliant imageries and symbols, describes a beautiful day that leads the children from innocence to experience. In other words, Dickinson describes the rising (innocence, beginning, life)) and setting (experience, death) of the sun on a literal level while juxtaposing life and death.

The poem begins with the persona—an unnamed child—confidently describing how the sun rises, and the events that follow this phenomenon. This speaker shows excitement on sighting birds, hills, and the rising sun itself, thus portraying the child’s innocence regarding his/her view of the world. He/she only sees the beauty of life. Coming to the metaphorical meaning, the opening stanzas of the poem show the hustle and bustle that comes with living. 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.

The second 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.

In the third stanza, the subject matter drifts from sunrise to sunset, and the speaker’s tone from excitement to reserve. The child’s confidence wanes (fades) 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 West.

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. In other words, the stanza literally ushers (guides) 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.

'Speaker or Persona' in the poem "A Day" by Emily Dickinson.

The speaker, or persona, in Dickinson’s poem is an unnamed child. He/she begins the poem as if responding to a question. The persona is confident and excited talking about sunrise. However, that confidence wanes when the child describes sunset. Regardless, this speaker’s diction and inherent innocence urge readers to appreciate the beauty of nature.

'Themes' of the poem "A Day" by Emily Dickinson.

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.

'Tone and Mood' of the poem "A Day" by Emily Dickinson.

The speaker’s tone is confident for the first two stanzas of ‘A Day.’ This stems from his/her sufficient knowledge about sunrise. He/she also maintains their excitement through these stanzas, due to the activity this phenomenon brings. However, the speaker’s tone becomes uncertain for the last two stanzas. This is attributed to his/her insufficient knowledge about sunset. In addition, the persona turns sober, as the excitement which comes with the rising sun disappears.

Literary Devices in Dickinson's poem "A Day".

The following literary devices feature in Dickinson’s ‘A Day’:

Symbolism:

The dominant literary device in Dickinson’s ‘A Day’ remains symbolism. The entire poem symbolises the transition from life to death. With each stanza, the poet infers the human behaviours associated with life and death, finally implying what awaits after death from her religious perspective.

Metaphor:

This is the second dominant device in Dickinson’s poem. She uses several direct comparisons to foster relatable imagery. In stanza 1, line 2, she calls sunrays “ribbons”. She refers to the same sunrays as “Yellow boys and girls” in stanza 3, line 3. The “Dominie in gray” in stanza 4, line 2 represents “God” or a religious figure; “flock” refers to humans. Lastly, “evening bars” in stanza 4, line 3 is a metaphor for the end of a day, or the end of life.

Simile:

An instance of simile appears in stanza 1, line 4, where the “news” of sunrise spreads at the speed of a squirrel’s run.

Personification:

This is another poetic device in ‘A Day‘. It appears 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. Also in stanza 3, line 1 the sun is mentioned as ‘he’.

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.

Question Answers of the poem "A Day" by Emily Dickinson.

Exercises

Understanding the text

Answer the following questions.

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

Answer: The first stanza 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. Like the sunrise, in a metaphorical sense, this stanza also hints at the excitement stemming from the beginning of life (childbirth).

b. What does the line ‘The news like squirrels ran’ mean?

Answer: The line ‘The news like squirrels ran’ is a simile in which the news of sunrise is compared with the run of the squirrels that indicates that the significance of the eventual sunrise isn’t lost in the world. “The news…” of this phenomenon travels fast. It means it is enjoyed by all. In other words, the charm of the morning sun has illuminated the whole earth in the blink of an eye.

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

Answer: The line ‘The hills untied their bonnets’ is a metaphor in which the hills are compared with women who remove their bonnets (clothing) in a fashionable ways. Here, ‘bonnets’ symbolizes the darkness in which the nature has to be for some time unless there appears the morning sun. So, here the hills are also personified as human beings, especially, women as if they are taking off their clothing.

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

Answer: Yes, the speaker is watching the morning sun as it is clearly indicated in the line, ‘That must have been the sun’. It shows the speaker’s excitement on watching the morning sun. The speaker witnesses the morning sun, the sun’s rays, the songs of the songbirds, the hills removing their bonnets etc.

e. How does the sun set?

Answer: A dominie in gray put the evening bars and help the sun set in the evening. The word “domini,” which means “teachers,” is derived from “dominus,” which means “lord” in Latin. It is the darkness of the night that signifies the end of the day and also the end of life in a figurative sense.

Reference to the context

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

Answer: Dickinson discusses a wonderful day that brings children from innocence to experience in her poem "A Day" through the use of bright imagery and metaphors. Emily Dickinson's 'A Day' is a well-known nineteenth-century metaphysical poem, renowned for its double meanings and cerebral (intellectual) allusions. According to the speaker, 'A Day' in a literal sense refers to sunrise and sunset. Additionally, the poem has a kid narrator whose innocent and assured tone evoke the splendour of a daybreak. It also describes, in a figurative sense, the passage from life to death. (See the thematic analysis for more details)

b. What purpose does the hyphen in the first line serve in the poem?
Answer:
The hyphen in the first line is deliberately used by the poet to let the reader have some pause or break so that they could ponder the context a bit. This technique has made the poem very interesting for the readers to explore its thematic contents.

c. What makes this poem lyrical and sonorous? Discuss.

Answer: A lyrical poem is a short thoughtful piece that features or expresses strong emotion in a way that is beautiful and shows imagination of a sole speaker—who may or may not be the poet. The pronoun “I”, as used in lyrical poems, indicates the poet’s persona. On that note, ‘A Day‘—like most of Dickinson’s poems—is a lyric; it expresses a powerful thought from the perspective of a single persona. Because of this a sonorous (a pleasant full deep sound) voice is echoed in the poem.

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

Answer: The target audience of the speaker are those people who are ignorant and naïve towards the ultimate goal of human life and existence that is ‘death’. In other words, those who are blind towards the fact that life brings death too. So one can say that the most important theme of the poem is the journey of life from birth to death. Death and immortality are main themes that are thoroughly discussed in this poem.

e. The poem 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.

Answer: For this task, talk to your parent and get some ideas to produce your answer. You can also relate the thematic ideas of the poem with your own to have your own answer.

Reference beyond the text

a. Observe your surroundings of one fine morning and write a poem based on your own experience.

Answer: Use your own creativity to produce the answer. A sample is provided below-

As the night draws to a close,

Red-orange light begins to emancipate itself...

Purple and blue with a reddish orange hue.

Amazing beauty is revealed...

It's as though the earth has been struck by gold ribbons.

This is a beautiful scene with a ray of hope in...

Let's forget about last night.

We begin each new day with an amazing sight.

Heart is enjoying for a day start like this,

The trip begins with a fresh desire and wish.

b. Write a personal essay on A Day in the School.

Answer:

A Day in the School

School life is the golden period of man’s life. It is the period of learning manners and making habits. It is the period of enjoying and merry making with friends and classmates. I am a student of grade 12 at a reputed school of Pokhara. The time flees very soon in studies and play at school. It makes such life as is never available afterwards. A day at my school is like a chain of work and enjoyment. My school starts at 9:30 a.m. I always reach the school in time. The first bell is the bell for prayer. All the students stand in the queue of their respective class. Everyone puts on the same uniform. At the word of command of the P.T.I. every student acts as a machine. The defaulters and late comers have to stand in a separate line. The prayer starts and ends with the National Anthem.

After the prayer is over the Vice Principal of our school reads out some very important current news and information to us. Some or the other necessary announcement is also made, if there is any. After this the students go to their classes in lines. The defaulters and late comer are held up. They are warned and some of them are even punished for being late or not wearing school uniform or disobeying the orders.

The duration of every period is forty-five minutes. My class teacher is our English teacher. He often takes up the text in the first period. His lesson is very interesting. He explains to us everything in detail. He makes use of anecdotes to make us understand every point clearly. The next period is for mathematics. Our mathematics teacher is very strict. He gets work from every student and never spares the shirkers.

Our Nepali teacher is a very simple man. He has a very sweet voice. He recites verses in such a sweet voice that we are simply charmed. Up to fourth period teaching and learning work goes on without any break. Then follows the recess period.

The recess period in our school is an hour of din and noise. As soon as the bell for the recess goes, the students rush out quickly. Most of them run towards the canteen to have some refreshment, lunch, tea etc. They stand in a queue to take their eatables or tea. They sit in the dining table to eat. They talk and laugh at certain points and incidents of the classroom. Some of them discuss politics; others talk of films and matches. After taking eatables, they throw the remains in the dust bin.

Our teachers also relax and rest in the staff room. None of the students is allowed to enter the staff room during recess. The teachers also enjoy their lunch, tea etc. In a word, the recess period is to refresh and remove our fatigue so that we may pursue our work again. Three periods follow after the recess. We are taught by our respective teachers. We attend to every lesson with most care. But the last period is a bit boring one. The teacher taking the last period is not annoyed if the students request him to allow them to do some writing work in that period. He readily accedes to our request. In this way the time is not wasted, but utilized.

With the ringing of the bell all of us leave the school with our satchels and bags. The school presents a noisy atmosphere for a short while. It almost becomes deserted and silent as soon as the students go out of the main entrance to their houses. So, that’s all about a day of my school life in the school.

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