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03 July 2011

Morns like these—we parted—

Morns like these—we parted—
Noons like these—she rose—
Fluttering first—then firmer
To her fair repose.

Never did she lisp it—
It was not for me—
She—was mute from transport—
I—from agony—

Till—the evening nearing
One the curtains drew—
Quick! A Sharper rustling!
And this linnet flew!
                                                     - F18 (1858)

Dickinson was sometimes called upon to sit at bedsides, often of women who were dying and then at their deathbed. It would not be considered appropriate for a person to die or lie in death unattended, so often friends and family would take turns. Emily wrote in a later poem that she liked 'a look of Agony, / Because I know it's true," From this and other poems and sources we know she was a close observer of death.
     Here she recounts the death of a woman that took place in late morning--an ordinary morning "like these". By noon the woman was on her way to "repose"--whether Dickinson means the rest of the tomb or the rest in Paradise she doesn't say. But the woman never seems to have lost composure, never had to "lisp" or stutter out her pain or fear. Instead, she was silent--in a state of "transport," a word with the doubled meaning of both intense emotion and conveyance. The poet was silent, too, but because of the agony of watching the woman die.
     Later in the day, however, the soul departs, rustling through the newly-drawn curtains. When Dickinson says "And this linnet flew!" it is a cry of joy on behalf of the soul. Linnets were caged song birds popular in Dickinson's day and referenced in the poems of Tennyson and Wordsworth. So the final image is that of a caged bird flying to freedom.
    As in many of Dickinson's poems, the point of this is transformation, particularly of the soul. The choice of a bird is conventional as birds have long symbolized the spirit. 


  1. I so enjoy and appreciate your commentary. I was reading this too literally. Thanks!

  2. Did you get the backstory of sitting at the bedside of the dying from her letters? To what degree are her letters helpful in fully embracing her poetry in your understanding?

    1. If I recall correctly, there is an early letter where a close friend of the young Dickinson was dying. Dickinson desperately wanted to be with her -- and eventually she was allowed. Without doing some other reading, I can't tell you if there are other letters that describe deathside sitting (although I think she mentions her mother).

      The general idea of death watches comes from general reading.

  3. I've seen other interpretations of this poem which view it as the first comment, as a literal wonder of birds,but you see it more as an analogy of human death. If the poem did not have the "linnet flew!" reference would you still see it that way?

    1. I think so. The initial 'we' repitition complicates the poem for me. But rising to a 'fair repose' immediately suggested heavenly rest to me. Next, the 'transport' of the poem's subject coupled with the 'agony' of the speaker speaks to the moment of death.

      I'd be interested in hearing your explication of a bird being the subject, however. I am no stranger to having to completely revise my thoughts about a Dickinson poem!

  4. Lines 1-10 talk of the movements of a bird flying away - in morning, at noon - probably because of the speaker coming near and watching, with the song it sings not for the speaker, and the agony is for the speaker, and us, being more bound by the gravity than the bird. The speaker is in awe of what the bird can do, as compared to us who are more tied to where we are.

    But I must say the final line of "and this linnet flew." threw me. Coupled with "Till - the evening nearing," brought up thoughts of death, and your interpretation turned me around. The last line, I feel now. Is the key.