Search This Blog

13 April 2012

Make me a picture of the sun—

Make me a picture of the sun—
So I can hang it in my room—
And make believe I'm getting warm
When others call it "Day"!

Draw me a Robin—on a stem—
So I am hearing him, I'll dream,
And when the Orchards stop their tune—
Put my pretense—away—

Say if it's really—warm at noon—
Whether it's Buttercups—that "skim"—
Or Butterflies—that "bloom"?
Then—skip—the frost—upon the lea—
And skip the Russet—on the tree—
Let's play those—never come!

                                                            F 239 (1861)  188

As if she were a shut in and lived entirely in the imagination, the poet asks for a few things that represent the fullness of life: Day and Summer. She uses a childish diction as if it were a game, yet one suspects it is a serious sort of game.
            She begins by asking for a “picture of the sun” to hang in her room. That way when others report that it is “Day” she can imagine the warmth of its rays. That would be pleasant. Likewise, in the second verse, she requests a picture of a robin perched on a sturdy flower stem. As long as she can here is song she can dream. That, too, is pleasant. But at the end of the day when the songbirds have quieted, she will be ready to give up the “pretense” and turn to night-time dreaming instead of daydreaming.
            In the last stanza she asks to hear all the lovely summer details: that it’s “warm at noon” and if the buttercups frost the meadow with their bright yellow flowers, or if butterflies are so thick they look like blooming flowers as they rest upon the grasses. All this is a pleasant game to while away the days of a shut in. And who knows? She may have written this poem during a period of illness or a time when she stayed indoors.
Little bird enjoying the last of the
apples before winter
            But while summer and day symbolize the fullness of life, autumn signifies the coming end of life. Frost on the meadow is a harbinger of snow in the winter. The late russet apple reminds us that the harvest is nearly over. We can just skip that part, the poet says. A faint echo of the apple’s role in Eve’s temptation and the Fall from Grace linger in the line. And then in a fun play on words, she wants to “play” that those symbols of fall never come. The obvious alternate word is “pray,” but the choice of play is in keeping with the spirit of make believe that pervades the poem. To pray that winter doesn’t come would inject too serious a note.
            The imagery is all rather conventional: sun, robin, orchards, buttercups, butterflies, frost on the meadow, and apples on the tree. The hanging on to summer is also a rather conventional thought.


  1. I read this as a satire of religious iconography that seems to suggest all good things to those who wait while not explaining the more difficult aspects of a life in faith.

  2. I don't see this as religious at all. I see a poet sitting at a desk thinking of something to write and looking out the window in early Fall. The sun is lower in the sky for the time of day, and the sugar maples have just started to turn color, and this particular poet sees a metaphor for life. Much great literature has been written looking out windows and thinking.

  3. During summer ED would like to pretend she lives in a dreamworld of sunshine and songbirds. When fall comes and songbirds migrate, leaving orchards silent, she would prefer the truth: Are noons warm, do flowers fly, or butterflies bloom? But when frost covers fields and late apples ripen, she’d rather not know; simply pretend again that winter doesn’t exist.

    Her druthers make no sense to me; perhaps that's her point, but - whatever floats her boat....

  4. It is interesting that she wants to keep up her pretense only as long as the day lasts and until “Orchards stop their tune“ - as if she wants to mimic real life as closely as possible. I see her as a shut in here but not literally, it’s a psychological state she describes.
    In a letter to her uncle written in the summer of 1858 ED says “I cannot always see the light – please tell me if it shines”.