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13 October 2011

A something in a summer's Day

A something in a summer's Day
As slow her flambeaux burn away
Which solemnizes me.

A something in a summer's noon—
A depth—an Azure—a perfume—
Transcending ecstasy.

And still within a summer's night
A something so transporting bright
I clap my hands to see—

Then veil my too inspecting face
Lest such a subtle—shimmering grace
Flutter too far for me—

The wizard fingers never rest—
The purple brook within the breast
Still chafes its narrow bed—

Still rears the East her amber Flag—
Guides still the sun along the Crag
His Caravan of Red—

So looking on—the night—the morn
Conclude the wonder gay—
And I meet, coming thro' the dews
Another summer's Day!
                                                                 - F104 (1859)  122

As if drifting into a fairy tale the poem begins with “A something in a summer’s Day.” The alliterative “s”s that continue with “slow” and “solemnizes” lull us. The first stanza encapsulates rest of the poem: the “flambeaux” of a summer’s day – its sun, moon, and stars – mark the passing of time as they “burn away.” There is a “something” there that is never spelled out in this poem, but that is solemnizing. Solemnity isn’t what we are schooled to feel in summer – autumn is the solemn month – as we’re more prone to think of summer fun or summer joy, so we know there is an alert and unique perception at work here.
The second stanza takes to noon where the “something” transcends ecstasy. That’s a tall order – ecstasy is a word we reserve for the most transporting experiences, the sort of word we use for whirling dervishes or the reunion when the soldier returns home. But we get a hint of what the something might be: it has “depth” like the sky or the sky’s inverse the sea; likewise it is Azure – again as if the sky and the sea were contained in the fullness of a summer noon. Poem F 95 presents summer flowers as creating an ecstasy, but Dickinson expands the feeling here.
We then are shown the something at night, something “transporting bright.” This seems much like ecstasy, but it is something visible, for the poet claps her hands “to see.” Perhaps it is the mystic whiteness of moonlight over the garden and graveyard. The poet perhaps rightly feels that she shouldn’t “inspect” the bright as it is “subtle” and “shimmering” and might fade away ­– “flutter” is the wonderful verb Dickinson uses – as magic does beneath the microscope.
In the fifth stanza we see again the “little brook” that was the wellspring of creativity in poem F 94; here it is chafing “within the breast”. That may be a good definition of ecstasy. In keeping with the fairy magic aura, there are “wizard fingers” that “never rest.” I think of that brook and the light from Summer’s flambeaux as stirring her soul. The wizard fingers might be the “something” of a summer’s day.
The wonders begin again with the first red-gold clouds of dawn, the “amber Flag” of the East that lead the sun and its lovely “caravan of Red” over the rocky hill. We are back where the poem opens, and another “summer’s Day!”
Crepuscular rays through redwoods
Susan Kornfeld
The poem is all sky and light and magic. No people, no town, no domesticated animals. Just the poet and her immersion into the solemn rhythms of summer. The colors are royal: azure, purple, amber, and red. The diction is exalted, the important words including transcendence, solemnizes, ecstasy, transporting, grace, wizard, wonder. It all swells the heart and, as long as summer lasts, is inexhaustible. 


  1. You will forgive me for attempting to interpret Emily Dickinson. But I feel that you have possibly erred in positioning "solemnizes" with solemn. Keeping in mind the entire tenor of the poem, solemnizes as read in the context of it's synonmy .. marks a celebration, and that is what she seems to be doing in the entire poem. Solemn, on the other hand relates to something "formal and dignified", a characteristic which hardly seems to be her strong point.

    But then I am still learning to appreciate Emily Dickinson and maybe totally of the mark here.

    1. Yes, a celebration -- but one that causes her feelings related to 'solemn'. I think that solemn often means much more than "formal and dignified": it implies a sense of import, something weighty, perhaps even sacred. I think that's why Dickinson chooses words such as 'ecstasy', 'grace', and 'wonder'. There is majesty in a summer's day.

  2. I don't believe you can err when it comes interpreting an ED poem. Her poems have many meanings, and it's really up to the readers to decide what her poems mean to them. That's part of the beauty of an ED poem.