Some perfect year

‘Twas just this time, last year, I died.
I know I heard the Corn,
When I was carried by the Farms —
It had the Tassels on —

I thought how yellow it would look —
When Richard went to mill —
And then, I wanted to get out,
But something held my will.

I thought just how Red — Apples wedged
The Stubble’s joints between —
And the Carts stooping round the fields
To take the Pumpkins in —

I wondered which would miss me, least,
And when Thanksgiving, came,
If Father’d multiply the plates —
To make an even Sum —

And would it blur the Christmas glee
My Stocking hang too high
For any Santa Claus to reach
The Altitude of me —

But this sort, grieved myself,
And so, I thought the other way,
How just this time, some perfect year —
Themself, should come to me —

~Emily Dickinson

We’re in the thick of National Novel Writing Month, so let’s do a prompt! If you’re stuck and not sure what to write, imagine your main character speaking from beyond the grave. What would they say? What would they care about–and whom? Or, if that’s way too far outside the bounds of your story, imagine what they would think about when they think about having died. Do they believe in an afterlife? What kind? How does this impact the way they behave and believe in this life?

The egg of forests

To venerate the simple days
Which lead the seasons by,
Needs but to remember
That from you or me
They may take the trifle
Termed mortality!

To invest existence with a stately air,
Needs but to remember
That the acorn there
Is the egg of forests
For the upper air!

~Emily Dickinson
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In the first stanza, Dickinson is speaking once again about death. In order to value our days, our moments, even the least amazing of them, we have but to remember that at any point we could be dead.

Thanks, Emily.

The second stanza almost seems at first glance like it belongs to another poem. Not only does it have one less line, but it’s focused now on valuing the world we’re in, the lives we have, because they hold the potential for life beyond this one. If what we have/experience now seems tiny, insignificant, we should remember that the tiny acorn is “the egg of forests” that will one day stretch into “the upper air.”

In a rare Dickinson move, the poet moves from dwelling on how the thought of death should make us value life to the much more optimistic notion that we plant in this life the seeds for the next.

There’s a lot to mull over here. But really, I chose this poem for today because I adore the notion of acorns as little eggs that hatch into entire forests.

Who robbed the woods?

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Who robbed the woods,
The trusting woods?
The unsuspecting trees
Brought out their burrs and mosses
His fantasy to please. 5
He scanned their trinkets, curious,
He grasped, he bore away.
What will the solemn hemlock,
What will the fir-tree say?

~Emily Dickinson

In my imagination, this is the beginning of a dark and twisty fairy tale. I assume Dickinson is talking about the change of seasons here, about autumn giving way to winter, but the personification makes me want to read this a bit more literally and think of winter as a sentient entity–like Hades stealing Persephone from the world of sunlight, or like some fey elf-lord bringing down winter on the land. Like the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

It’s wonderful all the places a poem can lead, all the winding avenues of thought it opens up before us.

Gentian

GOD made a little gentian;
It tired to be a rose
And failed, and all the summer laughed.
But just before the snows
There came a purple creature 5
That ravished all the hill;
And summer hid her forehead,
And mockery was still.
The frosts were her condition;
The Tyrian would not come 10
Until the North evoked it.
“Creator! shall I bloom?”

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Emily Dickinson apparently really liked gentians. I have only just learned of them this week. That’s about all I’ve got for today, because life has gotten zooey and I do not have time to contemplate gentians at the moment. Here’s hoping you’ve got a little more wiggle room!

Summer’s last rites

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THE GENTIAN weaves her fringes,
The maple’s loom is red.
My departing blossoms
Obviate parade.

A brief, but patient illness, 5
An hour to prepare;
And one, below this morning,
Is where the angles are.

It was a short procession,—
The bobolink was there, 10
An aged bee addressed us,
And then we knelt in prayer.

We trust that she was willing,—
We ask that we may be.
Summer, sister, seraph, 15
Let us go with thee!

In the name of the bee
And of the butterfly
And of the breeze, amen!

~Emily Dickinson

This is a fascinating poem. Its basic meaning is clear–it’s about the passage of summer into autumn, the beginning of the slow death of the year that somehow creeps up on us every trip around the sun.

The first stanza lays out botanical cues that summer is ending. I had to look up gentian (a flower/herb). I don’t know what to make of the second stanza, with its “below this morning” and being “where the angles are.” Something about the angle of the light, maybe?? No idea on this one.

As a beekeeper, I love the third, middle stanza, with its “aged bee” as the officiant of summer’s funeral. The notion of an aged bee is rich with meaning. At the risk of falling down a bee-geek hole, it’s worth noting that honeybees during the summer live for a matter of weeks, due to the stresses of their constant foraging, but during the winter they can live for months. Ironically, the “harder” time of the year is not their harder time. Still, even a life-span of months hardly seems “aged,” and I suspect Dickinson is using the word ironically to show how quickly summer seems to pass.

In the fourth stanza, the speaker expresses a desire to follow summer to wherever it’s gone, rather than remain for the long winter. Relatable. The line “Summer, sister, seraph” echoes the structure and rhythm of her poem that begins, “I never lost as much but twice.” The penultimate line of that one is “Burglar, banker, father,” and I can’t read this one without hearing echoes of that one, which is also about loss–but of a person rather than a season.

The final stanza of this poem is especially effective. The rhyme scheme, which has been mostly slant up to this point, suddenly disappears. Four-line stanzas abruptly give way to a three-line mock liturgy. The poem, like summer itself, is cut short.

Into the beautiful

AS imperceptibly as grief
The summer lapsed away,—
Too imperceptible, at last,
To seem like perfidy.

A quietness distilled,
As twilight long begun,
Or Nature, spending with herself
Sequestered afternoon.

The dusk drew earlier in,
The morning foreign shone,—
A courteous, yet harrowing grace,
As guest who would be gone.

And thus, without a wing,
Or service of a keel,
Our summer made her light escape Into the beautiful.

~Emily Dickinson

Imperceptible indeed. This summer has hung on longer than the last, it seems. The days are still, for the most part, hot and sunny. The weather has been dry, the few clouds stingy with their rain.

Yet the shift is happening. This morning, the predawn world is cloaked in an autumnal mist, though the temperature is already in the seventies. Only crickets sing outside my window. The drooping boughs of the evergreens are black against the paling sky.

Summer’s escape this year is light, so light that it seems not to have left. It trails heat after it, though the light of June, July, August is already fading. Where does summer go? Into the beautiful? What and where is that? Some fey country, no doubt, where leaves never fall and flowers do not fade.

After the oppressive heat of summer, though, I will happily take this mortal beautiful–the beauty of blazing leaves, then bared branches, then a landscape cloaked quietly in snow. Snow seems like magic these early autumn days, as impossible as summer seemed half a year ago.

meek mornings

The morns are meeker than they were – 
The nuts are getting brown –
The berry’s cheek is plumper –
The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf –
The field a scarlet gown –
Lest I sh’d be old-fashioned 
I’ll put a trinket on. 

~Emily Dickinson

5:59 a.m. The sun has not yet risen, has not sent even a whisper of pink over the horizon. A month ago the skies would have been a riot of predawn color, the birds jubilant. Meeker now, indeed.

These are strange and precious days–the adolescent days of autumn, as awkward and unpredictable as a child growing into her skin. Like an almost-teen, these autumn/summer days sometimes hang on to the past like grim death, refusing to acknowledge that change is inevitable. Other times, they bolt forward, early out of the gate, overeager for whatever is next.

Here, autumn is having a Lost Boys moment, reluctant to grow up. The days have been swelteringly hot, not unusual for September but always disconcerting. It’s supposed to have been autumn for eight days now. It hasn’t felt like it.

Even so, the pumpkins are swelling in the garden. The hummingbirds who did battle over the feeder in the back yard haven’t shown themselves for a few days. The Canada geese who raised their family in the cattle pond down the road have been gone for a while now.

Things are shifting. The world tilts, spins, shifts, rebels a little against the sun. Meek mornings are a sign of silent insurrection, not of any underlying actual meekness.

The dark days are coming. They are here. Let us light candles and bonfires in the darkness, draw close to hearth and home, bring in the harvest, and spin the long nights into stories.