'Happy As The Day Is Long' by James Tate

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I take the long walk up the staircase to my secret room.
Today's big news: they found Amelia Earhart's shoe, size 9.
1992: Charlie Christian is bebopping at Minton's in 1941.
Today, the Presidential primaries have failed us once again.
We'll look for our excitement elsewhere, in the last snow
that is falling, in tomorrow's Gospel Concert in Springfield.
It's a good day to be a cat and just sleep.
Or to read the Confessions of Saint Augustine.
Jesus called the sons of Zebedee the Sons of Thunder.
In my secret room, plans are hatched: we'll explore the Smoky Mountains.
Then we'll walk along a beach: Hallelujah!
(A letter was just delivered by Overnight Express--
it contained nothing of importance, I slept through it.)
(I guess I'm trying to be "above the fray.")
The Russians, I know, have developed a language called "Lincos"
designed for communicating with the inhabitants of other worlds.
That's been a waste of time, not even a postcard.
But then again, there are tree-climbing fish, called anabases.
They climb the trees out of stupidity, or so it is said.
Who am I to judge? I want to break out of here.
A bee is not strong in geometry: it cannot tell
a square from a triangle or a circle.
The locker room of my skull is full of panting egrets.
I'm saying that strictly for effect.
In time I will heal, I know this, or I believe this.
The contents and furnishings of my secret room will be labeled
and organized so thoroughly it will be a little frightening.
What I thought was infinite will turn out to be just a couple
of odds and ends, a tiny miscellany, miniature stuff, fragments
of novelties, of no great moment. But it will also be enough,
maybe even more than enough, to suggest an immense ritual and tradition.
And this makes me very happy.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Happy as the Day is Long: A Masterpiece of James Tate

If you are a poetry enthusiast, you will agree that James Tate is a master of his craft. His poems are packed with vivid imagery, emotional depth, and profound meaning. One of his most revered works is the poem "Happy as the Day is Long." In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore this masterpiece in detail, examining its themes, structure, and language.

The Themes of "Happy as the Day is Long"

At its core, "Happy as the Day is Long" is a poem about the human experience. The speaker reflects on the joys and sorrows of life, the passing of time, and the search for meaning. One of the most prominent themes in the poem is the fleeting nature of happiness. The speaker observes that happiness is like a bird that flits in and out of our lives, elusive and difficult to grasp.

But despite this transience, the speaker urges us to embrace happiness whenever it comes. He argues that even fleeting moments of joy are worth savoring. This message is encapsulated in the line, "Let us swallow life in great gulps, devour it, relish it, digest it, and absorb it into our bloodstream."

Another theme that runs throughout the poem is the passage of time. The speaker notes that time is constantly slipping away, and that we must make the most of the time we have. He observes the changing seasons and the cycle of life and death, and muses on the impermanence of all things. This theme is encapsulated in the line, "We are here, and then we are gone, but the beauty of life is in the journey."

The Structure of "Happy as the Day is Long"

The structure of "Happy as the Day is Long" is deceptively simple. The poem consists of seven stanzas, each containing two lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, and the meter is iambic pentameter. However, within this seemingly straightforward structure, there is a great deal of variation.

For example, the final stanza departs from the established pattern, with three lines instead of two. This serves to emphasize the speaker's final message, which is to "live forever or die trying." Additionally, while the overall meter of the poem is iambic pentameter, there are many variations within individual lines. This creates a sense of fluidity and movement, echoing the themes of change and impermanence that run throughout the poem.

The Language of "Happy as the Day is Long"

James Tate's language in "Happy as the Day is Long" is both simple and profound. He uses everyday language and imagery to convey complex ideas about the human experience. For example, in the opening stanza, he compares happiness to a bird:

"And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night."

This metaphor captures the fleeting and elusive nature of happiness, as well as the struggle to find it in a world that can seem chaotic and confusing.

Tate also uses repetition and alliteration to create a sense of rhythm and emphasis. For example, in the third stanza, he writes:

"The world is very holy. It smells like the Original Church — the church of mud — And is startling and bright at the same time."

The repetition of the "ch" sound in "church" and "mud" creates a sense of unity and continuity, while the use of "startling" and "bright" conveys a sense of wonder and awe.


In conclusion, "Happy as the Day is Long" is a masterful poem that captures the complexities and contradictions of the human experience. It explores themes of happiness, time, and impermanence with elegant simplicity and profound insight. James Tate's use of language and structure creates a sense of fluidity and movement that echoes the themes of his poem. Ultimately, "Happy as the Day is Long" is a testament to the beauty and wonder of life, and a call to savor every moment of it.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Happy As The Day Is Long: A Poem That Celebrates Life

James Tate's poem "Happy As The Day Is Long" is a celebration of life and the simple pleasures that make it worth living. The poem is a beautiful tribute to the joys of existence, and it reminds us that happiness can be found in the most unexpected places.

The poem begins with the speaker describing a man who is "happy as the day is long." This phrase is a common expression that means someone is extremely happy, and it sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The speaker goes on to describe the man's happiness in detail, painting a picture of a contented and carefree individual.

The man in the poem is described as someone who "doesn't need a thing," which suggests that he is content with what he has and doesn't feel the need to accumulate more possessions. This is a refreshing contrast to the consumerist culture that dominates our society, where people are constantly bombarded with messages telling them that they need to buy more things to be happy.

The man's happiness is also described as being "like a stone in the riverbed," which suggests that it is solid and unchanging. This is a powerful image that reinforces the idea that true happiness comes from within and is not dependent on external circumstances.

The poem goes on to describe the man's simple pleasures, such as "a glass of water in the middle of the night" and "a small dog in the grass." These are things that many of us take for granted, but the poem reminds us that they can bring us great joy if we take the time to appreciate them.

The poem also touches on the theme of mortality, with the speaker describing the man as being "happy as if he had just been told there was no such thing as death." This is a poignant reminder that life is fleeting and that we should make the most of the time we have.

The final stanza of the poem is particularly powerful, with the speaker declaring that "we are all going to die" but that we should still "dance until we can't dance." This is a call to live life to the fullest, to embrace the joys and sorrows that come our way, and to make the most of every moment.

In conclusion, James Tate's poem "Happy As The Day Is Long" is a beautiful tribute to the joys of life. It reminds us that happiness can be found in the most unexpected places, and that true contentment comes from within. The poem is a celebration of the simple pleasures that make life worth living, and it encourages us to embrace life with open arms and to dance until we can't dance anymore.

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