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14 August 2011

To venerate the simple days

To venerate the simple days
Which lead the seasons by,
Needs but to remember
That from you or I,
They may take the trifle
Termed mortality!

To invest existence with a stately air –
Needs but to remember
That the Acorn there
Is the egg of forests
For the upper Air!
                                      - F 55 (1859)

My favorite part of this poem is the epigram of the Acorn being the egg of forests. It’s a bid odd, isn’t it, that Dickinson capitalizes “Acorn” and “Air” but not “egg” or “forests”? I wonder what her capitalization rubric was. Anyway, one can’t argue with the sentiment: it is easier to honor each passing day if one remembers that it carries away a bit of your life with it.
The second stanza builds upon the first. While the first reminds us of life’s brevity, the second reminds us that like the Acorn we are but lowly forms of the heavenly (“upper Air”) beings we will be in Paradise. Both stanzas are essentially structured with six lines. Although the second has only five, Dickinson has combined two trimeter lines to make the first line—imbuing it with a more ‘stately air’.
One line is repeated: “Needs but to remember.” The repetition helps us remember as well as knits the two stanzas together. The word “air” is repeated in the second stanza. The first time it is the ‘stately air’ we should invest our lives with, our sense of gravity and import. Our daily life matters. The second use is as the very last word of the poem. This time it is to contrast the earthly (Acorn on the forest floor) with the eternal and incorporeal. 

8 comments:

  1. The second stanza seems to be missing in Johnson. Do we know why?

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  2. I am not sure. The Archives show the two stanzas on second pages with the second stanza crossed out and some notations -- perhaps by Todd -- that probably indicated to Johnson that it shouldn't be included. Franklin clearly thought it should. Christanne Miller includes it in her As She Preserved Them book of ED's Poems.

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  3. I think that the capitalization of "Acorn" could be an allusion to Hannah Flagg Gould's poem, "The Pebble and the Acorn." Here is a website where you could read it and consider this possibility: https://discoverpoetry.com/poems/hannah-flagg-gould/the-pebble-and-the-acorn/

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    1. Thanks for the link. I was unfamiliar with both poet and poem. While I don't think Dickinson needed any encouragement to capitalize a word I wouldn't be surprised if the Gould poem didn't inform ED's poem.

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    2. I think your interpretation of this poem is good; but you miss the mark a bit when you describe the Acorn as lowly. For me, the Acorn represents humanity and the Air represents human greatness or perhaps Heaven. Either way the Acorn is a surprising beginning but not a subservient one.

      I think Dickinson capitalizes here to show that the Acorn and the Air are her friends. She can have a conversation with them. She understands humanity.

      She does not capitalize egg and forest because she uses these to capture less concrete concepts. The egg captures the generative quality of the Acorn and the forest a maternal one nurturing the Acorn.

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    3. I meant 'lowly' rather wryly. Acorns have the potential to become great forests, their canopy in the sky. Their acorn form is less lofty and grand but no less remarkable. In fact, the poem says, just to think on the acorn is to be elevated by it.

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  4. Thank you so much for your insight. I sometimes wonder if my interpretations of Dickinson’s poems are correct. It is gratifying to me that someone else hears what I hear in this one!

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