Pine Bough –
A feather from the Whippowill
That everlasting sings –
Whose Galleries are Sunrise –
Whose Stanzas, are the Springs—
Whose Emerald Nest – the Ages spin –
Of mellow – murmuring Thread –
Whose Beryl Egg, what Schoolboys hunt –
In "Recess," Overhead!
- F208 (1861) 161
This poem was sent to Samuel Bowles along with a spring of white pine. The long droopy needles of this particular pine might indeed seem like feathers from the Whipoorwill. Okay, that’s just wrong. The feathers don’t look anything like pine needles in shape or color. Additionally, the Whippoorwill is a ground nester – there would be no eggs overhead in the trees. Actually, they don’t construct a nest at all, let alone an “Emerald” one. They lay egss in the leaf litter. And if the “Schoolboys” were to find the Whippoorwill eggs they would find them brown-speckled and not “Beryl” at all!
Reader's Digest's Wildlife of North America
But let’s not make too much of this poem. It makes a nice note to a friend and shares a lovely thought about time and trees and youth. The “Whippowill” was perhaps the wrong bird to use for the pine tree image, but maybe “Whippowill” to Dickinson meant a different bird than “Whippoorwill” does to us today.
So let’s just read the poem as a nice presentation of a pine tree: An evergreen, the pine needles are “everlasting,” and since they are high in the air they have gallery seats at sunrise. Their singing is according to seasons and each stanza is complete with the Spring when new growth buds. The leaves make an “Emerald Nest” that crowns the tree and their slight rustling in the breeze create the “murmuring Thread.” The “Beryl Egg” is the cone. Now in my day boys (and girls!) would climb the tree, grab the cones and then pelt cars as they drove by, or if they were really mean they might pelt other kids.
|Green Pine Cones|