What is a close reading of Henry Longfellow's "A Gleam of Sunshine"?
Henry Longfellow's "A Gleam of Sunshine" is a poem consisting of fourteen four-line stanzas written in what is called "common" or "hymn" meter. The lines alternate between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, with occasional metrical substitutions and are rhymed ABCB.
The poem appeared in Longfellow's book, The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems, which was published in 1845. Two important life events that probably influenced the poem were the death of the poet's first wife Mary in 1835 and his subsequent courtship of Fanny Appleton that began in 1839 with her rejecting him and concluded successfully in 1843.
The poem is written in the first person and describes the poet stopping and looking down on a path leading to a church. As he thinks back on the service, he remembers someone who has died (probably Mary) and describes how memories of the departed made him unable to concentrate on the subject of the prayers or sermon:
Long was the good man's sermon,
Yet it seemed not so to me;
For he spake of Ruth the beautiful,
And still I thought of thee.
Significantly, the topic of the sermon he remembers is Ruth, an Old Testament figure who is widowed, remains steadfast in her faith, and remarries happily.
The poet compares her death to the departure of the sun, leaving the world dark and gloomy, but then finds some solace in the thought that memory of her is like the gleam of a ray of sunshine from behind a cloud.