We learn in the Retreating
How vast a one
Was recently among us--
A Perished Sun
Endear in the departure
How doubly more
Than all the Golden presence
It was-- before--
This poem is yet another of Dickinson's that I have never read until I just happened to turn the page and find it. So much of her 1789+ poems have never really been discussed or read beyond those who actually created the anthology or transcribed her scrawlings from original writing to print.
Anyway... there is a distinct play on words here, and Dickinsons thrives on bending language, as my lit professor, Dr Smokewood, likes to call Dickinson's ability to reform language and test its limits. On a very literal level, this poem could be read as a speaker reflecting upon the suddenness of a sunset and how quickly the light passes below the horizon, another day ending abruptly. By extended metaphor, it also describes the sudden loss of one very dear.
It is strange to think that Dickinson wrote this poem in 1865, according to Franklin's dating, which was a full five years before the birth of her beloved nephew, Gib, and thirteen years before his death of typhoid fever at the age of 8 (Wineapple 243-244). In light of the tragedy and suddeness of Gib's death, this poem seems a particularly macabre portent. For Emily Dickinson's brother, Austin, Gib was his dearest child, the "Golden presence" of line seven. Certainly there was a great sense of shock when the child passed, who had been perfectly well and playing in a mud hole with a friend just days before (Wineapple 244).
Dickinson's language describes the acute and stunning weight of grief. There is the perpetual question of "why?", particularly when dealing with unexpected deaths. And certainly, too, sudden death leaves a strong impression of the goodness that does seem to "endear in the departure." This poem represents a strong example of Dickinson's ability to connect with the deeper and often darker human experiences-- her ability not only to put these experiences into words but to recreate, through language, the experience itself.