The morns are meeker than they were -
The nuts are getting brown -
The berry’s cheek is plumper -
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf -
The field a scarlet gown -
Lest I sh'd be old-fashioned
I’ll put a trinket on.
It's fall, that's sure. Summer's stunning dawns are gone. Outside the window, the sun rises somewhat glamorously, but "meeker," as Emily Dickinson says, often in mist. And the nuts--were there any in our backyard--would be more, well, ripe, if acorns can be said to ripen. Berry season is over, but our fledgling raspberry patch of did their best work little more than a month or so ago.
The first three scattered pictures in this Dickinson poem carry some delight; after all, calling autumn dawns "meeker" is hardly trashing them. But the last line of the first stanza--"The rose is out of town" feels more hefty, even grave, not something you smile your way through. It's lament, and coming where it does seems almost off key. Maybe Miss Emily would like to redo that line. We'll never know.
The first two lines of the second stanza return to reverie. And make no mistake--it's Mother Nature we're talking about here because the world as Miss Emily sees it is female: here's a scarf, there's a gown. It's fall and the world's inspired fashionably in gorgeous earth tones, the field actually scarlet--with fallen leaves?
But then there's that weak rhyme in the last couplet, and that very odd word, trinket, that feels like a clunker in what otherwise would be a tribute to fall in Amherst, the town she so rarely left. She'd like to be part of all this beauty, she says, so she'll "put a trinket on."
It's pretty much impossible not to think of a "trinket" as something one picks up for a buck-and-a-half at Wall Drug. A trinket is not a coordinated accessory like a scarf and not close to a scarlet gown; but it'll have to do for Miss Dickinson, who seems to want to be part of October's own Easter parade but somehow can't or won't. Right in the middle of all that reverie, she sticks some cheap broach on her dress, something stamped out in Hong Kong. Seriously?
Helen Vendler, who wrote far more about Dickinson than anyone else, claims it's the absence of the rose that makes all the difference, the rose who is just plain gone. The rose, Vendler says, is a traditional symbol of love, so she calls the poem "a plainspoken elegy for Eros."
At least for me, nothing in Emily Dickinson is "plainspoken." Number 32 is a postcard of New England in autumn festooned with a trinket. Go figure.
I'd like to think this Dickinson puzzle is pretty much pure reverie, wound up and around and through Miss Emily's thoroughly Calvinist soul; for amid all those glorious fall colors, she's discovered once again what Calvin says about the magnificence of Creation.
We see the world with our eyes, tread the earth with our feet, touch God's works with our hands, inhale a sweet and pleasant fragrance from herbs and flowers, enjoy boundless benefits; yet in those very things of which we attain some knowledge, there dwells an immensity of divine power, goodness, and wisdom, as absorbs all our senses.His magnificence teaches us, Calvin says, that our trinkets are just that. His magnificence brings us on our knees to him because the best we can do is a trinket.
Then again, all of that may well be nothing but Calvinist dreaming. Poetry is at its best when it haunts us, when it leaves space for wonder, leaves space for us.