AN altered look about the hills; A Tyrian light the village fills; A wider sunrise in the dawn; A deeper twilight on the lawn; A print of a vermilion foot; A purple finger on the slope; A flippant fly upon the pane; A spider at his trade again; An added strut in chanticleer; A flower expected everywhere; An axe shrill singing in the woods; Fern-odors on untravelled roads,— All this, and more I cannot tell, A furtive look you know as well, And Nicodemus’ mystery Receives its annual reply.
April is here at last, bearing with it all the telltale signs. The light looks different in spring, as if the whole world is breathing in deeply yet quietly. The redbud trees are beginning to flush with a faint haze of purple. Flies are making their way in, somehow. Spiders have been plying the corners all year long, of course, but now that the flies are back, there’s cause for much celebratory and anticipatory web-construction. My chanticleer definitely has an added strut, though here we call him Louis XIV, and he does his best to live up to the name, loudly greeting the sun well before it appears and shepherding the hens around the yard, fussing them to safety when a red-tailed hawk soars by overhead. Around here, there aren’t so many axes ringing out–the sharp echoes here are from distant neighbors testing the sights on shotguns, preparing to scare crows and groundhogs away from spring plantings. The smell of spring is lush, wet, mineral. It smells at once like rain, pollen, and groundwater, like sunshine and sap and hope. It’s difficult to adequately describe–it’s a sight glimpsed briefly, a faint scent, a fleeting sound.
What does spring look, smell, taste, sound, feel like in your corner of the world?
Dear March – Come in – How glad I am – I hoped for you before – Put down your Hat – You must have walked – How out of Breath you are – Dear March, how are you, and the Rest – Did you leave Nature well – Oh March, Come right upstairs with me – I have so much to tell –
I got your Letter, and the Birds – The Maples never knew that you were coming – I declare – how Red their Faces grew – But March, forgive me – And all those Hills you left for me to Hue – There was no Purple suitable – You took it all with you –
Who knocks? That April – Lock the Door – I will not be pursued – He stayed away a Year to call When I am occupied – But trifles look so trivial As soon as you have come
That blame is just as dear as Praise And Praise as mere as Blame –
Brenna: The thing about this poem that interests me most is that she seems to want to prolong March, and is annoyed by the prospect of April cutting March short.
Pam: This makes me wonder what’s so wonderful about March in Massachusetts.
Brenna: This is an excellent question.
Pam: Because, let me be honest here, March in Alabama is absolutely horrific.
Brenna: March in New England has got to be rougher than March in Virginia, too.
Pam: We had deadly tornadoes on Sunday and we’ve had a ridiculous amount of rain and today it’s 30ish degrees outside with a windchill in the 20s.
Brenna: I did google the red maples, and it turns out that they do briefly turn red in spring before they turn green. But March is NOT a friendly month. It’s freezing here today–lows in the teens this week.
Pam: Perhaps the best thing about March is that February is over?
Brenna: March is breathless–that’s a great description–but it isn’t kind.
Pam: So at least there’s the hope of nicer weather ahead, and green growing things?
Brenna: Yes!I have noticed on walks lately that the birds are singing differently. March is the promise of spring, even if it’s not here yet. And the chickweed and wild onions are green, even if nothing else is yet.
Pam: We have a tremendous amount of growing things. Daffodils are almost done here, actually; they started blooming in the last week of February. The tulip trees are going bonkers. Grass is greening up. But this ridiculous, ridiculous cold weather is 100% February and I am sick of it. I suppose the annoying thing about April is that February does all the work of getting to spring, and then April takes over right as things are getting good.
Brenna: So in March, spring is imminent, but we’re not out of the woods yet. Why is she so reluctant to let April in?Is it something specific about March? Maybe it’s March’s storminess. We’ve talked before about how cold and storms seem to serve as her metaphors for passion, and March is a passionate kind of month meteorologically.
Pam: She’s a little bit scandalous about March, too, isn’t she? Taking it right inside and upstairs and closing the door?
Brenna: Yes! Emily and March–get a room!! It’s as if March and April are suitors. April has stayed away for a year. April is the guy you’re secretly in love with who’s completely uninterested in you until you have a boyfriend, and then he makes a move.
Pam: And, interesting–although of course she had nothing to do with this–the next poem begins “We like March.” We do like March!
Brenna: We LOVE March because IT IS NOT FEBRUARY.
Pam: YES. In Huntsville, we wish that March would stop trying to be February. We feel a little bit like March and February divorced, and we’re spending our week with February before we get a weekend with March. So maybe March is not necessarily her first choice, but she is not going to let April know that.
Brenna: That is a fantastically apt description. Maybe she is angry at April for being absent so long, and so she’s trying to make it jealous by taking March upstairs.
Pam: Beginnings are so fun, aren’t they? When you see the first daffodil shoots, and the first bulbs about to open. And at least here, April doesn’t get any of that. So maybe it’s that March is doing the work for spring and April just gets to breeze on in and take up the mantle, and she’s resentful.
Brenna: As the daughter who stayed home and never married, I can see that resonating with her. Oh, no, wait, Lavinia didn’t get married, either: https://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/lavinia_dickinson This is fascinating. Apparently, Lavinia burned Emily’s letters, as Emily requested, but Emily left no instructions about the poems. So the publication of the poems was not in any way counter to Emily’s wishes, as far as anyone can tell.
Pam: What was in the letters, though??
Brenna: Who knows??? But I don’t want anyone reading my letters after I’m dead!!
Pam: Same, but I want to read Emily’s.
Brenna: I always feel weird reading famous people’s letters.
Pam: I understand this is selfish. But Lavinia, WHY?
Brenna: Because Emily said, and she was the oldest sister, and apparently Lavinia was devoted to her. BUT. Did Lavinia read them before burning them??
Pam: Lavinia. What did you know??
Brenna: I’m poking around online and finding references to Dickinson’s letters that suggest that some of them are still out there. ???