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12 January 2012

I can't tell you – but you feel it –

I can't tell you – but you feel it –
Nor can you tell me –
Saints, with ravished slate and pencil
Solve our April Day!

Sweeter than a vanished frolic
From a vanished green!
Swifter than the hoofs of Horsemen
Round a Ledge of dream!

Modest, let us walk among it
With our faces veiled –
As they say polite Archangels
Do in meeting God!

Not for me – to prate about it!
Not for you – to say
To some fashionable Lady
"Charming April Day"!

Rather – Heaven's "Peter Parley"!
By which Children slow
To sublimer Recitation
Are prepared to go!
                                                F164 (1860)   65

Dickinson treats the “April Day” with sweet reverence. The day, so full of spring and hope and joy presages the joy of heaven. The idea of heaven is introduced in the second half of the first stanza. The poet begins by admitting she can’t adequately express what is so special about April, nor does she expect her audience to do any better. But she calls on the Saints – those departed Christians so long in the grave that their school slates and pencils are “ravished” by time – to “solve” the sense of wonderful reverence. The saints can also give their heavenly perspective, for April is often the month of Easter--rebirth and resurrection.
Spring in Mona Vale
            She goes on from a future stance, looking back on earthly springs as a “vanished frolic” and the days of spring passing as quickly as horses through a dream. The third stanza takes her back to earth and she calls on us to walk in modest awe as if about to encounter the Deity himself. After all, would you stop some “fashionable Lady” and babble on about what a nice day it is? (Well, maybe you would – I would, but this isn’t Victorian era New England). Instead, we should take out our childhood primers (Peter Parley wrote children’s books) so that even if we are “slow” at grasping the sublime, we may be properly prepared.
            The poem begins with a bit of a whisper: “I can’t tell you – but you feel it –,” and then turns into a cheerful anticipation of the joys to come. The first and fourth stanzas echo each other with the “not me – not you” direct addresses to the reader. The entire poem has a comradely air as the poet addresses the reader directly – as if we were strolling arm in arm with Emily Dickinson on a glorious spring day!


  1. Isn't the Peter Parley reference really to all the texts of beautiful, "written" by Heaven for us to "read" and contemplate, learn (in that sense a primer) rather than just to gush over it to some fashionable Lady? So Heaven's Peter Parley is the Creator; the April Day his text.

    1. Yes, I think the lovely April day does serve as a primer for Heaven -- I'm not sure why I didn't write that -- seems obvious once you point it out. So thanks for the insight.

      It seems to me, though, that she is using "Peter Parley" as a way of saying "primer", and that this particular primer is the April day.

  2. This was a tough one for me. I wasn't sure if the "Solve our April day" and the "Peter Parley" references weren't being sarcastic. I appreciate your perspective. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for the interpretation. Wish you can read the poem. Because I've been looking for the audio version of the poem for long since English isn't my first language. I'd like to hear how a native English speaker read it.