Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Dickinson-is-us III

One more. When first Dickinson was first published, her editor/sister decided to name this poem, fittingly, “Indian Summer.”:

These are the days when Birds come back -- 

A very few -- a Bird or two -- 
To take a backward look. 

The next stanza can be puzzling—“the old sophistries of June” is more likely, than not, the promise that every sweet summer day offers us, promises that are not worth much because all of us understand that heat will rise come July, and eventually leaves will fall and January will march in from the frozen northwest, as it always inevitably does. June’s promises, she says, are sophistry—the empty promises of, say, politicians. But remember, she’s talking about Indian summer: 

These are the days when skies resume 
The old -- old sophistries of June – 
A blue and gold mistake. 

Now she cries—listen to her voice change: 

Oh fraud that cannot cheat the Bee -- 
Almost thy plausibility 
Induces my belief. 

The empty promise of Indian summer—the unexpected warm air and azure sky come early November—is a lie, of course, a lie that can’t cheat a Bee but can almost make Ms. Emily believe that maybe June has returned. Achingly, she almost believes, she says. Just about. Not quite. She’s still too-filled with doubt, as well she should be. After all, no adult can truly believe the false promises of even a gorgeous Indian summer: 

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear -- 
And softly thro' the altered air 
Hurries a timid leaf. 

There. She can’t either. Think of milkweed seeds and, suddenly, falling leaves. Indian summer is, after all, a lie—a gorgeous one, even a blessed one—but a flaming falsehood. And now, once more, she sighs for what can’t be, wishing the communion it offered was real: 

Oh Sacrament of summer days, 
Oh Last Communion in the Haze -- 
Permit a child to join. 

Thy sacred emblems to partake -- 
Thy consecrated bread to take 
And thine immortal wine! 

Emily Dickinson knew her Bible, knew the Christian faith, understood, in her wondrous mind, what such faith expected of her. She moves now to the spiritual joy of the false promise of Indian summer, calls it a sacrament, a “last communion in the haze,” and then she says, “Please, let a child join.” Let me partake of your elements—your “consecrated bread” and your “immortal wine.” 

Two ways we can read this poem. In one, she’s just so exuberant again about nature—this time about the perilous joy of Indian summer—that she resorts to religious faith because there can be no greater praise for the beauty of a late October summer’s lease.

But there’s another reading, much less blissful. After all, she begs admission for “a child,” and therefore suggests that faith, like the joy of Indian summer, is something only a child can embrace. Sadly, of course, she isn’t one. She doesn’t say “me” here, she says, “Permit a child to join.”

Many readers who understand Ms. Dickinson’s perilous wrestling with God will claim that the Ms. Emily here is the one who would tell us—if she dared in prose—that she simply couldn’t believe in God, and that this poem is a confession of her overwhelming wish, really, that she could.

Those who know Dickinson and love her work believe that at least one mark of her genius as a writer, as a poet, is her ability to say so much about what it means to be human in so few words. In a stanza form she took directly from the hymns she sang in church, she churns up all the emotions human beings are capable of feeling. Miss Emily Dickinson is in her poems, but so are we, all of us—joy, faith, doubt, sadness. 

 It’s all there, and so are we.  


Anonymous said...

You don't think it has to do with the changing 'seasons' of our lives - she's heading toward winter and craves eternity...?

Anonymous said...

" she's heading toward winter and (is participating in) eternity"? Eternity is now?