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Dawn Revisited
By Rita Dove
Read the poem here:
This week, I’ve chosen a poem by Rita Dove, entitled “Dawn Revisited.”

Rita Dove is an American poet born in 1952. As a child growing up in Akron, Ohio, Dove’s parents encouraged her to read early and widely. She was a brilliant student—a Presidential Scholar, a National Merit Scholar, and later a Fulbright Scholar. She earned her MFA at the renowned Iowa Writer’s Workshop. In 1993, she became the United States Poet Laureate, not only the first African American but the youngest person ever named to that post. She transformed the office of Poet Laureate, traveling the country and using her position to promote the arts. Dove is best known as a poet, but she has written in other forms as well, including a novel, short stories, plays, essays, and lyrics. Dove has said: “There’s no reason to subscribe authors to particular genres. I’m a writer, and I write in the form that most suits what I want to say.” She has received many accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize, and teaches at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville.
“Dawn Revisited” was written in 1999 and appeared in Dove’s collection On the Bus with Rosa Parks. It’s a wonderful meditation on past and present—on history and renewal. “Imagine you wake up / with a second chance,” the poem begins. In this second chance, some things stay the same—looking out the window, “the blue jay / hawks his pretty wares / and the oak still stands.” But, the poet says, “if you don’t look back / the future never happens.” This new dawn is not an erasure of the past, of history, because without the past, there is no future.
Dove captures the freshness of a new day. Familiar things take on wonderful depth and newness. “How good to rise in sunlight, / in the prodigal smell of biscuits - / eggs and sausage on the grill.” The smell of biscuits in the morning is not just good—it’s “prodigal,” suggesting a reckless generosity. These homey details are juxtaposed with more conventionally poetic images: “The whole sky is yours / to write on, blown open / to a blank page.”  For a writer, what better image of fresh possibility than that? In this “second chance,” the familiar and the unknown are both present.
I find the end of the poem surprising. “Come on, / shake a leg! You'll never know / who's down there, frying those eggs, / if you don't get up and see.” When we wake to the smell of breakfast cooking, we usually have a pretty good idea of who’s cooking it!  But the poet says “you’ll never know / who’s down there… if you don’t get up and see.”  The poem invites us to be open to the surprise of the world around us, including—perhaps especially—the most familiar things and people. The renewal this dawn brings extends to our relationships, too.
Dove’s poem is called “Dawn Revisited.” In the Scriptures, dawn is a very significant image. In Isaiah, dawn is associated with works of justice: God says that when we care for the naked, the homeless, and the hungry, our light shall “break forth like the dawn.” In the New Testament, dawn is specifically associated with the coming of Christ: Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, prophecies that “in the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us.” Christ, who was “in the beginning with God,” is also as new as the dawn. In the familiar words of St. Augustine, Christ is “ever ancient, ever new.”
To live in Christ, ever ancient, ever new, is to be invited to renewal—not just once, but again and again. As Pope Francis has written, “with a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew” (Joy of the Gospel, 3). This renewal is not about forgetting our history. The believer, Pope Francis has said, is “one who remembers” (Joy of the Gospel, 13). We need memory, because, as Dove says, “if you don’t look back, / the future never happens.”
St. Paul invites us, “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). It’s not unlike the invitation we get in this poem by Rita Dove: “The whole sky is yours / to write on, blown open / to a blank page. Come on, / shake a leg!”




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Seattle, Washington  98104
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