The Day Is Done, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – an Analysis

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Title
Be at peace, today is finished, now is the time for rest.

Gut Reaction
This feels like a long deep breath.
The day is done and I have a restless feeling; I’ve not had a particularly good or bad day but I need peace. I want to hear simple words, real emotions, and if you read your favourite poem to me it will soothe me to sleep.

What does it all mean?
A couple are in bed at the end of the day, and seemingly poetry is all that is required to help them relax and unwind.

The day is done, and the darkness
      Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
      From an eagle in his flight.

The day is over and night has fallen; the sky has slowly darkened.

I see the lights of the village
      Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me
      That my soul cannot resist:

I picture a man stood looking out of his bedroom window, which is slightly steamed up due to the warmth inside and the rain outside. He’s waiting for his partner to come to bed and feeling a little wistful.

A feeling of sadness and longing,
      That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
      As the mist resembles the rain.

He isn’t exactly unhappy but there is a pull to ‘something’ he can’t quite place.

Come, read to me some poem,
      Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
      And banish the thoughts of day.

His partner enters the room and he asks them to read to him and help him forget about the day. Something either lighthearted or with simple use of words, rather than wordy.

Not from the grand old masters,
      Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
      Through the corridors of Time.

He doesn’t want to hear anything grand, no ‘thinking’ poetry from the greats (‘bards’ – a nod to Mr Shakespeare?). They, he acknowledges, are timeless (‘whose distant footsteps echo through the corridors of Time’).

For, like strains of martial music,
      Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavor;
      And to-night I long for rest.

He’s saying that whilst the ‘classic’ poems are very good they’re a bit weighty for his current mood. He doesn’t want to have to ponder life’s purpose and his own existence, he just wants words that make sense without having to conjure or decipher meaning. ‘Strains of martial music’ – it doesn’t let up, constant bombardment to think, think, think!

Read from some humbler poet,
      Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
      Or tears from the eyelids start;

Instead he wants to hear the words of poets who have written with passion and without necessarily adhering to the constraints of true poetry devices (can you say, ‘iambic pentameter’?). He wants words that come from the writer’s own experiences, flooding out of them uncontrolled like a sudden downpour.

Who, through long days of labor,
      And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
      Of wonderful melodies.

He sees these more ‘humble’ poets as hardworking people who struggled with their arts and were still able to love and appreciate melody. Perhaps he’s feeling kinship with them.

Such songs have power to quiet
      The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
      That follows after prayer.

He feels that these kinds of poems are what he needs to slow his heart and perhaps they will give him the feeling of peace expected following saying prayers.

Then read from the treasured volume
      The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
      The beauty of thy voice.

He asks his partner to read a poem they choose from a probably dog-eared book that has been turned to over and over. He adores his partner’s voice and so knows they will add even more to whatever poem they choose.

And the night shall be filled with music,
      And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
      And as silently steal away.

The night will become magical again and he will forget about any of his worries.

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
11 stanzas of 4 lines each.

Tone
Dreamy, seeking peace and comfort.

Suggested rhyme scheme
abcb and so on throughout, quatrains of Ballad Stanzas.

End stopped and run on lines of a mixture of both masculine and feminine rhymes.
Onomatopoeia? ‘gushed from the heart’, line 26.

Similes and metaphors
Similes – feather…eagle to describe the descending darkness of night. ‘Strains of martial music’ – unrelenting, monotonous?
‘Showers from the clouds of summer’ – words that come from the heart suddenly, without warning or rehearsal.
‘Benediction’ – feeling of peace and ‘oneness’ following prayer – he’s hoping to feel that same peace.

Author’s relationship with their subject
The author is speaking lovingly to his partner and asking them to read something to him from the heart.

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)

Signing off
Many critics approve of the simplicity of Longfellow’s words, it is an incredibly effective way of providing imagery without alienating his readers – although I don’t necessarily believe that was his aim.
It seems that many relate to that feeling of listlessness at the end of the day. The modern alternative for some might be relaxing music instead of the complex melody seen in jazz (or for me, Rival Sons and Alter Bridge instead of Sonic Syndicate and Slipknot), or an easy-to watch film rather than a ‘thinker’.
I really, really like this poem.
Firstly, the words, the ease, the feeling that the person speaking wants the simple things in life. The implied affection between the couple. It paints a very beautiful picture of people that are content with one another and their lives generally – despite the usual niggles we all have from time to time.
Secondly, I love the acknowledgement that some of the more ‘standard’ poetry is hard work! Now I love poetry but sometimes it’s almost like reading a book in a language that isn’t your mother-tongue: you have to arm yourself with a dictionary and end up stumbling at every third word. Somehow some poetry isn’t ‘everyday’ and you need to invest a lot of time and thought into it.
I would love to have this poem read to me if I was of similar mind, I don’t know whose voice I would like to hear though.

Links
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Shmoop (analysis)

When I read this I think of the song… Long Nights

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