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Emily Dickinson's "The Guest is gold and crimson"

Emily Dickinson's poems remain a vital part of my poet worldview. They dramatize the human spirit via deep attention to life's details.

Emily Dickinson

Introduction and Text of "The Guest is gold and crimson"

Within her collection of some 1,775 poems, Emily Dickinson has included at least 22 that focus on the diurnal phenomena known as "sunset." So fascinated by the act was the poet that she dramatizes it in many colorful outpourings.

In "The Guest is gold and crimson," the speaker personifies "sunset" as a visitor who comes to town "at nightfall," and he visits everyone in town as he "stops at every door." And then the speaker follows the guest as though he were a bird moving beyond her own town and territory to other shores.

The Guest is gold and crimson —

The Guest is gold and crimson —
An Opal guest and gray —
Of Ermine is his doublet —
His Capuchin gay —

He reaches town at nightfall —
He stops at every door —
Who looks for him at morning
I pray him too — explore
The Lark's pure territory —
Or the Lapwing's shore!

Commentary

This colorful poem is dramatizing sunset as a guest who visits every door, every day. This poem functions as a riddle, as the speaker never names the subject she is describing.

First Movement: Elemental Coloration in the Heavens

The Guest is gold and crimson —
An Opal guest and gray —

The speaker describes the subject of her drama by stating the colors of sunset. Readers will immediately recognize the colors of "gold and crimson" as the remarkable duo of hues that accompany the onset of the setting of the sun. Of course, depending on the atmospheric accumulation of elements, those golds and crimsons may blend in outrageous ways that may put the viewer in mind of classic paintings by famous artists.

That those golds and crimsons come against the background of the sky results in an accompanying guest who is "Opal" as well as "gray." The blue of the sky is influence by the golds and appears opalescent against a darkening or grayed out appearance.

At the opening scene, the speaker does not intrude upon her drama, except to state in definitive descriptors what she has actually observed from her own point of view. As she colorizes the scene, she offers her audience the room to blend those colors to their own experiences.

Second Movement: A Dandy Caller

Of Ermine is his doublet —
His Capuchin gay —

The speaker continues her description of the guest, who now resembles a gentleman caller, wearing a close-cropped jacket with a fur trim, and over it all he sports a lively colored cape. Thus, sunset has now been identified as a guest, who is a man dressed rather dandily.

Again, the textures along with colors allow her audience to envision the broad sky turning all mixtures of hues as the sun begins to close its eye on the speaker's part of the earth. The speaker's world is becoming dark, but not without a dramatic play of wild and glorious events happening all around the daystar as it takes its leave at nightfall.

Third Movement: An Omnipresent Visitor

He reaches town at nightfall —
He stops at every door —

Now this gentleman caller, this magnificently dressed guest, appears at nightfall. This guest has a delicious yet totally variant habit of not only visiting people in the town whom he knows, but he also visits every household as he "stops at every door."

The marvelously arrayed guest is visible to everyone, everyday. The speaker must be so enthralled to describe such a magnanimous and generous visitor. This fine gentleman appears all gloriously decked out and performs his drama for all to enjoy.

Fourth Movement: Funny Speculation

Who looks for him at morning
I pray him too — explore

The speaker then offers a humorous speculation regarding someone who would be foolish enough to try to see this guest in the morning; such a thought is, of course, silly because this guest appears only at night.

However, the speaker thus encourages such a person who has gone looking for this guest in the morning to continue looking, that is, keep "explor[ing]."

Fifth Movement: The Other Side of the Planet

The Lark's pure territory —
Or the Lapwing's shore!

If one by chance, after much exploration, happens upon the "Lark's pure territory," or around the Australian continent, one might catch a glimpse of this quest. Morning in Australia is, of course, nighttime in USA, New England.

But the speaker's ultimate recommendation is simply to look for this guest on the "Lapwing's shore," likely where she has observed him. Do not go looking for such a remarkable, colorful event anywhere but where you are. And as you find him at nightfall, you will find him to be a constant visitor, who will always astound you with his dramatic appearance.

Emily Dickinson

This photo has been relieved of the scratches that are evident on many of the extant copies on the Internet.

This photo has been relieved of the scratches that are evident on many of the extant copies on the Internet.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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