Get summary, textual solutions, questions, answers, notes. pdf, extras to the poem/chapter “A Day” by Emily Dickinson which is a part of Class 10 English Literature Reader syllabus for students studying under Manipur Board (BSEM).
The poem’s speaker promises to describe how the morning sun rises slowly in the sky – appearing like a ribbon unwinding bit by bit. As sunlight spreads, it makes the church steeples glow brilliant purple, almost as if they are swimming in the bright rays. Meanwhile the news of sunrise spreads very quickly over the land, as fast as squirrels run.
In the next part, the speaker shows how the sunlight makes the mist lift off the hills, like ladies taking off hats. The hills become clearly visible. Also birds called bobolinks start singing with the morning light. Seeing everything happen with sunrise, the speaker exclaims that all this must be because of the rising sun!
Then the speaker admits she does not understand well how the same sun sets in the evening. She shares her weak idea of seeing some children dressed in yellow, climbing a ladder constantly as the sun is going down.
Finally when the children disappear over the ladder to the far side, it is dusk. The speaker senses a holy man dressed in grey placing bars on a gate and taking followers away into the darkness.
Through the everyday experience of sunrise, daylight and sunset, the poet is trying to explain the deep truths about life, death and afterlife where our souls may travel to an unknown place guided by a religious figure. The poem uses simple pictures from nature but talks about profound ideas.
Line by line explanation of poem
I’ll tell you how the Sun rose
The poem opens with the speaker, likely a child, confidently offering to describe the sunrise. This line establishes the narrative style and the innocence of the narrator.
A Ribbon at a time
The sunrise is described as unfolding gradually, like ribbons being revealed one after another. This metaphor suggests the beauty and delicate nature of the sunrise.
The Steeples swam in Amethyst
The steeples, or church towers, appear to be swimming in the purple light of dawn. “Amethyst” refers to the purple hue of the sky, and the imagery suggests a blending of the spiritual (steeples) with the natural world.
The news like Squirrels ran
The spread of light and the arrival of dawn are likened to squirrels quickly spreading news. This simile conveys the rapid and lively onset of morning.
The Hills untied their Bonnets
The hills are personified as if they are removing their bonnets, symbolizing the unveiling of the landscape as the sun rises. This imagery adds a playful and quaint quality to the description of the landscape.
The Bobolinks – begun
Bobolinks, a type of bird, start their day and presumably their songs with the sunrise. Their mention adds to the poem’s portrayal of a lively and vibrant natural world.
Then I said softly to myself
This line shows the introspective and personal nature of the speaker’s experience, emphasizing the quiet and contemplative mood of the moment.
“That must have been the Sun!”
The child, experiencing the sunrise, concludes with a sense of discovery and wonder that the sun has risen. This line captures the simple yet profound joy found in everyday natural phenomena.
But how he set I know not
The speaker admits ignorance about the sunset, which contrasts with their earlier confidence about the sunrise. This shift introduces a sense of uncertainty and mystery.
There seemed a purple stile
The sunset is described as a purple stile, a structure used for crossing fences. This metaphor could represent the transition from day to night or life to death.
Which little Yellow boys and girls
The sun’s rays at sunset are personified as children climbing the stile. This imagery creates a playful and innocent portrayal of the sunset.
Were climbing all the while
The ongoing movement of the sun’s rays is depicted as continuous activity, emphasizing the constant change in the natural world.
Till when they reached the other side
This line suggests the completion of the sunset, with the rays (children) reaching the end of their journey.
A Dominie in Gray
A “Dominie” (a teacher or religious leader) in gray is introduced, possibly symbolizing a divine or guiding figure, often interpreted as representing God or the onset of night.
Put gently up the evening Bars
The evening is depicted as a gate being closed. This action symbolizes the end of the day or the finality of death, emphasizing a gentle, peaceful transition.
And led the flock away
The conclusion depicts the Dominie leading away a flock, which could symbolize people being guided into the night or into the afterlife. This line completes the poem’s exploration of day and night, life and death, with a sense of closure and guidance.
Textual questions and answers
(A) Answer the following questions in a sentence each:
(i) What looks like a ribbon?
Answer: The sun’s rays are described as looking like a ribbon.
(ii) “The news like squirrels ran.” What is the news about?
Answer: The news is about the sunrise spreading quickly.
(iii) What are the hills compared with?
Answer: The hills are compared to people untying their bonnets.
(iv) What do the bobolinks do?
Answer: The bobolinks begin to sing.
(v) Does the poet know about the sunset?
Answer: The poet admits to not knowing how the sunset occurs.
(vi) What does “a dominie in grey” symbolise?
Answer: “A dominie in grey” symbolises a religious figure or God.
(B) Answer the following questions briefly:
(i) “I’ll tell you how the sun rose.” Why does the poet say so?
Answer: The poet uses this phrase to introduce her vivid and imaginative description of a sunrise, presenting it in a gradual, step-by-step manner.
(ii) How do the steeples swim in amethyst?
Answer: The steeples appear to swim in amethyst as the morning light casts a purple hue over them, creating an impression of movement in the still structures.
(iii) “The news like squirrels ran.” Explain the imagery.
Answer: This imagery compares the rapid spread of sunlight at dawn to squirrels running swiftly, symbolising the quick dissemination of the news of sunrise.
(iv) How do the hills untie the bonnets?
Answer: The hills untying their bonnets is a metaphor for the way the sunlight gradually reveals the hills, as if they are removing bonnets from their heads.
(v) Why do the bobolinks begin to sing?
Answer: The bobolinks begin to sing as a natural response to the arrival of morning, symbolising the awakening and liveliness brought about by the sunrise.
(vi) “But how he set I know not.” Why does the poet say so?
Answer: The poet expresses her uncertainty or lack of knowledge about the sunset, contrasting it with the detailed description of the sunrise, possibly to highlight the mystery of the end of the day or life.
(vii) What things are reminded to the poet when she sees the sky during sunset?
Answer: The sunset reminds the poet of a purple stile climbed by children, symbolising a transition, possibly towards the end of the day or life itself.
(viii) “A dominie in grey”–what does this image mean?
Answer: This image represents a religious figure or God, symbolising guidance and leadership at the end of the day or life, leading the flock (people) away.
(ix) “Put gently up the evening bars And led the flock away.” Explain.
Answer: This phrase metaphorically describes the transition from day to night (or life to death), where the ‘dominie in grey’ (God or a spiritual guide) closes the day and leads people away, signifying the end of a cycle.
A metaphor is a way of describing a thing in terms of another. In the sentence “childhood is the morning of life’, the speaker is using a metaphor by calling childhood ‘morning’. Poets usually use a lot of metaphor.
Now find out how the poem “A Day” is a metaphor of ‘Birth’ and ‘Death’. You will find that some of the individual line or lines are also metaphors.
Answer: In the poem “A Day” by Emily Dickinson, metaphors are used extensively to depict the concepts of ‘Birth’ and ‘Death.’ The metaphor of sunrise in the poem symbolises ‘Birth,’ with the beginning of the day representing the start of life. This is seen in the vibrant, hopeful imagery of the sun rising, bringing light and awakening the world. Conversely, the metaphor of sunset in the poem represents ‘Death.’ The end of the day, with the sun setting, symbolises the end of life, characterised by a more sombre and reflective tone. Individual lines in the poem, such as the description of the sun rising “A ribbon at a time,” further employ metaphorical language to convey these themes of beginning and ending, life and death.
Think and write
A philosopher is one who thinks about very difficult problems or questions about life or the world, etc. Do you think the poet is a kind of philosopher? Write a small paragraph on it. Justify your answer.
Answer: Emily Dickinson does show some philosophical tendencies in her poem “A Day.” Through her rich symbolic imagery of sunrise representing birth and sunset symbolising death, she prompts the reader to contemplate the deeper mysteries of life’s beginning and ending. The child speaker’s wonder and confidence describing sunrise gives way to uncertainty about sunset, reflecting a philosophical truth about how little we understand death compared to our everyday experience of life.
However, Dickinson’s poem does not present an argument or theory about life and death; rather, it evokes feelings and questions on the subject. Ultimately while Dickinson touches on philosophical themes, “A Day” reads more as a lyrical poetic reflection than the contemplative theorising characteristic of a philosopher. Her talent is conjuring vivid pictures and raising issues to ponder, not systematically working out solutions. So I would characterise Dickinson in this poem as poetic and profound, but not functioning as a technical philosopher.
Extra/additional questions and answers/solutions
1. What is the central theme depicted in the poem “A Day”?
Answer: The central theme depicted in the poem is the cycle of life and death. The poet uses the metaphor of sunrise representing birth and sunset symbolising death.
7. How does the poem progress from a literal description of sunrise to a symbolic representation of the cycle of life and death?
Answer: The poem opens with a literal, vivid description of sunrise – the sun rising slowly, illuminating church steeples and the landscape. Then, midway the tone changes as the poet is unsure about sunset. The children climbing the stile into darkness depict souls transitioning into afterlife. Finally, religious imagery like “dominie” and “flock” represents humans guided into the afterworld after death.
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