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15 July 2011

Flees so the phantom meadow

Flees so the phantom meadow
Before the breathless Bee—
So bubble brooks in deserts
On Ears that dying lie—
Burn so the Evening Spires
To Eyes that Closing go—
Hangs so distant Heaven—
To a hand below.
                                                    Fr 27 (1858)

• Johnson includes this poem with the previous, Fr26, in J20

The use of spondee adds a lot to this poem. Used in alternating lines, their strong accents emphasize the strong frustration with meadows, water, sunset, and Heaven that are all just tantalizingly outside our grasp. It's written to be painful. The Bee is breathless, the thirsty traveler is dying. The hand is stretching longingly. 
The many "B" sounds also lend the poem power. The effect I find the most arresting is the very slow and almost bell-tolling "Hangs so distant Heaven– ." The three accented syllables of "Hangs so dis..." are so pendant that we can almost feel Heaven hanging ripe above our heads. 
     Dickinson may be going counter to her peers and culture in depicting a heaven that is unattainable. Perhaps she means that we must wait until we die for paradise and therefore we must be longing for the day when we cross over from life into that hanging heaven. Not an appealing thought. But another interpretation might be that God is not attainable. Prayers do not compel His attention. He is even likened to a "phantom meadow." Much of Dickinson's community, including her family, had taken a pledge for Jesus not too many years before this poem. Emily did not take the pledge although she read the Bible religiously and often wrote of God and Paradise. But in some of her poems she grapples with God and is hardly circumspect. (Of course in yet others, He is kindly and life-giving.
     The more I read this poem the better I like it. I love the "breathless Bee" trying to light upon the ghostly meadow. I love the sound of "So bubble brooks "--it even sounds like bubbles bursting. And the last three alliterations of "Hangs," "Heaven" and "hand" in the last two lines has a chillingly breathy sound.

1 comment:

  1. Phantom meadow, bubbling brooks in a desert, burning evening spires, distant heaven: all of these are painfully unattainable mirages, like Emily’s overwhelming love (infatuation?) for Susan. This stanza (Fr27) belongs with Fr26, Distrustful of the Gentian.