like flakes, like stars

They dropped like flakes, they dropped like stars,
Like petals from a rose,
When suddenly across the June
A wind with fingers goes.

They perished in the seamless grass,—
No eye could find the place;
But God on his repealless list
Can summon every face.

~Emily Dickinson
Image via

What a shift this is from some of the other Dickinson death poems I’ve read so far this month! Unlike the God who lets children perish unremarked, the God of this poem remembers every face among those who have died. There must have been so much going on inside Dickinson’s head at any given time. I have to wonder if her poetry was an overpressure valve, a way to let out some of the bottled thought before she imploded.

I chose this poem for today not because of the death, though, or the theology, but for the mention of falling stars. The Geminid meteor shower is beginning. You can read about it here. It will be peaking this weekend, and while the waning full moon will make it harder to see meteors, some should be visible nonetheless, and the clear winter air will make up in part for the brightness of the moon.

A meteor is a strange and wondrous thing. Some no bigger than grains, they streak the sky, their death-throes moments of beauty and awe. Each trail of light is the flaming disintegration of a unique piece of matter that is no more. How like soldiers falling. How like a thousand, thousand deaths.

But there is so much beauty in this destruction. Each fall is a flash of wonder, a shred of insight into the workings of the deep heavens.

I hope you find some magic in the night sky.

Before the ice is in the pools

Before the ice is in the pools,
Before the skaters go,
Or any cheek at nightfall
Is tarnished by the snow,

Before the fields have finished,
Before the Christmas tree,
Wonder upon wonder
Will arrive to me!

What we touch the hems of
On a summer’s day;
What is only walking
Just a bridge away;

That which sings so, speaks so,
When there’s no one here,—
Will the frock I wept in
Answer me to wear?

~Emily Dickinson
Image via

I love the icy imagery in this poem. As I read through it for the third or fourth time, though, what I’m imagining is an Emily Dickinson blog post-writing bot. It could select from various options, the most common of which would be “this is a poem about death.”

As Emily Dickinson death poems go, however, this is a lovely one. Death is described as “Wonder upon wonder.” My favorite part is the third stanza. The idea that another world lingers just at the edge of our vision is a compelling one. This is definitely not an angsty Dickinson death poem. Death here is like the turning of the seasons, a natural part of the cycle of life, and is couched as such–but with a magical spin.

“It passes, and we stay”


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.

The Snow

It sifts from Leaden Sieves –
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road –

It makes an even Face
Of Mountain, and of Plain –
Unbroken Forehead from the East
Unto the East again –

It reaches to the Fence –
It wraps it Rail by Rail
Till it is lost in Fleeces –
It deals Celestial Vail

To Stump, and Stack – and Stem –
A Summer’s empty Room –
Acres of Joints, where Harvests were,
Recordless, but for them –

It Ruffles Wrists of Posts
As Ankles of a Queen –
Then stills it’s Artisans – like Ghosts –
Denying they have been –

Emily Dickinson

As I write this, my portion of North Alabama is lying still under a winter weather advisory. No, really. We don’t know how to drive in snow–we rarely get it, we don’t have snowplows, we don’t always have salt for the roads–so folks who don’t have to go out are probably avoiding travel. Schools, universities, businesses–there are lots of closures set up for tomorrow already.

We’re predicted to get about 2.5″ of snow.

This snow is not going to do what the snow in the poem above does. The snow in the poem above has agency; it shifts, powders, and fills. It reaches, wraps, deals, ruffles, and stills.

We’ll be lucky if our snow simply sticks, but it’s so much fun–for someone who, admittedly, hasn’t seen a lot of snow–to imagine a snow like the one above. A snow that blankets everything. A snow that fills the ruts in the road. A snow that covers farmland. A snow that puts a sheet of thick cotton batting over every available surface.

The end of this poem, the stilling of artisans like ghosts, is that moment when the snowflakes have finished and the snow remains, untouched. The end of this poem feels like the gasp you might have if you looked out and saw that spectacle–even the poem can’t finish its last sentence. Where’s the final period?

Usually when we get snow predictions, they bust. Cities north and south and east and west will get a few inches, and we’ll grumble loudly instead. The temperature is dropping, and supposedly, the changeover from drizzle to snow will happen in a few hours. Plenty of time for snow to pick some active verbs and go to work–