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20 June 2013

Of Being is a Bird

Of Being is a Bird
The likest to the Down
An Easy Breeze do put afloat
The General Heavens — upon —

It soars — and shifts — and whirls —
And measures with the Clouds
In easy — even — dazzling pace —
No different the Birds —

Except a Wake of Music
Accompany their feet —
As did the Down emit a Tune —
For Ecstasy — of it
                                          F462 (1862)  J653
What is the difference between a bird and a piece of fluffy down? Song and the sheer joy of being. Dickinson builds to this difference by first seemingly praising the down. Once it has been put afloat by an “Easy Breeze,” it soars and whirls in the heavens in from an “easy” to a  “dazzling pace.” In this the Down is “No different [from] the Birds.”
photo: Mary Smiley: Courting Great Egrets
       I picture birds, here, soaring up among the clouds, shifting and whirling with the wind – or even like the egrets in the picture, dancing for their mates. But unlike the quiet Down, birds are accompanied by a “Wake of Music.” It’s a lovely phrase and, like a wake itself, trails meaning as it passes. According to the essential Emily Dickinson Lexicon, meanings for the noun “wake” include “Serenade, divertimento, festival, funeral party, wave, air current, or track left by the passing of a vessel.
       I like thinking of birds leaving music in their wake. In an interesting transposition, Dickinson has music accompanying the birds’ feet rather than, say, their wings. There’s a kind of logic to it: we get about with our feet while the birds use their wings. In that sense their wings are their feet.
       Why do birds sing? Dickinson doesn’t know except to say that it is as if a bit of fluffy down emitted a tune just for the “Ecstasy” of it. I know some birders who would agree. Sometimes the birds really do just sing for joy.


  1. I just started reading "The Prowling Bee" and am enjoying it greatly. Thanks and please keep it up.

    1. Thanks, Vince. Welcome to the blog! Comments always welcome.

  2. great insight on the "wake of music"