The speaker has an intimate understanding of this woman’s life. They know where she goes throughout the day and how she feels. They’re able to describe what she experiences when she’s with her children and when she’s outside, building an imaginary palace to return to when she’s thrust back into her life in ‘Daystar.’
‘Daystar’ by Rita Dove describes the hour of peace and nothingness that a mother and wife has to herself during the day.
The speaker spends the lines of this poem taking the reader through the moments surrounding a woman’s favorite time of the day. It’s not one that brings her joy or pleasure. But, it is one that brings her silence and nothingness. When her children are sleeping, she can sit outside behind the garage and stare at the soft movements of the natural world or at nothing at all. It’s this time of day she casts herself back to when she deals with her children and husband at other points during the day.
You can read the full poem here.
Stanzas One and Two
She wanted a little room for thinking;
but she saw diapers steaming on the line,
to sit out the children’s naps.
In the first two stanzas of the poem, the speaker begins by noting that she wanted room to think. The only time she had a chance to do this was when the “children” were napping. She moved a child’s chair, too small for her, out into the yard. There, she could sit “behind the garage” and have a few moments to herself. The poet uses imagery in these lines showing how no matter where the mother goes, she can’t get away from evidence of her motherhood or her responsibility to her children.
Sometimes there were things to watch –
the pinched armor of a vanished cricket,
when she closed her eyes
she’d see only her own vivid blood.
In the third stanza, the speaker adds that when the woman is outside there are sometimes things to watch but not always. She might see a the “pinched armour of a vanished cricket” or a maple leaf floating through the air. These peaceful images are contrasted with her “own vivid blood.” She would stare off into the distance, experiencing the intensity of her own suffocating life, loneliness, and brief freedom.
She had an hour, at best, before Liza appeared
out back with the field mice? Why,
In the fourth stanza, the speaker notes that this woman had “an hour, at best” before her child, Liza, woke up and expected her mother to come back inside. The child can’t understand why her mother would be outside “with the field mice.” The child uses an accusatory tone, suggesting that her mother is doing something wrong by being outside and not being inside, where she’s supposed to be at all times.
building a palace. Later
that night when Thomas rolled over and
lurched into her, she would open her eyes
she was nothing,
pure nothing, in the middle of the day.
In the fifth stanza, the speaker takes the reader forward into the woman’s evening and her interaction with her husband in bed. She would take herself back to the time she spent outside, “building a palace” and think about the “place that was hers.” It is a brief moment in time in her daily life but it is the only thing that belongs entirely to her.
When there, she’s not a wife or mother. She’s not expected to do anything or be anyone. She’s “nothing, / pure nothing, in the middle of the day.”
Structure and Form
‘Daystar’ by Rita Dove is a five-stanza poem that is divided into uneven stanzas. The first stanza contains three lines, the second: two, the third: six, the fourth: four, and the fifth: seven. The poem is written in what is known as free verse. This means that there is no rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The lines use different endings and are different lengths.
Throughout ‘Daystar,’ the poet engages with several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “steaming” in line two of the first stanza and “slumped” in line three of the first stanza.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses especially effective descriptions. These should inspire readers to imagine the scene in detail, using their senses. For example, “she saw diapers steaming on the line, / a doll slumped behind the door” and “the pinched armor of a vanished cricket, / a floating maple leaf.”
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of the second stanza and lines three and four of the third stanza.
The themes are motherhood and oppression. The speaker is oppressed by the life she’s a part of. So much so to where one hour of time in the backyard is the only freedom she gets in a day.
The speaker is a mother and wife. She’s resigned to her life of caring for her children and her husband. She uses these lines to describe her life in clear and depressing detail.
The purpose is to describe and emphasize the nature of a housewife’s life and duties. Her life is not her own. She cares for her children, is used by her husband, and is left with only a brief moment to herself every day.
The tone is resigned and descriptive. The speaker addresses the facets of her life clearly. She doesn’t try to make anything sound worse or better than it is. Her life is her life, and she gets very brief moments to herself.
The mood is contemplative and sympathetic. The reader is likely going to walk away from this poem feeling bad for the speaker. Her life is entirely taken up by the needs of other people. The tiny hour she had for herself was far from enough.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Daystar’ should also consider reading some other Rita Dove poems. For example:
- ‘Voiceover’ – explores the impossible beauty of nature, discussing the impossibility of remembering such incredible sights.
- ‘American Smooth’ – a thought-provoking poem in which Dove describes a memorable moment between two dance partners.
- ‘Canary’ – a short poem that commemorates the life of Billie Holiday, an African American jazz singer.