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20 March 2012

On this long storm the Rainbow rose –

On this long storm the Rainbow rose –
On this late morn –  the sun –
The Clouds –  like listless Elephants –
Horizons –  straggled down –

The Birds rose smiling, in their nests –
The gales –  indeed –  were done –
Alas, how heedless were the eyes –
On whom the summer shone!

The quiet nonchalance of death –
No Daybreak –  can bestir –
The slow –  Archangel's syllables
Must awaken her!
                                                            F216  (1861)   194

Archangel Michael
Colin de Coter, 1393
The parting gesture of the storm, a lovely rainbow, welcomes the morning sun. The day promises to be peaceful, unlike the storm the night before. The world is bathed in sun, bird song from the newly-wakened birds, and big puffy clouds slowly disappearing down the horizon as the sky clears. But there is one woman who has died, perhaps during the storm, who is “heedless” now to the  beauties of a clear summer day. No “Daybreak” can rouse her from her grave. It will take the Archangel Michael, thought to be the Archangel of Resurrection and of weighing souls, to finally wake her up.

            Death is not portrayed as a tragedy here, though. Yes, it’s sad that the woman can’t see the new day and its beauties. But she is in a state of “quiet nonchalance” – which doesn’t seem so bad. It’s a good thing, too, as in other of Dickinson’s poems people wait in their graves for eons until resurrection day. In “Safe in Their Alabaster Chambers” the dead saints wait while “Worlds scoop their Arcs –
And firmaments – row.”
Clearing of a storm
Maurice de Vlaminck, 1912
            The poem is written in standard ballad form. It begins as a traditional ballad: a story is being told and there are elements of drama. It’s very visual in the story telling. But the mood changes in the third stanza when the poet “tells” us that someone has died. The momentum of the poem comes to an abrupt end and we get a bit of a lesson. I’m not sure it adds much to the poem.  

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