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.

Apparently with no surprise

Apparently with no surprise
To any happy flower,
The frost beheads it at its play
In accidental power.

The blond assassin passes on,
The sun proceeds unmoved
To measure off another day
For an approving God.

~Emily Dickinson

What a weird and wonderful little poem! The flower is unsurprised by its own death, the speaker tells us. Yet the flower is happy anyway, at least until the moment of beheading. The frost which kills it is “accidental,” just playing around. Dickinson goes on, however, to refer to the frost as an “assassin” in the second stanza, which does not sound accidental at all. “Unmoved” by all the drama below, the sun continues marking off days, and God approves of all of this.

What if we were more like flowers, happy as much as we could possibly be, knowing and accepting that the assassin will eventually come for us, in season, too? What if we accepted life’s cycles instead of fighting them at every turn? The last stanza of this poem sounds so cold, but it might also read as God’s approval for the rightness of meeting nature where it is, not warring against it. The frost is playing, the flower is happy, and death will be the end of the latter–but this is as it should be.

Summer’s dregs

THESE are the days when birds come back,
A very few, a bird or two,
To take a backward look.

These are the days when skies put on
The old, old sophistries of June,—
A blue and gold mistake.

Oh, fraud that cannot cheat the bee,
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief,

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear, 1
And softly through the altered air
Hurries a timed leaf!

Oh, sacrament of summer days,
Oh, last communion in the haze,
Permit a child to join,

Thy sacred emblems to partake,
Thy consecrated bread to break,
Taste thine immortal wine!

~Emily Dickinson

These are the last hot days of summer, returning in full force here at the end of September. In the Valley, temperatures are climbing. It’s about time to put the garden to bed, but it feels like it’s time to water it.

Bursts of dragonflies explode from the pine trees on our evening walks in the heavy evening heat. The sun beats down as if it is mid-July. But it will dip below the horizon much, much sooner. Bright red globes of tomatoes still punctuate the garden.

These are strange and precious days, heavy with summer yet whispering in the slant of the light, in the dripping gold walnut leaves, of fall. Hummingbirds still visit the feeder, still war over its sweet sugar syrup.

But tomorrow is the Autumn Equinox, Mabon, the harvest holiday. Tomorrow the balance will tip, and thought the two butterflies tangling their flights outside my window don’t know it yet, the long dark of the year is waiting in the wings.

Darkest before dawn

WHEN night is almost done,
And sunrise grows so near
That we can touch the spaces,
It ’s time to smooth the hair

And get the dimples ready, 5
And wonder we could care
For that old faded midnight
That frightened but an hour.

~Emily Dickinson

The morning sky is tinged deep blue. Dawn hasn’t yet breached the eastern horizon. The balance is just beginning to tilt toward autumn. Days are shortening. It seems to happen so quickly–a month ago, wouldn’t the sun have risen by now?

I find myself growing impatient for the sunrise. Suddenly, somehow, we are already in that part of the year when sunlight begins to seem precious, a resource not to be wasted for a second. Though the fall equinox is still weeks away, autumn hovers on every shaft of golden afternoon light, plays in the golding leaves of the walnuts and the brown-crinkled edges of the oaks. The fawns who were born in the woods this spring are losing their sun-dapple spots–they won’t need them when the leaves have fled and the sun is scarcer.

Soon the sun will rise and night will slip away into the busy forgetfulness of day. Soon the heat of summer will be a memory only.

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.”

The sun’s leaving

The sun just touched the morning;
The morning, happy thing,
Supposed that he had come to dwell,
And life would be all spring.


She felt herself supremer,—
A raised, ethereal thing;
Henceforth for her what holiday!
Meanwhile, her wheeling king


Trailed slow along the orchards
His haughty, spangled hems,
Leaving a new necessity,—
The want of diadems!


The morning fluttered, staggered,
Felt feebly for her crown,—
Her unanointed forehead
Henceforth her only one.

~Emily Dickinson

Getting caught up on a zillion neglected things this Memorial Day weekend, so today’s post is just a poem and the sun setting over the Alleghenies. Here’s to sun-filled days and starry nights!

“It passes, and we stay”

LXXXV


A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.
When March is scarcely here


A color stands abroad
On solitary hills
That silence cannot overtake,
But human nature feels.


It waits upon the lawn;
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.


Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:


A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.

~Emily Dickinson

A quality of loss is affecting my content today as, after a sunny, breezy early spring day yesterday, I woke to sleet that quickly turned to snow. The afternoon light is wintry now, the snow changed again to rain. But I can take refuge in this poem, and dream of warmer, sunnier days.

Possibility

CV
THE GRAVE my little cottage is,
Where, keeping house for thee,
I make my parlor orderly,
And lay the marble tea,
For two divided, briefly,
A cycle, it may be,
Till everlasting life unite
In strong society.

~Emily Dickinson

Today’s poem contains a clue to our next idea for a creative collaboration (hint: it’s not a funeral parlor). It’s funny and magical and wondrous how one creative endeavor often begets another. We’re kicking around ideas for an exciting new project. Watch this space…