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28 December 2012

A train went through a burial gate

A train went through a burial gate,
A bird broke forth and sang,
And trilled, and quivered, and shook his throat
Till all the churchyard rang;

 

And then adjusted his little notes,
And bowed and sang again.
Doubtless, he thought it meet of him
To say good-by to men.

                                                                         F397 (1862)  J1761


In this simple poem, Dickinson has a bit of fun at the expense of a bird. She sets the scene simply: a funeral train entered the church cemetery and then the bird sings its little head off.

Village funeral, Frank Holl (1845-1888)
She makes the bird a figure of funvery mildly, though, as if it were a beloved aunty or old Parson. The bird bursts forth, trilling, quivering, and shaking his throat. His song rings throughout the churchyard much as aunty or Parson's words of grief would carry. In the second stanza we see him adjusting "his little notes," just as a parson would as he gets ready for the memorial service. 
           It's a very droll image, the bird with his notes, bowing and singing. Dickinson ends with the ironic comment that the bird no doubt found it appropriate for him to "say good-by to men." This, in addition to being a lighthearted anthropomorphism, might also be a comment about funerals in general. Are they really the best way to say goodby?

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