Esoteric time

’T WAS later when the summer went
Than when the cricket came,
And yet we knew that gentle clock
Meant nought but going home.

’T was sooner when the cricket went
Than when the winter came,
Yet that pathetic pendulum
Keeps esoteric time.

~Emily Dickinson

So much human thought is devoted to time, which bemuses me, since time is something we’ve constructed. We invented it, and then got ourselves all bent out of shape over it. We talk about time management, worry about it, pay people to do it for us. And yet we never quite seem to fully understand it. We’ve created a creature that’s grown beyond our understanding. Esoteric indeed.

Autumn is almost here. Monday is the Autumn Equinox. The sun will cross the equator and we will cross into the dark side of the year. We will celebrate the darkness at Halloween, and then in December we will light a hundred thousand million lights to try to hold it back.

Our relationship with time is a fascinating one.

summer sounds

Farther in summer than the birds,
Pathetic from the grass,
A minor nation celebrates
Its unobtrusive mass.

No ordinance is seen, 5
So gradual the grace,
A pensive custom it becomes,
Enlarging loneliness.

Antiquest felt at noon
When August, burning low, 10
Calls forth this spectral canticle,
Repose to typify.

Remit as yet no grace,
No furrow on the glow,
Yet a druidic difference 15
Enhances nature now.

~Emily Dickinson

The crickets’ song in this poem begins as “pathetic,” “minor,” “unobtrusive.” By the end of the poem, however, it has become “pensive,” “spectral,” even “druidic.” The humble cricket-song takes on magical and mythological significance.

Your prompt is to take one of the sounds of summer and magnify it, tease out all its meanings and correspondences. What is it on the surface, and what lies beneath?

And so the night became

The cricket sang,
And set the sun,
And workmen finished, one by one,
Their seam the day upon.

The low grass loaded with the dew,
The twilight stood as strangers do
With hat in hand, polite and new,
To stay as if, or go.

A vastness, as a neighbor, came,—
A wisdom without face or name,
A peace, as hemispheres at home,—
And so the night became.

~Emily Dickinson

It’s amazing what you can learn on the interwebs. For example, if you google the first lines of this poem, the first several hits you get are links to videos of people playing this as a song on marimbas. Who knew?

It’s a lovely poem, and does some wonderful things with language. The first line is a conventional sort of opening, but the second begins to work the poem’s magic. “A cricket sang,/And set the sun” can read as, “A cricket sang, and the sun set” or “A cricket sang, and made the sun set.” I love it–this suggestion that the cricket’s tiny melody could be the spell that sings down a star from the sky. The workmen act in a similar way–they leave a “seam” upon the day itself, as if knitting it together, completing it.

The second stanza begins with another conventionally poetic image–“The low grass loaded with the dew”–but then we get some wonderfully Dickinsonian personification. The twilight stands politely waiting. Though we know it is definite, certain, unavoidable, it acts as if we have a choice. It is gentle, reserved.

It makes sense, then, that twilight brings with it wisdom and peace. In the third stanza, it’s compared now not to “strangers” but to “a neighbor.” Though it has neither face nor name, it is familiar, comforting, settling.

I love the way that the first and last lines, taken together, crystallize the entire poem: “A cricket sang,” “And so the night became.”