Part 7 - Close Reading of Emily Dickinson

Close Reading #1: 'Blazing in Gold...' by Emily Dickinson

Blazing in Gold and quenching in Purple
Leaping like Leopards to the Sky
Then at the feet of the old Horizon
Laying her spotted Face to die
Stooping as low as the Otter's Window
Touching the Roof and tinting the Barn
Kissing her Bonnet to the Meadow
And the Juggler of Day is gone

The first thing that struck me about this poem was the riddle aspect. Shortly after, when I began to “figure out” what it is that blazing in gold and quenches in purple, I realized that practically every line was a distinct visual image. I then began to imagine what it was that performed all these acts, and figured out the riddle. Because of the element of “fun” and “mystery”, I was first attracted to this poem.

Upon closer inspection, I came to like it even more for the unconventional images and the thoughtful and thought-provoking way they are presented. The first thing I did in my close reading was make a drawing of each image presented in the poem. Those drawings are included as an appendix to this section. [Note: I am sad to report, these drawings have gone missing. When i find them, or recreate them, I will post a follow up.] Having a visual representation of the images described gave a nuanced insight to the poem that staying in the “word only” realm would not have allowed. For instance, when I attempted to visualize “Leaping like Leopards to the Sky”, I didn't see it at first. But I thought about exactly what a “leaping leopard” would look like: black spots with yellowish-orange moving in an arc across the sky. How can the sun appear that way? After some deliberation, I thought about when you close your eyes after you've looked right at the sun. I went outside, looked directly at the sun then closed my eyes. When I did that, I saw the reverse of colors: black spots, yellowish-orange background, like a leopard. It was this unique imagery that was what was so exciting about the first impression of the poem, and made it even more so when performing the close reading.

When making the drawings, I also noticed that lines 3 and 4, were the only lines that together made one image; the other lines offered one image. These two lines are also the starkest of the poem. In lines 3 and 4, the sun lays her spotted face to die at the feet of the horizon. The “feet of the horizon” is the curve of the horizon at sunset, like the curve of two heels on the ground. The, which were spots in the previous line, is now mostly hidden from view, so it is laying to die. The spotted face also brought the image of age spots, sun spots from aging, on a someone who is old.

If it were that I, too, did not see New Englandly, I might not have been able to visualize the next image, of the sun stooping as low as the otter's window. However, I have seen the little islands otters make on lakes or rivers (or wildlife preserves at Blue Hill Mountain) and the sunset beaming into the black archways of their homes, their windows, so I was able to draw a very crude otter's home on a river with the sun beaming in.

The funny thing is that three lines after the stark image of the spotty faced death of the sun, Dickinson writes one of the sweetest images I've ever read in a poem. And, perhaps because of the juxtaposition, it doesn't seem saccharine, just—nice. The sun kisses her bonnet to the meadow. I had just heard an interview on NPR with Julie Andrews when I set out to do the drawings and could not help but think of the image of Maria with her arms outstretched, the camera sweeping in, like the bonneted sun kissing her in the meadow. Side note: that was, apparently, one of the most treacherous scenes to film—something about the helicopter, with the cameraman in it, blowing her over hard onto her bottom after take. Just like the sun isn't always kissing sweet but sometimes blazing or dieing.

I drew a big, shaggy sun juggling little suns, slightly different in appearance to mark the way it looks in the sky depending on the time of day for the last line “And the Juggler of Day is gone.” I also wrote a little stage note of “Exeunt.” at the bottom corner of the page because it did seems like the final scene of a play, a little skit.