Daybreak Summary By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Simplicity of Longfellow’s Poem
Though the modern critics have labelled him as a children’s poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is still today one of the most widely read American poets. It is the simplicity of the theme and the diction which has made him endearing to the modern readers. Though in his early poems Longfellow is sometimes didactic, he never strove to create any complex personal philosophy in his poems. He is always serenely lyrical in his poems and touches the heart of his readers with the candid simplicity of his spirit.
Recurrence of Nature as Theme
Nature and Natural phenomena have a special meaning to Longfellow. He has translated many natural activities like the occurrence of day and night, the movements of the sun, the moon or the tide in the river into simple yet memorable poetical experience.
Many of his poems include day and night with their myriad varieties and typicality as the theme. Some of the titles of his poems like ‘The Day is Done’, ‘The Rainy Day, ‘Daylight and Moonlight’ or ‘Hymn to the Night’ tell about his fascination for such natural phenomena. The wonderful lyric ‘Daybreak’ is taken from ‘Birds of Passage’. This Collection was published in the year 1858.
Creating myth about natural phenomenon is a common practice with the nature poets. The poet creates an imaginary explanation of natural happenings in his own way. In ‘Daybreak’, we find the emergence of the morning wind from the heart of the sea and to disperse the mist covering the face of the sea is certainly a natural phenomenon that occurs at daybreak.
The poet has created a myth out of the natural happening by making the morning wind the harbinger of a new day in its landward journey and meeting a number of objects and entities on the course of its journey.
One of the most patent tools of making myth is personification, a figure of speech in which inanimate objects are ascribed with human qualities and behaviours. In ‘Daybreak’ the wind has been personified as a herald, who proclaims the advent of the morning and a new day. As in the human societies of yore the advent of majestic royalties were announced by a herald, the coming of the new day is announced by the morning wind.
We find the wind to speak like the herald and it also shouts and whispers according to the situation. The wind also shows it capability of human emotion when it signs at the time of crossing the churchyard feeling sad for those lying in their graves. But Longfellow chooses to use inanimate-denoting pronoun ‘it’ for the wind though person-denoting pronoun ‘he’ or ‘she’ is used in such personification.
Pictorial Quality and Movement
‘Daybreak’ as a poem shows unique pictorial quality and steady movement synonymous with the wind. The readers start their journey with the wind from mist-muffled sea just before the daybreak and first meets the ships with sleeping sailors. Then almost a vivid map of the course of its journey is drawn with finer details of motionless birds nestling in the forest or sleeping rooster in the farmhouse or dumb bell hanging in the belfry tower of the church.
In this way, a panoramic picture of a vast area encompassing both land and sea is drawn in this rather short poem. We have examples of such movement and motion in a larger scale in classical sanskrit literature like Kalidasa’s ‘Meghdootam‘ or Dhoi’s ‘Pavandoot’. Longfellow who was aware of classical sanskrit literature and himself wrote poems like ‘Trishanku, the king’ might have been influenced by the classical masters.
We find the wind jubiliant with every object it meets and encourages everyone to greet the incoming day with their respective morning activities and like a true herald he uses the interjection ‘O’ in his addresses like, ‘O mists’, ‘O bird’, ‘O chanticleer’ or ‘O bell’ to specify his heraldic role. But this mood of jubilation turns into melancholy when the wind crosses the graveyard.
Here the poet wants to suggest that daybreak is a kind of jubilation and regeneration after the night-long inactivities of sleep for those who are alive. But for those who are already in the realm of everlasting sleep, it is not a moment of re-awakening. This subtle shift in the final couplet at the outset of poem lends it a philosophical dimension.
SUBSTANCE OF THE POEM
The poem describes what the wind does at daybreak or dawn. The wind in the poem rises from the sea. It wants to spread the message of daybreak to the world. So it asks the mist to make room for it. It asks the sailors to awake and then moves towards the land. It tells the trees in the forest to unfold their leaves.
It wakes the birds and asks them to sing so that the world will know that it is morning. It asks the rooster to crow to hearld the coming of a new day. It tells the corn in the fields to bow down because the sun is source of nourishment to the plants. By bowing down, the corn will express their gratitude to the sun.
Then, the wind blows through the church tower and tells the bell to ring so that the people will know what time of day it is. Finally, the winds arrives at the graveyard of a church. It sighs softly and tells the dead to lie quietly because it is not yet the Judgement
Day-a day that christians believe will be the day that God comes down to earth and the dead will rise from their graves so that God can judge them.
CENTRAL IDEA OF THE POEM
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in his poem moment, the wind takes the leading role to deliver the message and remind them of their roles in the morning festival.
‘Daybreak’, illustrates the aspects of nature at the breaking of a new day with joy and new hope. The poet presents daybreak as an emerging force that causes a huge sensation to all elemental aspects of nature. The dark night is replaced with the hope of a mellowing dawn. Daybreak is the time of celebration and everyone should take part in the procession of light. With their active participation only, the entire realm of morning will be unfolded with its celestial glory and music. To celebrate the
TITLE OF THE POEM
Longfellow’s poem ‘Daybreak’ ‘Daybreak’ records records the journey and activities of the wind that rises out of the sea and heads towards the land. In the course of its journey it meets the mists, ships, forest, woodbird, rooster in the farmhouse, the cornfield and the bell in the churchsteeple.
To everyone, the wind heralds the message about the coming of a new day and tells everyone to greet it with their respective morning activity. Though the wind and its activities occupy the entire span of the poem, the poet actually intends to capture a particular moment of the day with all its associated activities and ambience in this poem and that moment is daybreak and dawn. The title ‘Daybreak’ thus justifies the poetic purpose. The choice of the word ‘daybreak’ over ‘dawn’ conveys a suggestion about the advent of a new day and the ensuing celebration in the living word.