Study Guide

The Day is Done Art and Culture

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Art and Culture

Come, read to me some poem,   
Some simple and heartfelt lay, (lines 13-14)

So, the thing that really gets us excited about this poem is the feeling that Longfellow is talking straight to us, the readers.  Sure, we know he could be asking someone in the poem like his friend or his wife to read to him.  Imagine for a second, though, that he's asking you.  Honestly, we think this gets right to the heart of what this poem is about: making a connection between an author and a reader.  It's about the power of art to store a feeling in a book for years, and then, when it finds the right reader, to bring that feeling to life again.  Maybe he doesn't want you to actually read aloud, but you better believe Longfellow is talking directly to you.

Not from the grand old masters,   
Not from the bards sublime, (lines 17-18)

Not all poems are the same.  Sounds kind of obvious, but stick with us here.  Some poems are right for some occasions, and some for others.  Right now, the speaker isn't looking for a famous old masterpiece written by an ancient master.  He doesn't want to read Homer's Odyssey, or Dante's Inferno.  He likes those poems, and he acknowledges that the old writers can be "sublime" (magnificent, awe-inspiring).  He's just not in that kind of mood.  This part of "The Day is Done" is all about finding the right poem for the moment.

Read from some humbler poet,  
Whose songs gushed from his heart, (lines 25-26)

What this guy really wants is something simple, down to earth, "humbler" than Homer or Milton or Dante.  Just as importantly, he wants someone who had authentic, deep feelings, that "gushed from his heart."  Readers in the nineteenth century loved this kind of sentimental literature.  Actually, it's totally alive today too – people are still hungry for simple, heartfelt and "authentic" books and poems.

Still heard in his soul the music   
Of wonderful melodies.  (lines 31-32)

He wants to hear something from a poet with music in his soul.  Romantic poets like Longfellow put a really high value on this kind of idea.  They thought a poet was the kind of person who could hear music where others couldn't, who could see through the boring, painful details of the everyday.  He could turn dull, normal life into beautiful music.

And lend to the rhyme of the poet   
The beauty of thy voice.  (lines 39-40)   

This is a cool image, isn't it?  We love the idea of the reader's voice joining forces with the poet's rhymes.  It makes the beauty of the poem into a team effort.  The poem is only complete, only moving and real when the reader "lends" his or her voice to it.  This is more of that stuff about the connection between the reader and the writer, the crucial link between the past and the present.

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