‘Tis frequently the Way—
Surpasses all that rose before—
For utter Jubilee—
As Nature did not Care—
And piled her Blossoms on—
The further to parade a Joy
Her Victim stared opon—
The Birds declaim their Tunes—
Pronouncing every word
Like Hammers—Did they know they fell
Like Litanies of Lead—
On here and there—a creature—
They’d modify the Glee
To fit some Crucifical Clef—
Some key of Calvary—
F398 (1862) J364
Dickinson makes the point that to those who have suffered a great woe, Nature's beautiful abundance seems excessive and hurtfully alive--especially the day after.
She begins with a bit of hyperbole: On the morning after something terrible has occurred, it often happens that birds and flowers and other joyful outbursts give their most jubilant performances ever. It "Surpasses all that rose before"! Nature seemingly doesn't care about our human grief for she just piles on the blossoms and parades the sort of "Joy" the "Victim" once stared upon, no doubt in delight.
|The doleful Mourning Dove's song |
might be gloomy enough for the poet
At least in this poem an occasional bird modifies its song "To fit some Crucifical Clef" so it would play in "Some key of Calvary." Perhaps that would be the Mourning Dove or other bird that sings in a minor key more fitting of Jesus' crucifixion on Mount Calvary. This modification, however, underscores the idea that nature/the world/the heavens are aware of human lives and feeling.
For all the cleverness of the poem, I don't feel Dickinson's heart in it completely. The poem has a romantic/romanticizing tone, the "Litanies of Lead" equated with bird song and a parade of blossoms. But it is all well done. In addition to the alliterative "Litanies of Lead," Dickinson continues both musical theme and alliteration with the lovely last two lines with "some Crucifical Clef— / Some key of Calvary—". Such music reminds us of sad, ponderous organ music in a vast cathedral. Now if those pesky robins and song sparrows could just get with the program!