The Skies can't keep their secret!
They tell it to the Hills –
The Hills just tell the Orchards –
And they—the Daffodils!
A Bird – by chance – that goes that way –
Soft overhears the whole –
If I should bribe the little Bird –
Who knows but she would tell?
I think I won't – however –
It's finer – not to know –
If Summer were an Axiom –
What sorcery had snow?
So keep your secret – Father!
I would not – if I could –
Know what the Sapphire Fellows, do,
In your new-fashioned world!
F213 (1861) 191
Dickinson creates an anthropomorphised world that bustles with news and gossip. The skies spill the beans – no doubt in the form of rain. The freshly watered hills wake up the daffodils from their sleeping bulbs. The birds are back and see it all. Spring is coming and word spreads fast. The poet, however, declines the opportunity to get the news by bribing a little bird. Her rationale isn’t that bribery is immoral but that she would really prefer not to know. Dickinson often uses spring as a metaphor for rebirth, and that is the central metaphor of this poem. Would she choose to learn when spring is coming and what it will bring? Would she choose to know when she will die and what will happen? No, she concludes: “It’s finer – not to know.”
|Daffodils welcoming spring|
Dickinson again chooses the naturalist’s approach to the world rather than the academic’s or theologian’s. She observes in rich detail but is quite reluctant to draw conclusions. Better, to her, the wonder than to have the Latin names and dry scientific knowledge. I suppose this is a poet’s eye, looking at each event, each bit of the world that catches the eye, afresh. Those of us who name, categorize, and systemetize inject at least one layer between us and the actual world. This preference for questions over answers is one reason why we love our poets!
And so this poet tells God, her “Father,” that she doesn’t want to know the hidden truths: the day spring finally arrives, or what summer will bring, or what happens when souls are reborn. It’s better, she says, to let those “Sapphire” skies bring surprises.
She asks a rather difficult question in the penultimate stanza: “If Summer were an Axiom, / What sorcery had snow?” An axiom is a self-evident truth, something that goes without saying. Sorcery, of course, represents mystery and magic. If Summer in all its bounty becomes so predictable and common as to lose its mystery, what fascinations could winter possibly bring? The cold, lifeless snow stands here for death, just as spring is rebirth and summer life or eternal life. In a very light-hearted way, Dickinson is saying that since she really doesn’t want to know when her death will come and what happens after death, she won’t ask any questions about the glories of being alive right now, of being able to feel the rain and watch the flowers grow.