The Doomed – regard the Sunrise (F298, J294)


The Doomed – regard the
With different Delight – 
Because – when next it
burns abroad 
They doubt to witness it –

The Man – to die – tomorrow –
Harks for the Meadow Bird –
Because it’s Music stirs
the Axe 
That clamors for his head –

Joyful – to whom the
Precedes Enamored – Day –
Joyful – for whom the
Meadow Bird 
Has ought but Elegy! 

Link to EDA manuscript. Originally in Fascicle 12 (1862) in the  14th position. First published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1929. Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

According to Cristanne Miller, the form of this poem, a  4 line stanza of 7686 syllables, was a favorite of Dickinson’s and echoes the form of “The May Flower” by Edward C. Goodwin, which appeared in the  Springfield Republican on May 16, 1857.

This poem centers around a sunrise, a symbol Dickinson uses frequently in her larger “mystic day” cycle as described in Barton Levi St. Armand’s Emily Dickinson and Her Culture: The Soul’s Society. The sunrise stands for birth and rebirth, resurrection, expectation, awakening, conviction, and, perhaps most importantly, hope. “The Doomed” could be soldiers in the war, a reading in which the soldiers’ new day brings bravery, relief, and hope back to life. Alternatively, “the Doomed” could be a criminal awaiting execution, and the poem could be a commentary on a contemporary debate on the death penalty in Massachusetts, mentioned in next week’s news. Dickinson personifies “the Axe,” a powerful image that removes some of the agency of war from its human actors.

The first two stanzas stand in stark contrast with the last stanza, which describes how the “Joyful” regard the sunrise: with love, awe, beauty, and no worry about trouble. Here, Dickinson could be highlighting the separation between soldier and civilian. However, “Joyful” may also be an adjective, as in a joyful coming of the sun on a day long awaited by “the Doomed,” or a joyful sense of self-sacrifice in offering one’s life to a righteous cause, in the case of soldiers or religious martyrs.

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