Upon a Marge of Snow—
It suits his own Austerity—
And satisfies an awe
That men, must slake in Wilderness—
And in the Desert—cloy—
An instinct for the Hoar, the Bald—
The Hemlock's nature thrives—on cold—
The Gnash of Northern winds
Is sweetest nutriment—to him—
His best Norwegian Wines —
To satin Races—he is nought—
But Children on the Don,
Beneath his Tabernacles, play,
And Dnieper Wrestlers, run.
F400 (1862) 525
Numerous anthropology and geography papers have been written on the difference between the residents of northern and southern climes. Dickinson dives in here and makes it clear her own preference is for the cold north, here symbolized by the Hemlock.
She anthropomorphizes the Hemlock as if it represents a character type (perhaps her austere and cold father?): he "likes" to be in the snow because it "suits his own Austerity." Something about this majestic tree braving the winter from its "Marge of Snow" touches us, the poet claims. The graceful tree amid a cold, wind-swept landscape awakens "an awe" that only wilderness satisfies.
|Photo of hemlocks: Michaela, |
The Gardeners Eden
Lapland is usually considered to be the northernmost part of Scandinavia. In Dickinson's day, however, "Lapland" might refer to mystical lands where sorcerers conjured icy weather; it might also suggest purity and simplicity. In fact, New England itself was sometimes referred to as Lapland.
Dickinson paints a heroic picture of the hemlock: austere, awesome, thriving in the cold--he even relishes those Nor'easters as if they were the finest wine. Alas, she gets a few details wrong: the hemlock isn't found in Lapland, would never enjoy "Norwegian Wines." She is no doubt thinking of the Eastern or Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) that would be a fairly common sight in Massachusetts.
It would not be found along the great Russian rivers, Don and Dnieper, where Dickinson imagines children play "Beneath his Tabernacles" and wrestlers work out. The Don River begins south of Moscow, flowing through the central Russian uplands until emptying in the Sea of Azov and thence to the Black Sea. The Dnieper River, originating to the east of Moscow, flows through Belarus and Ukraine to empty directly into the Black Sea.
|Edward Dickinson: perhaps a bit |
bald and hoar; certainly austere
After he died, though, she wrote to her mentor T.W. Higginson, "His heart was pure and terrible and I think no other like it exists." Perhaps she caught a glimpse of this in the hemlock trees standing in the snow.