‘A Day of Sunshine’ is a direct and memorable poem in which the poet remarks on the beauty of one particularly sunny day. There is a great deal of excitement in this piece, as demonstrated through the use of numerous exclamations. It’s clear that the poet intended readers to experience the same kind of love for the natural world and leave the poem rejuvenated as the speaker is.
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Summary of A Day of Sunshine
The poet spends the poem challenging his love for nature into this one image-rich set of twenty-eight lines. His speaker celebrates the sky, sea, clouds, mountains, and more. There is music in the air, he says, created, seemingly, through the woods, branches, and leaves. It’s more than his soul can take, he says at one point. His nerves are being constantly shocked by the beauty of it all. The poem concludes with the speaker expresses his desire that the human heart gains similar freedom to that which is demonstrated by the broader natural world.
In ‘A Day of Sunshine,’ the poet explores the theme of nature. This is not unusual for Longfellow’s work. Readers will recognize his skillful creation of imagery and his love for the natural world in the lines of this poem. Throughout, he focuses completely on how his speaker, who is likely the poet himself, reacts to various stimuli. He’s moved by the sound of heavenly music in the woods and eventually ends up urging the wind on, asking it to blow harder and bring the branches of a tree within his reach.
Structure and Form
‘A Day of Sunshine’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a twenty-eight line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines follow a simple rhyme scheme of AABBCC, changing end sounds as the poem progresses. Longfellow also chose to structure the lines in a common metrical pattern. The majority of them are in tetrameter, meaning there are eight syllables, or four sets of two syllables, per line. There are, as there usually are, some exceptions.
Longfellow makes use of several literary devices in ‘A Day of Sunshine.’ These include but are not limited to similes, imagery, and caesura. The first of these, similes, are a kind of comparison that uses the words “like” or “as.” There is a good example in lines eleven and twelve when the poet compares the branches of a tree to the “keys of some great instrument” that plays music through the forests. Another example can be found in line sixteen with the phrase “Sails like a golden galleon.”
Caesurae are pauses in the middle of the lines. For example, line one reads: “O gift of God! O perfect day.” In this instance, the pause is created through the use of punctuation and meter, but their lines might use one of the other. For example, line twenty-one: “Blow, winds! and waft through all the rooms.”
Imagery is an important literary device that occurs when the poet uses particularly vibrant and interesting descriptions. For example, “I feel the electric thrill, the touch / Of life, that seems almost too much.” Or, “The splendid scenery of the sky, / Where through a sapphire sea, the sun / Sails like a golden galleon.”
Analysis of A Day of Sunshine
O gift of God! O perfect day:
Whereon shall no man work, but play;
Whereon it is enough for me,
Not to be doing, but to be!
Through every fibre of my brain,
Through every nerve, through every vein,
I feel the electric thrill, the touch
Of life, that seems almost too much.
I hear the wind among the trees
Playing celestial symphonies;
I see the branches downward bent,
Like keys of some great instrument.
In the first lines of ‘A Day of Sunshine,’ the speaker begins by exclaiming over the nature of the day. It’s perfect, something that he sees as being a gift from God. It’s a day where no one is going to work. Instead, everyone is going to play. He doesn’t feel the need to accomplish anything on this sunny day. Instead, he’s going to “be” and enjoy being alive.
The world around him is so beautiful and poignant that he can feel it in every part of his being. It’s in his nerves, like an electric shock. It’s at some points, too much, he adds. The world feels alive, with music moving through the trees “Playing celestial symphonies.” The word “celestial” brings back in religion, suggesting that the music is of God and Heaven.
He uses a simile in lines eleven and twelve to describe the branches “downward bent” as if they’re “keys of some great instrument.”
And over me unrolls on high
The splendid scenery of the sky,
Where through a sapphire sea the sun
Sails like a golden galleon,
Towards yonder cloud-land in the West,
Towards yonder Islands of the Blest,
Whose steep sierra far uplifts
Its craggy summits white with drifts.
Blow, winds! and waft through all the rooms
The snow-flakes of the cherry-blooms!
In the next lines, the speaker goes on to describe the scene around him. There’s the sky, the clouds, and the “craggy summits white with drifts.” Everything is as bright and beautiful as it could possibly be. The sea is like sapphires, and the sun is like the sails of a “golden galleon.” A galleon, a type of ship, sails across the sky and lights up the land. More exclamations follow in the remaining lines of the poem as the poet celebrates all he’s experiencing and urges nature to continue its beautiful display.
Blow, winds! and bend within my reach
The fiery blossoms of the peach!
O Life and Love! O happy throng
Of thoughts, whose only speech is song!
O heart of man! canst thou not be
Blithe as the air is, and as free?
The final lines contain several more exclaims. The speaker is seemingly shouting out in excitement over the perfection of the day. In the last lines, he asks why the human heart can’t be as “free” as the “air is.” In this last addition to the poem, all the lines take on added meaning. It’s clear the speaker feels joyous in regard to the beauty of the landscape, but it is also tinged with sorrow in that his heart will never be as “free” and “Blithe” as the “air is.”
Readers who enjoyed ‘A Day of Sunshine’ should also consider reading some of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s other best-known poems. For example:
- ‘A Gleam of Sunshine’ – explores a variety of philosophical concepts through the use of familiar images like shadows, nature, and light.
- ‘A Nameless Grave’ – invites readers to think about how many nameless graves there are in the world, but specifically as a result of the American Civil War.
- ‘Afternoon in February’ – is a darker poem that explores sadness and how one’s personal sadness can be projected onto other elements of their life.
- ‘A Psalm of Life’ – speaks on the purpose of life and how struggles and sorrows should be handled as they appear along the way. Everyone has to face life and make the best of it every day; the speaker concludes.