'This is the land the sunset washes,' by Emily Dickinson

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This is the land the sunset washes,
These are the banks of the Yellow Sea;
Where it rose, or whither it rushes,
These are the western mystery!

Night after night her purple traffic
Strews the landing with opal bales;
Merchantmen poise upon horizons,
Dip, and vanish with fairy sails.

Editor 1 Interpretation

This is the land the sunset washes: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Are you a fan of poetry? If you are, then you must have heard of Emily Dickinson, one of the greatest American poets of all time. Even if you haven't, you must have come across at least one of her works in your literature classes. And if you haven't, then you're in for a treat.

In this literary criticism and interpretation, we'll be focusing on one of her most famous poems, This is the land the sunset washes. We'll be exploring the themes, literary devices, and the overall meaning of this poem. So, let's dive in.


This is the land the sunset washes is a short poem that consists of only four lines. Despite its brevity, the poem is full of meaning and depth. It was written by Emily Dickinson, who is known for her unique style of writing and her ability to convey complex emotions in simple words.

Here's the poem:

This is the land the sunset washes,
These are the banks of the Yellow Sea;
Where it rose, or whither it rushes,
These are the western mystery!

At first glance, the poem seems like a simple description of a landscape. However, as we'll see in the following sections, there's much more to this poem than meets the eye.


One of the most prominent themes in this poem is the idea of mystery. The last line of the poem, "These are the western mystery!" hints at the fact that there's something unknown and enigmatic about the landscape being described. This is further emphasized by the use of the word "whither" in the third line, which suggests that the movement of the Yellow Sea is uncertain and unpredictable.

Another theme that can be inferred from the poem is the idea of beauty. The first line, "This is the land the sunset washes," paints a picture of a serene and picturesque landscape that's being bathed in the warm glow of the setting sun. This creates a sense of awe and wonder in the reader and makes them appreciate the beauty of nature.

Literary Devices

Emily Dickinson was known for her use of literary devices in her poetry, and This is the land the sunset washes is no exception. Here are some of the most prominent literary devices used in this poem:


Enjambment is the continuation of a sentence or clause over a line break. This is used effectively in the first and second lines of the poem to create a sense of continuity and flow:

This is the land the sunset washes,
These are the banks of the Yellow Sea;

The use of enjambment here makes the two lines flow seamlessly into each other, creating a sense of unity between the land and the sea.


Imagery is the use of words and phrases to create mental images in the reader's mind. Emily Dickinson uses vivid imagery in this poem to paint a picture of the landscape being described. For example, the phrase "the sunset washes" creates an image of the sun's warm glow washing over the land, while the phrase "banks of the Yellow Sea" conjures up images of rugged cliffs and rocky beaches.


Personification is the attribution of human qualities to non-human objects. Emily Dickinson uses personification in the third line of the poem, where she describes the Yellow Sea as rising and rushing:

Where it rose, or whither it rushes,

This personification makes the sea seem more alive and dynamic, adding to the sense of mystery and unpredictability in the poem.


So, what does This is the land the sunset washes actually mean? As with any poem, there are multiple ways to interpret it, but here's my take on it:

The poem is a meditation on the beauty and mystery of nature. The landscape being described is a place of stunning natural beauty, where the land and sea merge into one another under the warm glow of the setting sun. However, there's also something mysterious and unknown about this place, as suggested by the use of the word "mystery" in the last line.

The poem can also be interpreted as a commentary on the human condition. Just as the landscape is both beautiful and mysterious, so too are human beings complex and multifaceted. We may seem simple on the surface, but there's always more to us than meets the eye.


This is the land the sunset washes is a beautiful and thought-provoking poem that showcases Emily Dickinson's skill as a poet. Through her use of literary devices such as enjambment, imagery, and personification, she creates a vivid and evocative picture of a mysterious and awe-inspiring landscape. The poem can be interpreted in many ways, but at its heart, it's a meditation on the beauty and complexity of nature and the human condition. So, the next time you see a sunset or visit a beautiful landscape, remember this poem and take a moment to appreciate the mystery and wonder of the world around us.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

This is the land the sunset washes - a poem that captures the essence of nature's beauty and the magic of the sunset. Written by the renowned American poet, Emily Dickinson, this classic piece of literature has stood the test of time and continues to inspire readers with its vivid imagery and profound meaning.

At first glance, the poem appears to be a simple description of a landscape at sunset. However, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that Dickinson is using the sunset as a metaphor for the cycle of life and death. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each of which represents a different stage in this cycle.

The first stanza describes the land at sunset, with its "purple" and "gold" hues. Dickinson's use of color is significant here, as purple is often associated with royalty and power, while gold represents wealth and prosperity. By using these colors to describe the land, Dickinson is suggesting that nature is a powerful and prosperous force that is worthy of admiration and respect.

The second stanza shifts the focus to the creatures that inhabit the land. Dickinson describes the "dusky" birds and the "shadows" that they cast. This imagery is particularly striking, as it suggests that even in the midst of beauty and prosperity, there is still darkness and uncertainty. The birds, with their dusky feathers, represent the fleeting nature of life, while the shadows they cast represent the inevitability of death.

The final stanza brings the poem full circle, as Dickinson returns to the sunset. She describes the "purple host" of clouds that gather in the sky, and the "golden verge" where the sun disappears. This imagery is particularly poignant, as it suggests that even as the sun sets and darkness falls, there is still beauty and wonder to be found in the world.

Overall, This is the land the sunset washes is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that speaks to the beauty and complexity of nature. Dickinson's use of vivid imagery and metaphorical language creates a sense of wonder and awe that is both inspiring and humbling. Whether you are a seasoned poetry enthusiast or a casual reader, this classic piece of literature is sure to leave a lasting impression.

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