How the old mountains drip with sunset,
And the brake of dun!
How the hemlocks are tipped in tinsel
By the wizard sun!

How the old steeples hand the scarlet,
Till the ball is full,—
Have I the lip of the flamingo
That I dare to tell?

Then, how the fire ebbs like billows,
Touching all the grass
With a departing, sapphire feature,
As if a duchess pass!

How a small dusk crawls on the village
Till the houses blot;
And the odd flambeaux no men carry
Glimmer on the spot!

Now it is night in nest and kennel,
And where was the wood,
Just a dome of abyss is nodding
Into solitude!—

These are the visions baffled Guido;
Titian never told;
Domenichino dropped the pencil,
Powerless to unfold.

Image via

This is a gorgeous poem, and I don’t want to belabor it with my clumsy explanation–just to point out some of my favorite bits. The “wizard sun” is a beautifully evocative phrase, as is “the odd flambeaux no men carry.” Dickinson manages to paint a picture of a moment which is at once thoroughly, specifically Earthly and yet supernatural. Sunset is a liminal space, the melting of day into night. It is both and yet neither, and this poem captures its many shades well.

Odd secrets of the line

Just lost when I was saved!
Just felt the world go by!
Just girt me for the onset with eternity,
When breath blew back,
And on the other side
I heard recede the disappointed tide!

Therefore, as one returned, I feel,
Odd secrets of the line to tell!
Some sailor, skirting foreign shores,
Some pale reporter from the awful doors
Before the seal!

Next time, to stay!
Next time, the things to see
By ear unheard,
Unscrutinized by eye.

Next time, to tarry,
While the ages steal,–
Slow tramp the centuries,
And the cycles wheel.

~Emily Dickinson

The phrase “Odd secrets of the line” has snared my imagination. It reminds me of these lyrics, so today’s post is a conversation between two poems. I’ll put them both here and let them talk it out.

Heaven’s a bar down by the dock
Where the liquor is free they keeps a great stock
There’s always a place, always a smile
For a sailor come home from sea
Girls they are beauties they dance and they sing
They treat an old tar like a lord or a king
Heaven’s a bar down by the dock
Where there’s liquor for all and it’s free

Heaven’s a bar down by the dock
Where the liquor is free they keeps a great stock
There’s always a place, always a smile
For a sailor come home from sea

There in the snug drinking with me Shipmates return from the seven salt seas Tarry tailed tars, gold buckles shoes
The cream and the dregs of the crew.
Just sailors on shore with a dream in their eyes
Who saw the world’s end where the sea meets the sky
Vision remains, wonders recalled By the trinkets that hang on the walls

Late in the night clouds hurry past
The moon winks and goes, the doors are barred fast
The charts are laid out, the contraband found The crossbones laid out on the ground
The figurehead does it she never gets tired She beckons a breeze from her berth by the fire
Songs roll around, waves hit the bar
Til the bottles wash up on the shore

~”Heaven’s a bar,” via Warham Whalers

“wrecks in peace”

A sloop of amber slips away
Upon an ether sea,
And wrecks in peace a purple tar,
The son of ecstasy.

~Emily Dickinson

Yesterday evening, grimed with sweat and smoke from an afternoon of picking up and installing new hives, I sat on the grass in front of the newly-homed colonies of honeybees as the half-moon hung overhead and the sunset splashed amber and purple across the western sky. I love these liminal times best, the moments when day is becoming evening and evening is becoming night. Bees, I think, are liminal creatures. They trace thin golden paths through the ether between life and death–they are so fragile individually, yet as a group they are strong. They persist.

There is something vital about a hive in a way that no other creatures can emulate. Bees hum, zoom, dive, buzz, sing and vibrate life, spilling it out in wild trajectories through the still air. They dance the winds, trace the edge of sight and possibility. They are so tiny, yet so wildly, fiercely, abundantly alive.

Yesterday afternoon, in the beeyard, I watched, rapt, as the beekeeper pointed out two-day-old larvae, four-day-old, six. And then he pointed to an opening cell and said, with all the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning at the top of the stairs, “Look!”

A brand-new adult bee was hatching from her cell, the front of her head just showing, wriggling with life. I have never seen that before. I cannot explain the power in that moment, that instant of transformation from shapeless grub to complex insect, from needy little soft squishy thing to shining, valiant warrior-girl. What will she become? Will she guard the hive? tend the babies? wait on her queen? How long will she live? Not long, doubtless. A worker bee’s life is short. And yet that brief existence will bolster the eternity of the hive (here’s hoping…beekeeping is notoriously tetchy).

It is in these liminal spaces, these in-between moments, whether the setting of the sun or the hatching of a bee, that magic resides. It is there for the finding, if you wait, if you look. Catch it, and you too will be wrecked by the peace of it, in the most beautiful way.