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08 June 2013

Nature — sometimes sears a Sapling —

Nature — sometimes sears a Sapling —
Sometimes — scalps a Tree —
Her Green People recollect it
When they do not die —

Fainter Leaves — to Further Seasons —
Dumbly testify —
We — who have the Souls —
Die oftener — Not so vitally —

                                                                    F457 (1862)  J314

Wildfires, lightning can damage trees severely. If these “Green People” don’t die, they show the scars and marks. Their leaves are fainter, testifying for years to come that they had once endured a serious blow. Anyone who has walked in the woods has noticed the dead snags, remnants of trees that fell to fire, trees shorn of their uppermost branches from some wind storm, and young trees bearing the scars of fire around their lower trunks. Often the structural damage will make it difficult for the trees to thrive; thus, the “fainter Leaves.”


Unlike trees, people have souls. What does Dickinson mean that we therefore “Die oftener” and “Not so vitally”? I suspect she means that we suffer more “killing” blows than do the trees and saplings. It’s not just Nature that can deal us blows, but other people – intentionally or unintentionally. But these blows do not touch our soul. That might explain the saints’ strength in the face of great torment and suffering. We know that Dickinson read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and based some of her poems on its harrowing accounts. Small wonder then, that while she sees the marks of tragedy on both human and tree, she believes that the human soul survives intact (and perhaps is strengthened by) what wounds the flesh.


  1. The ED Lexicon defines "vitally" as vividly. I think this changes the meaning a little. I think she is referring to the internal scars where meanings are. We die more often in life but our scars are not as obvious or vivid as a scarred tree.

    1. Thanks - I hadn't consulted the Lexicon on this. Your reading makes perfect sense.