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

Emily Dickinson's poems inform my own worldview as a poet and scholar. They dramatize the human spirit via deep attention to life's details.

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

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

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

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

In "The Guest is gold and crimson," Dickinson’s 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!

Reading of "The Guest is gold and crimson"

Commentary

Emily Dickinson’s poem, "The Guest is gold and crimson," is one of her many poems describing a sunset, and it also one of her riddle-poems, in which she does not name her subject.

First Movement: Elemental Coloration in the Heavens

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

The speaker is describing the subject of her drama by stating the colors of sunset. The colors of "gold and crimson" are immediately recognizable as the remarkable duo of hues that accompany the onset of the setting of the sun. Depending upon 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 hue of the sky is influenced by the golds and appears opalescent against a darkening or grayed out background.

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 into their own experiences.

Second Movement: A Dandy Caller

Of Ermine is his doublet –
His Capuchin gay –

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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 the speaker’s listeners and readers 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: A Magnanimous 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: Exploration

Who looks for him at morning
I pray him too – explore
The Lark's pure territory –
Or the Lapwing's shore!

But then the speaker makes a rather sudden shift from describing the frequently visiting guest to the idea of how to go about looking for and expecting this visitor. She suggests that if one attempts to glimpse this guest in the morning that attempt will be in vain; thus, she recommends that instead of looking for sunset in the morning, one consider two alternatives.

The "Lark’s pure territory" alludes to the symbolism of that bird as representing humility as well as that this bird flies high and sings as it flies through the sky. She recommends that exploring the high heavens during the daylight hours, where that lark has his "pure territory" will be worth the effort.

On the other hand, she suggests that one might also explore the more landed territory of the "Lapwing’s shore," which additionally sends one exploring the continents of Europe, South American, and Asia. Colorful birds are likely to herald a pleasant feeling of joy, even as a colorful sunset can do.

Still more importantly, the speaker has suggested that if you look for this guest at nightfall, you will find him to be a constant visitor, who will always astound you with his dramatic appearance through his many various magic hues splashed like paint across an amazing canvas of darkening blue.

Although the speaker never reveals her subject, she is confidant that her description has been so compelling that no one experiencing her discourse can fail to identify the target of her description. This poem is one of the many efforts that reveal the poet’s fascination with nature, as well as her ability to observe keenly and then report her observations in finely crafted little dramas.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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