Monday, May 19, 2014

Analysis of "A Sunrise Song" by Sidney Lanier

Original poem reprinted online here: "A Sunrise Song" by Sidney Lanier
Originally read: October 9, 2013
More information about the Poet: Sidney Lanier

Quatrains with an "abab" rhyme scheme.  I think I chose this poem because I didn't understand all the allusions, but I wanted to.  So when I looked them up for the first time, I read a strong sense of spirituality and region in this poem -- which, essentially, what allusion does.

So my rant about allusion is this.  Yes, it's a good way to tie in multiple ideas down to a symbol or a sign, but it's up to the speaker to make the allusion interesting enough for people to look it up.  Also, a poem too dependent on allusion risks apathy.  Why am I reading this poem instead of the source material?  It's the balance.

In any case, the first stanza in the poem has words indicating imperialism:

     Young palmer sun, that to these shining sands
     Pourest thy pilgrim's tale, discoursing still
     Thy silver passages of sacred lands
     With news of Sepulcher and Dolorous Hill.

For me, I wanted to understand what palmer meant -- pilgrim.  So for this first stanza there's an establishment of mysticism and tale with the "discoursing" and "shining sands"  but there's also the idea of "sacred" which begs the question who is the speaker?  It's the idea of reverence that keeps me going:

     Canst thou be he that, yester-sunset warm,
     Purple with Paynim rage and wreck desire,
     Dashed ravening out of a dusty lair of Storm,
     Harried the west, and set the world on fire?

Here the references become more grandiose with each line.   Note the form of a question in which the speaker questions not only who "he" is but what "he" is currently doing.  I believe the "he" mentioned in the first line is "God" -- or, if not, someone with a complex of "rage and wreck desire" and having these emotions, "harried the west, and set the world on fire?"  As far as the imperialism argument goes, "harried the west" feels like manifest destiny, but I might be looking into things too much.

     Hast thou perchance repented, Saracen Sun?
     Wilt warm the word with peace and dove-desire?
     Or with thou, are this very day be done,
     Blaze-Saladin still, with unforgiving fire?

Saracen refers to the "Arab, crusades?"  or at least that's what I put down in my notes.  Note how this is a continuation of the rhetorical questions, but the stanza break changes the questioning a bit from "who" to "judgment."  Has the he repented, is the word enough, or is burning enough?  The key to this poem is knowing who he refers to, and I'm not sure.  There's a case that "he" refers imperialism like I mentioned since the poem goes to the grandiose and conceptual.  But what if this poem referred to a group of people -- yes, my thoughts went to "Arab."  But in the context of the poem, what does this mean?  Or more importantly, what time frame?

Or, let's be honest, maybe I'm looking too much into the poem and this poem is about the Sun.  It is hot and it does set fire to the world.

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