Study Guide

The Day is Done Memory and the Past

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Memory and the Past

This is a less obvious and central theme, but we think it pops up in really interesting ways.  "The Day is Done" has quite a bit to say about how literature comes down to us from the past.  In a sense, this is about literary tradition, but not in the sense of a pile of musty old books that you have to read.  That's exactly what the speaker is <em>not</em> after here.  What he thinks is really great is the way that real, raw emotions can be stored in a poem, and can come back to life when it's read aloud.  Sound a little wacky?  Maybe so, but that's the kind of poetry magic we love around here.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. When you read old books, do you feel like you're really connecting with the emotions of people in the past?  Does that happen all the time? Just sometimes?  Never?
  2. What about that business with the "corridors of Time" (line 20)? Why do you think they are included in the poem?
  3. Do you think the speaker is trying to get rid of his memories?  Is he maybe just pushing them aside for a moment?

Chew on This

The speaker in "The Day is Done" is trying to forget the past, to push away his memories and the traditions of poetry.  In doing that, he is trying to focus his readers entirely on the present moment.

Although memories of work and suffering are clearly painful to the speaker, he heals himself with another kind of memory: the beautiful music that is stored in poetry.

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