This — is the land — the Sunset washes

This — is the land — the Sunset washes —
These — are the Banks of the Yellow Sea —
Where it rose — or whither it rushes —
These — are the Western Mystery!

Night after Night
Her purple traffic
Strews the landing with Opal Bales —
Merchantmen — poise upon Horizons —
Dip — and vanish like Orioles!

Analysis, meaning and summary of Emily Dickinson's poem This — is the land — the Sunset washes

1 Comment

  1. Robert Dingas says:

    Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘This is the land the sunset washes’:

    On one level this poem is about an observer watching ships coming into port at sunset. The ships disgorge their cargo then vanish on the horizon.

    On a second level this poem is about an event that occurs over and over again, as if the event has its own mind and that its action has a momentum of its own and that it operates and repeats itself with some mysterious power and direction unknown to anyone.

    The sun rises and sets like clockwork. On one level we say we know why this happens. On a second level we may ask why it does this, what is its purpose? On a second level we’re asking about the reason of the universe. Why does it exist?

    There is a third level one may persue concerning this poem–the question here is whether this repeated disgorgement of a ship’s cargo ever happened at all. The ships come and go on a routine schedule but if noone is watching, does the repeated event even happen. The ships poise on the horison then vanish.

    One could easily get the following picture of this poet’s description of ships delivering their cargo:

    The sun is setting somewhere in the orient. Merchant ships come streaming in off a black sea. The light is poor and the ships appear purple in color. There is a scurry of activity as men unload the ships. The ships head out to sea again and disappear over a black horizon. The ships, the darkness, the hurried and seemingly mindless activity occurs over and over again and like the tide, comes and goes. The tide moves in a mindless repetition and one can deduce the merchant ships perform in the same fassion. What is the meaning of the tide, what is the meaning of the merchant ships. They are both the great western mystery

    The scene of this poem obviously occurs in the orient— Banks of the Yellow Sea.

    Purple traffic alludes to death traffic, traffic occuring at night, mysterious, shady, misty and quiet, almost ghost like

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