Another wonderfully Emily poem. The first stanza is completely comprehensible. Spring, autumn, and winter come again and again. The cycles of nature repeat. So far so good.
The second stanza gets more riddle-y. “Oft a head is crested” that the speaker is used to seeing. What is the head? Is it the head of an actual person, or is she talking about something else? Probably something else, because often there’s a cranny where it used to be. I’m not sure exactly what the “head” here is, but it’s still clear she’s talking about change over time. Often she sees something familiar, but as often it’s gone.
“And the earth, they tell me, / On its axis turned” is a wonderful way of capturing the feeling we all have at the swift passage of time. The speaker describes herself as outside the common knowledge, needing to be told that this magic of change is the work of the world turning. This “Wonderful rotation” is performed by only twelve–the months.
I love the riddling quality of this poem, all the little nuances of the speaker’s character, her awed response to the change of seasons that most of us generally take completely for granted. It seems a fitting poem for the second-to-last day of the year.
Who robbed the woods, The trusting woods? The unsuspecting trees Brought out their burrs and mosses His fantasy to please. 5 He scanned their trinkets, curious, He grasped, he bore away. What will the solemn hemlock, What will the fir-tree say?
In my imagination, this is the beginning of a dark and twisty fairy tale. I assume Dickinson is talking about the change of seasons here, about autumn giving way to winter, but the personification makes me want to read this a bit more literally and think of winter as a sentient entity–like Hades stealing Persephone from the world of sunlight, or like some fey elf-lord bringing down winter on the land. Like the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
It’s wonderful all the places a poem can lead, all the winding avenues of thought it opens up before us.
Some keep the Sabbath going to church; I keep it staying at home, With a bobolink for a chorister, And an orchard for a dome.
Some keep the Sabbath in surplice; I just wear my wings, And instead of tolling the bell for church, Our little sexton sings.
God preaches,—a noted clergyman,— And the sermon is never long; So instead of getting to heaven at last, I’m going all along!
In deep summer, evenings in the woods behind my house are punctuated by the liquid silver songs of wood thrushes. It’s impossible to do justice to the sound; the best I can do is to say that if you had been trudging across a desert without water for hours under the heat of a burning sun and suddenly a pitcher of water miraculously appeared in front of you–if that experience was a sound, it would be the song of a wood thrush.
It is impossible not to be awed by this music. It’s unearthly, beyond perfect–divine. The notes tumble down on you from the branches of an ancient oak or the fierce straight column of a walnut tree, bathing you in sound. You do not see the thrush–you only believe it is there. And it is. For a moment, it is everything, every sense, feeling, thought, desire. Nothing else remains. The seconds of the thrush’s song are rare moments of perfection in a glaringly imperfect world.