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08 July 2011

The Gentian weaves her fringes—

The Gentian weaves her fringes—
The Maple's loom is red—
My departing blossoms
          Obviate parade.

A brief, but patient illness –
An hour to prepare,
And one below, this morning
Is where the angels are  
It was a short procession,
The Bobolink was there 
An aged Bee addressed us 
And then we knelt in prayer 
We trust that she was willing 
We ask that we may be.
Summer – Sister – Seraph!
Let us go with thee!

In the name of the Bee 
And of the Butterfly –
And of the Breeze – Amen!
                                                                J18, Fr 21 (1858)


* Note: Franklin includes only the first stanza in Fr21.  He places the remainder of the poem in Fr22 and Fr23, breaking those two after "Let us go with thee!" I include these two versions and discussions of them separately.

Autumn colors blaze: the purple blue of the fringed gentian--which blooms its farewell to summer in September or even early November, the red and orange hues of the maple trees... It's a natural eye-pleasing parade before the leaves and blooms drop from the oncoming cold.
     But the poet's garden, and here we assume Dickinson is speaking of her own garden, is fading. The flowers are fading, plants turning brown. These 'obviate' parade--in other words, make a parade unnecessary.
     Apparently Dickinson had William Cullen Bryant's poem "To the Fringed Gentian" marked in a book of poetry. This is the penultimate stanza:


   Then doth thy sweet and quiet eye
    Look through its fringes to the sky,
    Blue—blue—as if that sky let fall
    A flower from its cerulean wall.



I prefer Dickinson's gentians that weave into the Maple's red loom to Bryant's whose dainty little plants look through their lashes at the blue sky that matches their own cerulean tint.
     I also like how  Dickinson sketches a very visual picture contrasting the woods outside her gate to her own garden enclosed within.

7 comments:

  1. Susan,
    I hope you will add additional insights to this page. I want to know your impressions of the last two stanzas. I find them rich and interesting. Write on!

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  2. Susan,
    I hope you will add additional insights to this page. I want to know your impressions of the last two stanzas. I find them rich and interesting. Write on!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why, just read the next two pages! I broke this one poem up into three explications because of the way Franklin breaks them.

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  4. "Written in 1829, Bryant's "To the Fringed Gentian" appeared in an 1861 issue of the Springfield Republican, but the poem was already available to her [ED] in her family's copy of Bryant's Poems (1849)."

    Petrino, Elizabeth A. 2005. Late Bloomer: The Gentian as Sign or Symbol in the Work of Dickinson and Her Contemporaries. The Emily Dickinson Journal: 14, 1; pg. 104

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  5. Franklin dates ‘The Gentian weaves her fringes—’ (F21-F22-F23) about late summer 1858. If the first stanza indicates date of composition, October seems more likely, possibly after fall’s first frost. It’s unclear why Franklin separates the three stanzas into separate poems as there are no lines between them in ED’s manuscript. Also, if we assume the “she” in Stanza 2, Line 9 is ED’s garden (Summer – Sister – Seraph), the three stanzas form a unified whole.

    Fringed gentian, Gentiana cristata, a native wildflower in western Massachusetts forests, probably wasn’t growing in her garden but was often used by nineteenth century poets as a symbol of the end life. However, “In contrast to Bryant's poetry, [where fringed gentian is] a symbol of spiritual life,” Dickinson prefers to view it as a real plant and a symbol of the end of summer. (Petrino, Elizabeth A. 2005. Late Bloomer: The Gentian as Sign or Symbol in the Work of Dickinson and Her Contemporaries. The Emily Dickinson Journal:14, pg. 104-126).

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  6. A Gardener’s Prayer at Summer’s End

    In the woods, gentians bloom and maples turn red. It’s fall and my garden flowers depart one by one as the nights grow cold.

    Last night, with little warning, fall’s first frost killed my garden; this morning perennials sleep beneath the soil, waiting their resurrection in spring. Bobolinks stopped briefly on their way south; an old bee gave benediction as I knelt in prayer. I hope my garden died in peace; I hope that I may do the same. My summer sister sleeps with angels; one day I will join her.

    In the name of the Bee, And of the Butterfly, And of the Breeze –

    Amen!

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