Had I not seen the Sun
I could have borne the shade
But Light a newer Wilderness
My Wilderness has made —
I decided to look for a sunny poem today. I needed a sunny poem today. Or, at least, today felt worthy of one. When I left the house this morning, Amelia and I bundled in heavy coats and gloves, the air outside was so frigid you could see it thrumming out of exhaust pipes and coalescing into vapor above chimneys. My car, safely tucked away in the garage all night, was free from frost; others that I saw on the road weren’t so lucky.
The sky was pinky blue: pastel colors that just screamed cold. Everything about this morning looked and felt like snow except for one thing: we had no snow.
It was cold enough that I felt bad for the car line lady who helped Amelia out of her seat and into school. It was cold enough to wear gloves for the 60-second walk from my parking spot into my building. It was cold enough to wear my coat for the first 20 minutes of class. And then it was gone. By the time 10:00 rolled around, the sun was out, temperatures were rising, and I no longer needed my scarf. I was, in fact, resentful of it as I carried a huge back of Norton anthologies into my office.
Today looks and feels like spring. That’s not uncommon in Alabama; we’ll have cold snaps and heat waves for several months yet. So when I looked for a sun poem, that’s what I thought I’d get. I should have known that I’d be wrong. This poem is not daisies and fresh-cut hay. It’s a lament. It’s the sadness of knowledge gained: I was in the shadows, and then I saw how wonderful sunlight is, and now I yearn for it and know that I’ve been missing something, and that I could miss it again.
This poem reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s short story “All Summer in a Day,” which takes place on Venus. There, residents live in perpetual darkness, because there’s only one day of sunlight every seven years. When a little girl tells her classmates what she remembers of the sun, being a more recent transplant from Earth, her cruel fellow students lock her in a closet during the sunlight so that she, the only one of them who remembers sunlight at all, misses it entirely.
I’m not sure what Dickinson’s Wilderness means, or how it changed after she saw her Sun. But it’s an interesting question, I think, of whether one might live more happily in the shade, not comprehending any light, or whether knowing about it–wilding your own Wilderness–would bring happiness, too.