Summary and Analysis
“Count That Day Lost,” by the English writer George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Ann Evans), is a lyric poem consisting of two stanzas and offering straightforward moral advice of the sort often associated with literature of the Victorian period.
Unlike the titles of many works, the title of this poem is absolutely integral to the poem’s meaning, effects, and effectiveness. The title immediately creates suspense. What day (we wonder) does the title imply? In what ways will that unidentified day be “lost”? Answers to these questions are postponed until the very end of the poem, where the text achieves a final ironic symmetry. The poem’s last line (in other words) clearly echoes its title, but in a memorably different way than we may have expected.
The opening line of the text is typical of the poem as a whole. It uses direct address and very simple phrasing—phrasing that seems appropriate to a work that is designed to teach a lesson. By openly addressing the reader, the speaker catches our attention and makes the poem’s personal relevance seem immediately obvious.
The meter of line 1, like the meter of the rest of the work, is straightforwardly “iambic.” Iambic meter consists of unaccented odd syllables followed by accented even syllables. Thus, the first line “scans” as follows: “If you sit down at set of sun.” The rest of the poem conforms to this pattern in thoroughly predictable ways, perhaps because Eliot wanted the poem to sound as simple and direct as its message. Iambic meter is often thought to mimic the rhythms of most “normal” speech, and so the meter of this poem, like so many other aspects of the work, sounds colloquial and almost conversational. The speaker does not sound like a lofty prophet or an eloquent bard but instead like a “regular” person, or perhaps even a friend.
To say this, however, is not to say that the poem’s language is completely simple and unadorned. The first line, for instance, achieves added interest not only because of the way set echoes sit but also because of the speaker’s heavy use of alliteration involving the consonants s, t, and n: “If you sit down at set of sun.” Even when using apparently simple language, then, this speaker often achieves subtle effects. The reference to “set of sun,” for instance, obviously refers to the end of...
(The entire section is 1533 words.)
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