Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Dickinson's "courteous yet harrowing Grace"
We're already a month into fall so what's around it is a mess of death. I haven't pulled the dried-up stalks because an occasional bee or butterfly still stops by at what shrunken blossoms yet remain.
Yesterday I wanted to try a different lens out back and found this tiny blue late-comer in a host of angry brambles, a star in an uninviting sky. I told myself there were poems about these things--if not this species something else surprisingly "late season." I don't know if it's a picture of what was or a prophet of what's to come, and maybe it's just summer's orphan. I don't even know the name of the poor thing. It came in a mix of wildflower seeds from WalMart. But as we speak it's having its day, even though the beauty out back is long gone.
This morning's offering from Writers Almanac is Emily Dickinson, who thoroughly confounded me the first time I read through. What little I knew was that she was talking about something akin to what's in this photograph and what's out back of our place, an homage to the sadness of summer's passing, a poem that's not funeral-ish however, even if right now out back it's easy to create a dirge.
As Imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like Perfidy.
Grief is an emotion, a noun and not an action verb. Ms. Emily didn't see one of these little blue flowers--or, if she did, she simply loved it for its beauty. Summer's end is almost timeless, she says, an event we don't notice until it's over, more imperceptible than rejection, than something awful or immoral. Seasonal sequences happen so deftly that we barely note them until they're gone.
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature spending with herself
Sequestered Afternoon -
There are no flowers, just feelings, an emptiness that makes her wonder how it was we never felt the emptying, like a "twilight long begun" or
The Dusk drew earlier in -
The Morning foreign shone -
Almost imperceptible. She wakes to note that summer's gone.
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace.
Courteous, maybe, because summer leaves behind an occasional blue star, but harrowing because it is a harbinger of winter to come. "Courteous, yet harrowing grace" is a wonderful line because it cuts to the flesh. This little blue flower, amid all the destruction, is both courteous, a blessing, and harrowing, fearful.
Then follows what seems three images drawn from the human experience of leaving:
As guest, that would be gone -
And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Somehow--I'm not sure how--there's a guest departing, slipping away unnoticed, a bird gone but not noticeably flying, a ship directionless departing--all of it "imperceptible as grief." Things happen in our lives, not always suddenly. Change happens as if beyond us.
And then, finally, a summary.
Our Summer made her light escape
Into the Beautiful.
Past tense--it's gone in case you're wondering. It's over. But it was ours, not just hers. She's talking about you and me and my backyard.
Helen Vendler, who probably knew more about Emily Dickinson than anyone, says in Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries, that the final line here is Ms. Emily's platonic dreaming, something she liked to do. She assigns "our" summer to a nirvana-like space where "things beautiful" simply exist, a heaven for our most glorious joys.
Here's another backyard blossom, just for the record.
Just showed up, end of season, a couple of brightly colored sad cheers, a reminder of what has now departed as imperceptibly as grief, "a courteous, yet harrowing Grace."
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:40 AM