Thunderstorm

THE WIND begun to rock the grass
With threatening tunes and low,—
He flung a menace at the earth,
A menace at the sky.

The leaves unhooked themselves from trees 5
And started all abroad;
The dust did scoop itself like hands
And throw away the road.

The wagons quickened on the streets,
The thunder hurried slow; 10
The lightning showed a yellow beak,
And then a livid claw.

The birds put up the bars to nests,
The cattle fled to barns;
There came one drop of giant rain, 15
And then, as if the hands

That held the dams had parted hold,
The waters wrecked the sky,
But overlooked my father’s house,
Just quartering a tree.

~Emily Dickinson

Okay, so not so much a Halloween poem, but there is definitely an element of the spooky and supernatural. It’s difficult to think about thunderstorms today–the sky is October blue, the sun pouring down as if to make up for the fact that it will be departing earlier tonight.

It’s definitely an autumn poem, too, with the leaves blowing from the trees. Everything in the poem is personified, from the wind to the leaves to the birds. All of nature is alive, inhabited, acting and reacting.

The poem ends with the quartering of a tree by lightning, and this does feel like a very Halloween-y image–the old cleft tree, scarred by storm. Though Dickinson does not describe the aftermath, the reader can see the tree, and this is the image with which she leaves us.

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The rat

THE RAT is the concisest tenant.
He pays no rent,—
Repudiates the obligation,
On schemes intent.

Balking our wit
To sound or circumvent,
Hate cannot harm
A foe so reticent.

Neither decree
Prohibits him,
Lawful as
Equilibrium.

~Emily Dickinson

In our house it’s mice, but otherwise essentially the same thing. They don’t pay rent, and balk our wit constantly. Sometimes they even show up inside the house in the middle of summer, when the outside world is brimful of goodness for them, as if to remind us that they do not do anything expected.

Mice, though, are small and, until they poop in your silverware drawer, cute. Rats are a different matter. I wonder where the human repulsion toward them began. Did it start with the plague? Does it go back farther? What’s interesting to me in this poem is that Dickinson doesn’t seem squicked out by them. Rather, they are little schemers going about their daily business.

Interestingly, when I searched for images of rats on Pexels.com, I found only mice. Apparently we have a lot of baggage when it comes to rats, and not a lot of pictures.

Storm: a prompt

IT sounded as if the streets were running,
And then the streets stood still.
Eclipse was all we could see at the window,
And awe was all we could feel.

By and by the boldest stole out of his covert, To see if time was there.
Nature was in her beryl apron,
Mixing fresher air.

~Emily Dickinson
Image via Pexels.com.

Today, a prompt, inspired by Dickinson’s mastery of language. In the vein of the poem above, write a description of a natural event without naming the event itself or using any of the words typically associated with it. Dickinson manages to convey the noise, chaos, and finally the dissipation of a storm without ever using language we associate with storms (dark, stormy, tempest, rain, thunder, etc.). See if you can do the same.

A spider

A spider sewed at night
Without a light
Upon an arc of white.
If ruff it was of dame
Or shroud of gnome,
Himself, himself inform.
Of immortality
His strategy
Was physiognomy.

~Emily Dickinson
Image via Pexels.com

I just want to take a moment to appreciate the quirkiness of this poem. I love the notion that a spider might be weaving a garment of some kind–a ruff for a dame, a shroud for a gnome. I incline to the latter. What kind of dame is going to wear a spiderweb ruff? A gnome, on the other hand–this is totally plausible.

I love these little moments when Dickinson’s sense of whimsy triumphs. It makes me wonder how she experienced the world every day. I had this notion of her, when I was a student, as this incredibly depressed, tortured soul. That’s what we were taught to think. But she also had a fantastically quirky view of the world. She saw magic in the ordinary. I don’t think we can celebrate that too much.

Mushroom

The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants –
At Evening, it is not
At Morning, in a Truffled Hut
It stop opon a Spot

As if it tarried always
And yet it’s whole Career
Is shorter than a Snake’s Delay –
And fleeter than a Tare –

’Tis Vegetation’s Juggler –
The Germ of Alibi –
Doth like a Bubble antedate
And like a Bubble, hie –

I feel as if the Grass was pleased
To have it intermit –
This surreptitious Scion
Of Summer’s circumspect.

Had Nature any supple Face
Or could she one contemn –
Had Nature an Apostate –
That Mushroom – it is Him!

~Emily Dickinson

Image via Pexels.com.

Dickinson is right about so many things. The mushroom really is “the elf of plants” (even though, of course, it is not a plant because Science). It appears overnight as if by magic, erupting silently from the humus. A mushroom has a kind of presence–it is solid, architectural, and where a mushroom springs up, it seems to irrefutably belong.

Yet “it’s whole Career / Is shorter than a Snake’s Delay.” Dickinson tells us that the grass is pleased by the interruption of the mushroom, but then goes on to argue that it is Nature’s unbeliever, that it is the one face Nature could condemn.

I wonder how much Dickinson really understood about mushrooms. Did she know that they spring from decay, that they are the unheimlich little denizens of the forest floor who, like the vulture high overhead, transmogrify death into life, decay into vitality and beauty?

An awful tempest

AN AWFUL tempest mashed the air,
The clouds were gaunt and few;
A black, as of a spectre’s cloak,
Hid heaven and earth from view.

The creatures chuckled on the roofs 5
And whistled in the air,
And shook their fists and gnashed their teeth,
And swung their frenzied hair.

The morning lit, the birds arose;
The monster’s faded eyes 10
Turned slowly to his native coast,
And peace was Paradise!

~Emily Dickinson

Your prompt: taking a cue from the Myth, describe a natural phenomenon in monstrous terms. Happy writing!

The awful door

I YEARS had been from home,
And now, before the door,
I dared not open, lest a face
I never saw before

Stare vacant into mine 5
And ask my business there.
My business,—just a life I left,
Was such still dwelling there?

I fumbled at my nerve,
I scanned the windows near; 10
The silence like an ocean rolled,
And broke against my ear.

I laughed a wooden laugh
That I could fear a door,
Who danger and the dead had faced, 15
But never quaked before.

I fitted to the latch
My hand, with trembling care,
Lest back the awful door should spring,
And leave me standing there. 20

I moved my fingers off
As cautiously as glass,
And held my ears, and like a thief
Fled gasping from the house.

~Emily Dickinson

This is a poem about the fear of returning to a familiar place after a long absence, of course, but what my imagination has snagged on is line 15. “Who danger and the dead had faced”?? Who is this speaker? Emily Dickinson, Vampire Hunter?? She most likely means it in a much more prosaic way, but it’s still an intriguing line. There’s a whole mess of stories behind that line. What dangers has the speaker previously faced? What is so terrifying about facing the dead, especially if they’re just ordinary dead people and not zombies?

I have admittedly strayed down a quirky path with this one, but that line feels like such a tease. There is a lifetime of mystery implied by that line. All kinds of things we’re not allowed to know, because they’re not particularly germane to the message of the poem.

But it’s October, and I have spooky stuff on the brain, so I’m going to have fun imagining what the poet has left out.