A few prosaic days
A little this side of the snow
And that side of the Haze –
A few incisive mornings –
A few Ascetic eves –
Gone – Mr. Bryant's "Golden Rod" –
And Mr. Thomson's "sheaves."
Still, is the bustle in the Brook –
Sealed are the spicy valves –
Mesmeric fingers softly touch
The eyes of many Elves –
Perhaps a squirrel may remain –
My sentiments to share –
Grant me, Oh Lord, a sunny mind –
Thy windy will to bear!
- F123 (1859) 131
The elegiac tone of this poem befits the autumn mood. Although summer is gone, there are still a few “prosaic” days between the hazy light of late summer and the snowfall of winter. The mornings and evenings are crisp – “incisive” and “Ascetic,” and the “Brook” is no longer tumbling with summer rains. The “Elves” are lulled into sleep.
David Preest points out that “Mr. Bryant’s ‘Golden Rod’” is a reference to William Bryant’s poem “the Death of the Flowers.” The pertinent part follows:
The wind-flower and the violet, they perished long ago,
And the brier-rose and the orchis died amid the summer glow;
But on the hills the golden-rod, and the aster in the wood,
And the yellow sun-flower by the brook in autumn beauty stood,
Till fell the frost from the clear cold heaven, as falls the plague on men,
And the brightness of their smile was gone, from upland, glade, and glen.
But in this poem, even the golden rods, still blooming in Bryants poem, are gone.
Preest names James Thompson’s poem “The Seasons” as the reference for the “sheaves.” The reference here isn’t so clear, but he does write:
Fair AUTUMN, yellow rob'd! I'll sing of thee,
Of thy last, temper'd, Days, and sunny Calms;
When all the golden Hours are on the Wing,
Attending thy Retreat, and round thy Wain,
Slow-rolling, onward to the Southern Sky.
The last stanza, however, makes it clear that this is not just a poem about the passing of the seasons but a meditation on the influence of the seasons on our deepest feelings. Autumn, as Dickinson writes in various poems, is a season of piercing beauty and piercing sadness. Winter is deprivation, hardship and often depression. Summer is golden fullness, a ripe happiness. The poet prays that she can keep this golden mood despite the blustery and windy cold of winter.