‘Day Break’ by Jack London is a seven stanza poem which is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. Each of these quatrains conforms to a structured rhyme scheme that follows a pattern of abab cdcd efef, and so on, as the poem progresses.
A reader should also take note of the instances of anaphora, such as that present in the first stanza. Anaphora refers to moments in which a word is repeated, specifically at the beginning of a line. In this case, the word “The” is used a number of times in a row.
‘Day Break’ is structured as a first person narrative poem that details the speaker’s attempts to see and speak to a girl he loves. Although the poem is written from this perspective, that does not necessarily mean the speaker is London himself.
Summary of Day Break
‘Day Break’ by Jack London describes an interaction between a speaker and the woman he loves at day break.
The poem begins with the speaker describing the idyllic scene which is created by the rising of the sun. Everything appears pristine and peaceful. He is standing underneath the window of a house in which the woman he loves is sleeping. In order to wake her, he throws a number of pebbles at her window. He imagines her waking up, bewildered.
Eventually the woman comes to the window and the whole mood of the poem changes. She apologizes for not having set out the milk cans the night before. She concludes the interaction by asking him to leave “two quarts.”
Analysis of Day Break
The blushing dawn the easy illumes,
The birds their merry matins sing,
The buds breathe forth their sweet perfumes,
And butterflies are on the wing.
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by describing the landscape in which the actions of the poem will take place. The setting also works to create a general mood to the text. The descriptions utilized by the poet paint the scene a peaceful and pristine.
The opening line of this piece introduces ‘Day Break’ in a very suitable way. The sun is coming up, creating a “blushing dawn.” As the day begins, so do the events of the poem. A reader should put extra importance on the fact that poet chose to title the poem ‘Day Break.’ He is interested is placing these events at this particular time. Perhaps for the beautiful natural scenery or the purity of a new day.
The day begins with the dawn illuminating the “birds” and buds.” These two features act in accordance to their own natures. The birds sing their “merry matins” and the buds “breath forth their sweet perfumes.” Finally, the speaker mentions the “butterflies” which are flying around the scene. Truly, everything is in its place, acting exactly as it should for the day to be a pleasant and peaceful one.
I pause beneath the window high,
The door is locked, the house is quiet;
‘Tis there, abed, she sure must lie, –
To Wake her, – ah! I’ll try it.
In the second quatrain the speaker introduces his own presence into the narrative. On this morning he finds himself “beneath the window” which is situated “high” up on the house. One is unsure what this place is at first, but by the third line London has provided enough details to allow for an educated guess.
The speaker tries the door but it is “locked.” There are no sounds coming from inside the house, everything “is quiet.” If the speaker is looking for someone in the house, it does not appear they are awake yet.
He comes to this conclusion himself when he says “’Tis there, abed,” or in her room, asleep, that “she sure must lie.” He does not actually know this for sure, but is fairly determined that this woman he has come to see is in bed asleep.
He is not deterred by this slight obstacle and decides he’s going to do whatever he can to wake her up. The speaker takes a moment, looks around him, and has an idea. The line ends with his decision to “try it.”
And pebbles hurtling through the air,
Strike full upon the window-pane,
Awakening her who slumbers there
With their insistent hurricane.
The “it” which the speaker is going to try turns out to be throwing a pebble at the window. He thinks he can wake the woman he has come to see in this way. He does so, and it strikes “full upon the window-pane.” He has not missed.
One pebble is not enough though, and he continues to throw them. The sound of their bouncing off the window resembles an “insistent hurricane.” It is to this noise that the woman wakes up.
Ye gods! in my imagination,
The wondrous scene do I behold –
A nymph’s bewildered consternation
At summons thus so fierce and bold.
In the fourth stanza the speaker imagines what is going on inside the room. He knows his love has been roused and is giddy with anticipation over seeing her. He exclaims, “Ye gods!,” the equivalent of “Oh my, “ or “By god.”
The speaker imagination is running wild and the sights it creates are “wondrous” to “behold.” He thinks of the woman as a “nymph” who is feeling a certain amount of consternation and bewilderment over being summoned “so fierce and bold.” These final two words are ones the speaker would like to use to describe himself. He sees his actions as those of a bold man.
A moment passes, then I see
The gauzy curtains drawn aside,
And sweet eyes beaming down on me,
And then a window upward glide.
In the fifth stanza the woman he has been hoping to see finally comes to the window. It takes just a “moment” before she appears. The first thing he notices is the “gauzy” or thin, “curtain” being “drawn aside.” Next, are the eyes of his “nymph” gazing down at him. She does not appear upset at his intrusion.
The climax of this piece comes slowly, one moment at a time. Finally the window glides “upward” and the woman is revealed.
Fair as the morn, with rosy light,
She blushes with a faint surprise,
Then thinking of the previous night,
In dulcet tones she softly cries:
The sixth stanza is devoted to describing what the woman looks like at day break, from below her window. She is said to be “Fair as the morn” which is dawning around her. Her presence brings with it “rosy light” that seems to compete with that thrown by the sun.
The woman is surprised to see the speaker below her window and “blushes” at the sight of him. The speaker tells the reader that she blushes as she does because she’s thinking of the “previous night.” This line will lead a reader to a certain expectation. One will assume there is some sort of intimate relationship between the two to which the speaker is alluding. This image is shattered in the final quatrain.
“It should have been put out by Nan,
But I’ll be down within a minute –
No, never mind, leave your own can,
And put two quarts, please, in it.”
In the last four lines it is revealed, through the only dialogue in the poem, that the speaker is only at the house to deliver milk. The woman in the window calls out to him and apologizes for “It” or the empty jug of milk, not having been “put out by Nan.”
She tells him that she will be “down within a minute,” then changes her mind. The woman asks that he leave his “own can” and supply the house with “two quarts.”
This simple conclusion to what was, up until this poem, a passionate love poem, is striking. It shows the difference in experience between the two characters and how one act can take on different levels of importance depending on whose perspective is dominant.