Chrysolite?

It can’t be summer,—that got through;
It ’s early yet for spring;
There ’s that long town of white to cross
Before the blackbirds sing.

It can’t be dying,—it ’s too rouge,—
The dead shall go in white.
So sunset shuts my question down
With clasps of chrysolite.

~Emily Dickinson
Olivine, which is maybe chrysolite?
Image via Wikipedia.

“That long town of white” is the phrase that got me from this poem–but the single word “chrysolite” is what sent me down an internet rabbit hole. What is chrysolite? It sounds like a mineral. Here’s what I learned:

There is no such thing as chrysolite. Or rather, no one is entirely sure exactly what chrysolite is. It appears in the Old Testament, is referenced multiple times in the Bible, and seems to refer to what could be a fairly wide array of green minerals.

Chrysolite could be all kinds of things, including olivine and peridot. What I think is fantastic about its use in this poem is that it’s the last word, and it’s unclear exactly what it is. This fits beautifully and perfectly with the message of the poem. Dickinson starts by pondering and getting things wrong. “It can’t be summer,” and “it’s early yet for spring.” It’s as if she can’t pin down exactly where she is. She has some idea, but can’t articulate it precisely.

The poem ends with sunset shutting down her question with “clasps of chrysolite.” It’s perfectly fitting that her unanswerable question–or her question with an unspeakable answer–should be locked down with clasps of some mysterious substance whose exact name and nature we can only guess at. There’s Biblical resonance to chrysolite, there are loads of suggestions and possibilities–but in the end, we, like the speaker of this poem, can’t know exactly what she’s talking about.

I love how often Dickinson engages with the idea of the unknowable, the inexpressible. It’s a side of her I wasn’t aware of when I began this project nearly a year ago.

Altered

AN altered look about the hills;
A Tyrian light the village fills;
A wider sunrise in the dawn;
A deeper twilight on the lawn;
A print of a vermilion foot;
A purple finger on the slope;
A flippant fly upon the pane;
A spider at his trade again;
An added strut in chanticleer;
A flower expected everywhere;
An axe shrill singing in the woods;
Fern-odors on untravelled roads,—
All this, and more I cannot tell,
A furtive look you know as well,
And Nicodemus’ mystery
Receives its annual reply.

~Emily Dickinson

April is here at last, bearing with it all the telltale signs. The light looks different in spring, as if the whole world is breathing in deeply yet quietly. The redbud trees are beginning to flush with a faint haze of purple. Flies are making their way in, somehow. Spiders have been plying the corners all year long, of course, but now that the flies are back, there’s cause for much celebratory and anticipatory web-construction. My chanticleer definitely has an added strut, though here we call him Louis XIV, and he does his best to live up to the name, loudly greeting the sun well before it appears and shepherding the hens around the yard, fussing them to safety when a red-tailed hawk soars by overhead. Around here, there aren’t so many axes ringing out–the sharp echoes here are from distant neighbors testing the sights on shotguns, preparing to scare crows and groundhogs away from spring plantings. The smell of spring is lush, wet, mineral. It smells at once like rain, pollen, and groundwater, like sunshine and sap and hope. It’s difficult to adequately describe–it’s a sight glimpsed briefly, a faint scent, a fleeting sound.

What does spring look, smell, taste, sound, feel like in your corner of the world?