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26 July 2012

It's like the Light --

It's like the Light—
A fashionless Delight—
It's like the Bee—
A dateless—Melody—

It's like the Woods—
Private—Like the Breeze—
Phraseless—yet it stirs
The proudest Trees—

It's like the Morning—
Best—when it's done—
And the Everlasting Clocks—
Chime—Noon!
                        
                                                            F302 (1862)  297

This riddle poem is quite a puzzle. Dickinson describes nothing so tangible as a snake or a bird, neither anything elemental such as the wind or Spring. We know it is pervasive, eternal, delightful, private—and that it also somehow “stirs / The proudest Trees” and is “Best—when it’s done.”
            Although I’m not certain about what the poem is describing, I can’t help but think about an earlier poem, “The Love a Life can show Below.” In that work, Dickinson describes a “diviner thing” that “invites” and “enchants” us. It provides music’s “hints and sways.” It is the glory of the sun’s rising and setting, the quality that “enamours” in the morning and harrows us with the beauty of sunset in the evening.
            Like that diviner thing, the subject of this poem seems to be some spiritual or divine essence that is manifest in nature. Notice that Dickinson does not use images of babies or houses or anything else that comes from human beings. Instead, this and other poems show her spiritual connection with the natural world (for a playful example, see “Some keep the Sabboth going to church” where God delivers the sermon among the trees with “a Bobolink for a chorister”). Like many mystics (and Transcendentalists such as Emerson whom she was reading), Dickinson senses something very alive in the world. Her poetry often yearns to capture it.
            In “Musicians wrestle everywhere,” Dickinson describes a “silver strife”—a sort of music-like essence that she hears everywhere. She speculates that it might be the music of the spheres or else, perhaps, “service in the place / Where we—with late—celestial face-- / Please God—shall ascertain!” This would be the heavenly version of her orchard Bobolink service.
            In the last stanza, though, Dickinson implies that this diviner thing culminates at noon. Since we can read “noon” as completion or as a peak, we can look at “Morning” as our soul’s life. Its earthly union with that divine essence she seems to be describing is but a prelude to that more perfect, “Everlasting” noon.

Throughout the poem Dickinson borrows Jesus’ formulation as he tried again and again to describe “the kingdom of Heaven” through parable. It’s like this or like that, he said (book of Matthew, chapter 13), just as Dickinson repeats, “It’s like ...” Parables, and their more concise brethren similes, are how writers and teachers—and mystics—help the rest of us to understand the visions and truths they are willing to share.

5 comments:

  1. Could "It" be the early-morning chorus of birdsong...?

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    1. Maybe. I think she did find that divine. But I don't think she would liken it to bees, or use the word "Phraseless" -- and the "Everlasting Clocks" imply more than the noon church bell.

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  2. Yes, I think you are right. Thanks!

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  3. My guess is not the birdsong, but the bird itself. Nice dissection of the poem.

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  4. Okay, I've proven I have no fear of being wrong. She is talking about death.

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