‘The Day is Done’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is an eleven stanza poem which is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. The stanzas conform to a consistent pattern of rhyme in that the second and fourth lines of each quatrain rhyme. The poet has chosen not to rhyme the first and third lines. This choice was made in an effort to keep the reader engaged. One will not be able to predict what the coming lines will be based on the rhyming pattern.
Summary of The Day is Done
The speaker begins by describing what his day was like. The sky is filled with rain and he has fallen into a solemn mood. He is not in pain—only sorrowful.
In an effort to improve his mood he turns to his intended listener and asks that he/she read to him. He does not want to hear a poem crafted by one of the great writers of history, nor that written by a “bard sublime.” The speaker is seeking out an experience that will soothe his nerves, rather than remind him of all the problems he will be facing in the morning.
In the last lines, the speaker asks that the listener find a poem which adheres to his requirements and read it aloud to him. The listener’s voice will lend the poem a beauty it didn’t previously have and his cares will “fold” away to be considered at another time.
Analysis of The Day is Done
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 speaker begins ‘The Day is Done’ with the first of a number of metaphors that will be utilized throughout the text. He describes the coming of the night as falling from the sky like “feathers” which “waft” down from “an eagle in his flight.” It comes on softly. There are no sudden changes or transformations. The speaker sees it as something beautiful which one can, and should, be able to watch, predict, and appreciate.
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:
In the next section, the speaker moves on to describe the “lights of the village.” They are showing through the rain and adding to the beauty of the waning light. He can see the “Gleam” of the town through the “mist” and “rain.”
The sight of the village in the near distance takes the speaker to a solemn place. He is overcome with a “feeling of sadness” which he cannot stop. His soul is unable to “resist” the change.
A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.
The “feeling” which has taken over the speaker’s soul is further described in this section. It is a mood of “sadness” and “longing” he is experiencing, but he makes sure to tell the reader that it is not anywhere close to being “pain.”
His emotions are described as “resembl[ing] sorrow” just like the “mist resembles the rain.” The speaker’s choice to relate his own emotions to the weather occurring around him allows the reader to gain a greater understanding of what he feels. While one might not have felt exactly as he does now, one has seen rain and mist and felt their connection.
Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.
The speaker’s narration in the fourth stanza takes a turn. He is now directly speaking to his intended listener, asking that she or he come to him and “read…some poem.” The narrator is seeking a series of new emotions. He wants to develop a peaceful space around him and improve his general mood.
The speaker does not want the listener to read him something complicated or overly emotional, instead, he is seeking out “Some simple and heartfelt lay,” or a romantic, usually short, verse poem. He believes his emotions will be soothed by this person’s reading and his mind will be cleaned of the “thoughts of the day.”
Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.
The fifth stanza narrows down the range of poetry the speaker is seeking out. He asks that one does not bring him a “lay” by the “grand old master.” He is also not looking for a heroic poem written by the “bards sublime.” The relevance of these types of poets is not lost on the speaker, he knows everything they have to offer. He does not want to have to think of their “footsteps echo[ing] / Through…Time.” The speaker wants something simple and clear.
For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavor;
And to-night I long for rest.
The speaker continues into the second half of the poem by stating that these types of poetry, which were mentioned in the previous stanza, do not appeal to him at the moment for one specific reason. They are always “suggest[ing] / Life’s endless toil and endeavor.” He has experienced enough of these emotions during his day, he does not need any more now that he “long[s] for rest.”
Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;
In the next stanza of ‘The Day is Done’, the speaker describes how it is the work of a “humbler poet” he is looking for. This person will have written songs which seen to “gush” from “his heart.” Their work will be passionate and honest.
The writings of this ideal poet will rain down on the speaker like “showers from the clouds of summer.” He also relates to the work he is looking for as being like “tears from the eyelids start.” The words will, hopefully, fall from the listener’s mouth as they read, like “tears” which are just starting to trickle down from one’s eyes.
Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.
The poet of whom he speaks will have been able to penetrate through the “long days of labor.” This person will not have been changed, at least not irreparably by the struggles of life. Although “he” will have experienced “nights,” just like the speaker does, “devoid of ease,” his work will ascend that fact.
The speaker’s ideal writer will have “heard” the “music / Of wonderful melodies” in his soul. Life will not have changed or transformed “his” outlook on life.
Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.
The poem begins to draw towards its conclusion in the next two stanzas. The speaker wants to make clear to the reader the reasons why this type of poetry is appealing to him. It is songs such as those he is thinking of, which have the “power to quiet / The restless pulse of care.” He is seeking out words that will soothe and reinvigorate him. The speaker will not have to think about every problem he will face the next morning.
Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.
The second to last stanza reaffirms the speaker’s desire. He has fully outlined what he wants from his intended listener and now turns the choice over to him/her. This person now has the responsibility to find a “poem of thy choice” which adheres to his previously described needs.
It is not just the poetry that the speaker is seeking out. He needs it to be read by this particular person. His/her voice will lend the poem a “beauty,” which will add to his experience.
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.
In the final stanza of ‘The Day is Done’, the speaker describes how the night will be transformed by the reading. His evening will be “filled with music.” The speaker will not have to think about the “cares that infest the day,” his mind will be lifted above these cares.
The “cares” which he is seeking to escape will “fold their tents” and “silently steal away.” His worries will disappear so quickly and silently that one will not even notice it has happened until they are gone.