streaks of meteor

Through the straight pass of suffering
The martyrs even trod,
Their feet upon temptation,
Their faces upon God.

A stately, shriven company;
Convulsion playing round,
Harmless as streaks of meteor
Upon a plant’s bound.

Their faith the everlasting troth;
Their expectation fair;
The needle to the north degree
Wades so, through polar air.

~Emily Dickinson
Image via Pexels.

This morning, I’m writing in a hospital room at the University of Virginia, where a loved one is recovering from a surgical procedure. All is well, no worries–but the act of writing from this semi-uncomfortable semi-padded bench is shifting my perspective.

I am committed to this year of a Dickinson poem a day. I’ve missed some days here and there due to illness or the general craziness of life, but I’ve gone back and caught up each time. Now, seventeen days from the end of the year, I am seventeen days away from a year of Dickinson’s poetry.

Pam and I began this project together. Life has gotten incredibly full for her, and I’ve been flying solo here for a while. Most days I blog shortly after I get up in the morning, before the chaos of the day takes hold. I find that on days when I don’t blog early, I’m liable to forget to do it at all.

There is a lot to be said for habit, for routine. I am a person who tends to resist any kind of daily challenge–draw daily, write daily, etc. It just doesn’t seem to fit with the way I work, with my personality and tendencies. But having done this for most of a year now, I understand better why a daily practice works for so many people. There is something comforting in it, something deeply stable, something that says that even if you’ve been sleeping on a minimally-padded bench in a maximally-frigid hospital room, there are constants, touchstones, things to circle back to. I get it now in a way I didn’t before.

My constants tend to be less daily and more widely cyclical–rituals for the new and full moons, the turning of the seasons, noticing the beings that come and go in my yard with changes in months and weather. I watch for the house wrens and catbirds in the spring as they seek out nesting sites.

And I wait for the meteor showers. The Perseids in the summer, and now the Geminids, streaking the sky silver on these darkest nights of the year. They peak this weekend, and though they may be difficult to see because of the full moon, I’m going to look for them anyway.

Tonight, hopefully, we’ll be home from the hospital. I will be clean, and warm. Scattered candles will be glowing, Christmas music playing, warm scents hovering on the air. I will step outside, the clear cold on my skin a revelation, and I will crane my neck back to scry the heavens for signs and portents. There is magic in the winter skies. You only have to look.

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.

Presentiment

Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn
Indicative that suns go down;
The notice to the startled grass
That darkness is about to pass.

~Emily Dickinson

Such a small yet fascinating poem. The first thing we read, that unwieldy first line, mimics the length of the shadow on the lawn. This line is twelve syllables, while the remaining three lines have only eight syllables each. They are all perfectly matched, the last two even rhyming in a true rhyme with “grass” and “pass.” I love when poems do this–when their structure somehow mirrors their subject matter. “Presentiment” itself is a long, unwieldy word, and perhaps presentiment itself is an unwieldy, awkward thing–what do we do with our presentiments, if we have them? What do we make of them? How do they affect us? Are they even real?

I’m not sure why the grass is startled. Doesn’t it know to expect the passing darkness? It’s not as if it’s never happened before or will never happen again. The very notion of presentiment being connected to the setting of the sun is strange–of course the sun goes down. It does this every day. It’s not a presentiment if we know it’s going to happen.

But Dickinson is, of course, dealing in metaphor. Presentiment is symbolized by that long shadow, the stretching shade that tells us that something else, something different, is on its way. Darkness follows light.

In the final line, “darkness is about to pass.” This is a rich choice of words. On the one hand, darkness is about to pass over–it’s about to happen. But on the other hand, the choice of “pass” conveys a sense of motion, a certainty that, no matter what, the darkness is not forever. This, too, shall pass.

Will there really be a morning?

WILL there really be a morning?
Is there such a thing as day?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they?


Has it feet like water-lilies?
Has it feathers like a bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I have never heard?


Oh, some scholar! Oh, some sailor!
Oh, some wise man from the skies!
Please to tell a little pilgrim
Where the place called morning lies!

~Emily dickinson

Of course there will be a morning. We know this, logically. Sometimes, though, the heart needs the reminder. So here it is. Yes, there will really be a morning. Light will come again. The darkness is not forever.