‘Morning’ by Henry Reed is a three-stanza poem separated into one set of five lines, one of four, and a final stanza of eight lines. Reed has not chosen to conform his text to a structured pattern of rhyme or rhythm. The lines may be written in free verse but they maintain their unity in their similar length. This is especially clear within the first two stanzas. The lines range between 10 and 15 syllables each. This connects the text physically on the page and determines the amount of time a reader can spend on each line.
A reader will immediately take note of the speaker and the intended listener of the poem. Reed’s speaker is addressing his “love,” The two are together in a room and he is utilizing a picture on the wall to describe the emotional, spiritual, and physical space the two inhabit should together.
Throughout the poem, there is a repetition of images associated with the morning. There is first the title that hints at the time of day and the feelings one will be experiencing. Reed utilizes words like “golden” and “reflection” twice. He also states twice that there are “no shadows.” Other repeated words include “echo” and “still”.
Summary of Morning
The poem begins with the speaker asking his listener, who is plagued by their history, to look at a picture. It is a painting of an oriental landscape. There are no shadows or reflections on the lake. He sees this as being the perfect representation of a world he’d like to live in.
The second stanza contains his depiction of the way his listener lives now. This person is constantly followed by their own personal history. It projects itself onto the life the couple is attempting to lead together. The poem concludes with the speaker crafting an image of happiness in the future. He and his “love” are able to “lie” together within a world that bears no part of the past.
You can read the full poem Morning here.
Analysis of Morning
Look, my love, on the wall, and here, at this Eastern picture.
No echo would come if you blew a horn in those valleys.
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by asking his “love,” the person to whom the entire poem is spoken, to “Look” at something. The two are in a room, likely one within their own house. Reed’s speaker is pointing out an “Eastern picture” on the wall. This is a vague description but refers to a painting in the tradition of China, Japan, or Korea. The image is “still,” a feature the speaker admires. He finds value in the slow movement or even none at all. This is emphasized in the next phrase with his statement that the landscape is not asleep or awake. It is simply existing as it is without pretense.
The next lines describe how there are no “shadow[s]” falling from the mountain. This world is without the progression of time. The sun is directly overhead if it exists at all; it does not move. The same is said for the “tree.” Each element of the landscape is bathed in “golden” light. This is the feeling Reed is hoping to convey through the text. As his speaker describes the scene in the image, it should become apparent that he is also seeking those same elements in his life.
As if envious of what exists there, the speaker says that if one was to blow “a horn” nothing would happen. There would not be an “echo” to prove distance or space. The picture’s world is flat and impossible to disturb. The same is said for the lake which has no “reflection.” Nothing physical can disturb the perfection of the picture plane.
And look away, and move. Or speak, or sing:
And a thousand shadows attend where you go.
The second stanza only contains four lines and begins with a drastic shift. Reed’s speaker moves away from his description of the image and back to the real world. He is attempting to show his listener the great contrast between the world they live in and the world they could inhabit together.
When the speaker and his listener “look away” from the painting, the real world is much different. When the listener “speak[s], or sing[s]” they call up all the “voices of the past.” These voices are continuously speaking in the background, in a quiet “murmur.” He is able to hear them in everything his “love” speaks.
The two are unable to live and move in the real world without disturbing their history. There is something about the listener’s past which is haunting. It could just be troubling to the listener, but that is unlikely. The speaker would not be bringing it up if it did not impact their relationship somehow.
In the last two lines, the speaker reveals that her words have the power to “quicken” his “dead selves.” All the past versions of the speaker, everyone he has ever been, comes to the surface. They likely bring along various feelings he was not looking for and experiences he would rather forget.
In an effort to emphasize the problem the listener has the speaker separates their life from his own. It is this persons’ “thousand shadows” which follow along everywhere. The “shadows” are not his fault.
That is your movement. There is a golden stillnes,
Soundless and fathomless, and far beyond it;
And we lie here, our orient peace awakening,
No echo, and no shadow, and no reflection.
Although he was at points berating the listener in the second stanza, he returns to a peaceful tone in the third. This stanza is once again a striking contrast to the lines before it. He begins by stating that everything above is the listener’s “movement.” At the same time, he could also be implying that his following words could be the new “movement” they take.
The speaker desires a world made of “golden stillness” just like the “Eastern painting” was. He sees a world bathed in the constant sun, without shadows and reflections, as being ideal. Together he wants the two of them to embark on the “Soundless and fathomless” and then, “beyond.” In an effort to better describe the world he is envisioning he uses a few images to illustrate his point.
Reed’s speaker paints a picture of the couple together, “brow on brow, or mouth to mouth.” When they are close, intimate, and consumed with one another they are “assembled.” It is as if all the pieces are together. They can truly be happy this way, especially when placed in the “calm of morning.” He has crafted an image of his own part of perfection here.
The last four lines describe the exterior world. He and his partner are alone together within their minds and within the speaker’s vision of heaven. No longer do the shadows haunt his listener. The echos are gone and there are no reflections. They are able to “lie” there together in their “orient” (another reference to Eastern culture) “peace.”