from frost

Some, too fragile for winter winds,
The thoughtful grave encloses,—
Tenderly tucking them in from frost
Before their feet are cold.

Never the treasures in her nest
The cautious grave exposes,
Building where schoolboy dare not look
And sportsman is not bold.

This covert have all the children
Early aged, and often cold,—
Sparrows unnoticed by the Father;
Lambs for whom time had not a fold.

~Emily Dickinson
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Well, this is Christmassy. A poem about dead children, cold in the grave. Sheesh, Emily. What’s most notable about this poem, though, is that it reads like the kid version of “Because I could not stop for Death.” The grave/death is depicted as a kind caretaker, gently tucking them in, protecting them from the harshness of life. It provides safe harbor, a place where nothing can find or harm them.

And then there’s the ending. Dickinson ends this one with a little heresy. Describing the dead children Biblically as “lambs” and “sparrows,” she says that they are “unnoticed by the Father,” contradicting the Biblical passage about how no sparrow falls unnoticed by God, and all the Biblical references to God as loving shepherd who lets no sheep become lost.

What to do with this? Dickinson argues that death is kinder to these lost lambs than God–more attentive and protective. One can only wonder what her preacher father would have thought of such a poem, how Puritan New England would have received it. Maybe Dickinson tied up her poems and tucked them away not because she wanted to remain anonymous, but because she knew her world wasn’t ready for them.

Prompt: The wind

Of all the sounds despatched abroad,
There ’s not a charge to me
Like that old measure in the boughs,
That phraseless melody

The wind does, working like a hand 5
Whose fingers comb the sky,
Then quiver down, with tufts of tune
Permitted gods and me.

When winds go round and round in bands,
And thrum upon the door, 10
And birds take places overhead,
To bear them orchestra,

I crave him grace, of summer boughs,
If such an outcast be,
He never heard that fleshless chant 15
Rise solemn in the tree,

As if some caravan of sound
On deserts, in the sky,
Had broken rank,
Then knit, and passed 20
In seamless company.

~Emily Dickinson

There’s so much loveliness in this poem–the wind as music permitted to be heard by both gods and humans; the “fleshless chant,”; the “caravan of sound”…….I could wax rhapsodic about this one. I love how Dickinson literally breaks ranks with her own stanza length by throwing in an extra line in the final stanza where she describes the wind as a caravan breaking rank.

But today’s post is not me geeking out or being baffled by another Dickinson poem. It’s a prompt for you.

What visceral effect does the wind have on you? Is it thrilling? Unnerving? Uplifting? Write a poem or paragraph in which you tease out that feeling through simile and metaphor à la Dickinson.

Summer Storm

There came a wind like a bugle;
It quivered through the grass,
And a green chill upon the heat
So ominous did pass
We barred the windows and the doors As from an emerald ghost;
The doom’s electric moccason
That very instant passed.
On a strange mob of panting trees,
And fences fled away,
And rivers where the houses ran
The living looked that day.
The bell within the steeple wild
The flying tidings whirled.
How much can come
And much can go,
And yet abide the world!

~Emily Dickinson

Storms here begin with a slight shift of the light, a fluttering at the margins of the day. First the wind rises, kindled before the approaching tempest. Pine boughs toss and nod to slim locusts and walnuts, polite at first, until their branches begin a frenzied tangle. The first few premature walnut leaves tear loose and fall like golden teardrops dashed away by an invisible hand. Distant harbingers of autumn, they are sobering in their brightness, shimmering reminders that all things come to an end.

But the storm is not truly imminent until the Alleghenies are lost behind a cloak of blue-grey, first blurring and then vanishing as if into legend. When the mountains disappear, and only then, is the onslaught inevitable. Then we batten down the hatches, dash for the laundry, and wait. Though, more often than not, there isn’t time to wait before the first few spattering drops, dashed sideways by the courier wind, cut sideways through the whirling air.

As I write, the rain has stopped blowing sideways and is falling almost straight down, thunder grumbling above and lightning just flashes barely illuminating the lowering clouds. Some time after the end of June, summer thunderstorms cease to have the look of downpours that bring rainbows and instead take on the tints of autumn, hints of long rainy days that fade seamlessly into lengthening nights. Every season comes hard on the heels of the one before and ties itself into knots with the next. Sometimes I think there are either no seasons, or three hundred sixty-five of them. Maybe even twenty-four seasons a day…

This rain falls on already damp red clay, on tomatoes and peppers that have had quite enough, thank you, on chickens who don’t seem to mind too much as long as it’s not a hurricane. The bees have tucked themselves away safely in their boxes. How dry and warm it must be inside, the air heavy with warmth and pollen and the hum of tens of thousands of wings.

Yesterday was a garden day, a yard day, a swimming pool day. A day to overdo the fresh air and sunshine, because really, such things cannot be overdone. Today is a day for tea and introspection, a day to draw back out of the elements and open a book of poetry.

Riddles in the Dark

It’s like the light,—
A fashionless delight,
It’s like the bee,—
A dateless melody.

It’s like the woods,
Private like breeze,
Phraseless, yet it stirs
The proudest trees.

It’s like the morning,—
Best when it’s done,—
The everlasting clocks
Chime noon.

~Emily Dickinson

After many sodden months, the March winds have finally arrived. They howl like wild things, like Grendel alone and friendless outside the mead hall. They sigh fitfully. They gust and caress, rant and hum through the bowing branches of the pines.

The local joke this summer when people complained about the wet weather was that it only rained twice–once for forty days, and once for thirty days. It’s been soggy here, the woods burgeoning with fungus, paths carved out by water. Autumn and winter were wet, too. Rain. Snow. Freezing rain. Sleet. Rain. Again.

At last the winds are here, and their cries are a benediction, better than a rainbow after flood. Gardens are beginning to dry out enough to till. The paths through the woods are no longer treacherously slick. Pearly songs burst from the throats of the little birds that fluff their feathers in the welcome sunlight.

I chose today’s poem because, in my edition of Dickinson’s poems, it’s titled “The Wind.” But each time I read it, I feel pulled farther away from that notion. Wind is like light. It is a dateless melody, it’s phraseless, and it does stir the trees. But other parts of this riddle-poem just don’t seem to work if the answer is really “the wind.” This is a poem I can imagine fitting neatly into Bilbo and Gollum’s riddle-contest. Just when you think you know the answer, the riddle makes a twist. Who would compare the wind to a breeze? What kind of clue is that?

We know that Dickinson didn’t title her poems–they were titled posthumously. In many cases, I have to wonder what the poem-titler was thinking. This is definitely one of those cases.

So what is she writing about? If I’d had to answer this one, I’d probably have had to throw on my invisibility ring and slip out the back way. I don’t know what she’s talking about. It’s the last stanza that really throws me–the notion that morning is best when it’s done. I like morning when it’s happening, but Dickinson seems to be using morning as a metaphor for something that’s best gotten through, gotten over with.

I have no answers for this one. What do you think?