‘Count that Day Lost’ by George Eliot is a direct poem that has a clear moral message at its core. Eliot uses simple language in ‘Count that Day Lost’ so that it might be read and understand by English speakers old and young. This is quite important for the content as it applies to everyone and anyone.
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Summary of Count That Day Lost
‘Count That Day Lost’ by George Eliot describes what one must do to count their days well spent.
Eliot introduces this piece with a call to action, encouraging the reader to take the time to break down their days into pieces and carefully consider whether they did something to help someone else. If the reader has helped another, even with a smile or small action, then that day can be considered well spent.
The second stanza considers the other option in which one has ignored all of the changes they’ve had to help someone else and only considered their own wellbeing throughout the day. This person, even though it would have cost them nothing, refused to give an inch to someone else. If this is the case, then not only is this day lost, it is worse than lost. The impact of this kind of person has not been neutral, but actually negative. They have, through their lack of empathy, made the world a worse place than it was the day before.
Eliot composed this piece as a simple way to encourage others to consider the times in which one has an opportunity to help and does nothing when even the smallest gesture would have been beneficial to someone in need.
Themes in Count That Day Lost
Eliot engages with themes of goodness/kindness and the nature of life. Throughout the poem, the speaker addresses the reader, asking them to reconsider how they live their lives and especially how they treat other throughout them. She asks everyone to “count the acts” that they’ve done and try to find something positive. There should be one way, everyday, that one has improved the lives of others. If one doesn’t do something positive, then the day is worse than lost. This is quite a simple poem with a direct message and theme to share.
Structure and Form of Count That Day Lost
‘Count That Day Lost,’ published in 1887, is a two stanza poem written by the British author Mary Anne Evans under the pseudonym of George Eliot. Eliot carefully composed this piece keeping a steady rhythm and rhyme scheme. Each line of each stanza, except the third and the sixth (of both stanzas) has eight syllables and is part of a rhyming couplet. The third and sixth lines(of each stanza) rhyme with one another and both have four syllables.
Literary Devices in Count That Day Lost
Eliot uses several literary devices in ‘Count That Day Lost.’ These include but are not limited to alliteration, anaphora, and enjambment. The latter is a formal device that appears when the poet cuts off a line before its natural conclusion. For example, the transition between lines three and four of the second stanza as well as lines six and seven.
Alliteration is a common type of repetition, one that occurs when the poet repeats consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “set” and “sun” in line one of the first stanza as well as “heart” and “heard” in line five of the same stanza.
Anaphora is another kind of repetition. It is focused on the words at the beginning of lines. For instance, “One,” “That,” and “And” all of which starts two lines in the first stanza.
Analysis of Count That Day Lost
If you sit down at set of sun
And count the acts that you have done,
Eliot begins this piece with a call to action and a strong recommendation on how to understand the worth of your last day. She instructs the reader to do as she says, and, “you sit down” at the end of the day while the sun is setting and go through all of your actions throughout the entire day. She wants the reader to consider both the good deeds done, and the bad, the times in which one ignores or helps those in need, and in turn why one made the decisions they did.
And, counting, find
One self-denying deed, one word
That eased the heart of him who heard,
One glance most kind
That fell like sunshine where it went —
Then you may count that day well spent.
She continues on in this stanza to say that while one must count their deeds, or the actions they took throughout this day. If while doing so, they can find one time in which they denied their own needs and said even “one word” that helped someone else then it was a day well spent that was worth living and had a positive impact on the world.
Eliot is hoping to draw attention to the simple actions we take that can improve someone else’s day, and maybe even their larger situation. She makes clear that these actions do not have to be grandiose. They can be composed of just one word, or a “glance most kind.” If ones action,
…fell like sunshine where it went —
then it was a “day well spent.”
This stanza, and the second, follow the same rhyming pattern, AABCCBDD.
But if, through all the livelong day,
You’ve cheered no heart, by yea or nay —
The next stanza takes on the other side of the equation, considering the possibility that one might have spent their day without even the simplest gesture to improve someone else’s experience.
If one has lived through a whole day and “cheered no heart,” through any means available to you or
If, through it all
You’ve nothing done that you can trace
That brought the sunshine to one face–
No act most small
That helped some soul and nothing cost —
Then count that day as worse than lost.
If one has taken no actions that can be traced to a positive outcome, even if that outcome is just the improvement of someone else’s mood, a smile on a face, or the bettering of someone’s mood, then that day is “worse than lost.”
Eliot is condemning those who can spend an entire day without helping or cheering someone else, even through the smallest of acts that would take no time out of one’s day. The acts that, “helped some soul” and cost the helper nothing. Not only are these days lost to the world and to the person who has disregarded others, but they are even worse than they. Eliot stipulates that without helping someone, one’s impact is not neutral but overall negative on the day.While rhyming with different endings, this second stanza follows the same pattern as the first, AABCCBDD.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Count That Day Lost’ should also consider reading some of Eliot’s other best-known poems. For example, ‘I Am Lonely,’ ‘In a London Drawing Room,‘ and ‘The Choir Invisible.’ The latter describes a spaeker’s hopes for the afterlife and her intentions for her memory after her death. ‘In a London Drawing Room’ describes the sameness of London as seen from the speaker’s drawing room. ‘I Am Lonely’ describes a speaker’s sorrow over the departure of her sibling.
About George Eliot
Mary Ann Evans, better known as her pseudonym George Eliot, was born in November of 1819 in Warwickshire, England. Evans developed a great religious fervor while in school as a young woman but moved away from the church after becoming acquainted with more radical beliefs. After finishing school Eliot lived with her father in Coventry until his death. She moved to London where she began to contribute to ‘Westminster Review,’ a journal that focused on philosophy. She would eventually become the editor.
Through her connections in literary circles, she met and began to live with George Henry Lewes who was married to someone else. Due to the scandalous nature of their relationship, she was shunned by her friends and family. It was during this time that she began to write. Her first novel, ‘Adam Bede’ was published in 1859 to great acclaim. She chose to use a male pen name to ensure that her books were taken seriously. Her most popular novel, ‘Middlemarch’ was published in 1872.
Her writing provided an inroad back into society and she married John Cross, a friend of Lewes’ after his death. Eliot Died in December of 1880 and is buried in the famous Highgate Cemetery in London.