Emily Dickinson, “When I have seen the Sun emerge” (888)

“When I have seen the Sun emerge…” (888)
Emily Dickinson

When I have seen the Sun emerge
From His amazing House –
And leave a Day at every Door
A Deed, in every place –

Without the incident of Fame
Or accident of Noise –
The Earth has seemed to me a Drum,
Pursued of little Boys

Comment:

Perhaps the light of the Sun is knowledge. When knowledge emerges, it is like light: you can see, if you want. No further thought required. This means opportunity (“a Day at every Door”) and results in action (“a Deed, in every place”). Of course, nothing with Dickinson is this simple. The “amazing House” from which the Sun emerges is the first curiosity. But that a day is “left” – knowledge is distant from us, our opportunity (cf. Xenophon’s Socrates – the defense of Socrates’ wisdom is his prudence) – and that deeds correspond to place, not time, are no less significant.

The second stanza opens up the problem of merely human knowledge. Learning and teaching are dependent on the “incident of Fame” – do you really believe the best minds are always heard? “Or accident of Noise:” hearing formally replaces seeing as the primary metaphor. Classically, hearing was subordinate to seeing in terms of importance (touch ranked last of the senses – cf. Aristotle, Ethics). We can say “Drum” expands on “Noise,” and leave it at that, but one could also say the Sun rises out of the Earth. In that latter case, the second stanza governs the first. That deeds correspond to place makes one wonder about children at play. Perhaps the last lines are not so cynical, a potential knock on Thoreau or any of us past or present with philosophic ambitions. The “little Boys” pursue in their immaturity, treating the Sun as a simple phenomenon, because that’s what one must do to know. The Sun was seen to emerge; the Earth seemed a Drum.

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