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08 July 2012

The Love a Life can show Below

The Love a Life can show Below
Is but a filament, I know,
Of that diviner thing
That faints upon the face of Noon –
And smites the Tinder in the Sun –
And hinders Gabriel's Wing –

'Tis this – in Music – hints and sways –
And far abroad on Summer days –
Distils uncertain pain –
'Tis this enamors in the East –
And tints the Transit in the West
With harrowing Iodine –

'Tis this – invites – appalls – endows –
Flits – glimmers – proves – dissolves –
Returns – suggests – convicts – enchants –
Then – flings in Paradise –

                                                            F285 (1862)  673

In F229, “Musicians wrestle everywhere,” Dickinson evokes a “silver strife” that recalls the music of the spheres or perhaps the sound of “new life.” In this poem she goes further, taking an almost mystical approach to life. When we love, when we make music we are invoking some “diviner thing”  in comparison to which our most noble efforts are but shadows and echoes.
            “Filament” is the word Dickinson chooses and it is lovely here. The divinity in this poem beckons to us with these filaments; it longs for a connection as do we. At the same time it hides itself: we must seek it without being able to find it. It “glimmers” and “dissolves” at the same time that it “invites” and “enchants.” But then Dickinson shows this diviner thing to be generous and joyful: it “flings in Paradise” as if it were tossing a bouquet of roses at the feet of an enraptured child.

            The last three lines of the first stanza present a paradoxical portrayal of the diviner thing. First, it “faints upon the face of Noon.” The image is that of a wisp of cloud or mist evaporating. It evades intense scrutiny, i.e., the light of day. In our Enlightenment proclivity for taxonomy we trust the microscope and not the trance. Perhaps we should be receptive to both.
Multiple flares igniting in the sun
            The second quality Dickinson reveals to us is that it “smites the Tinder in the Sun” – it lights the fire of the sun. That is a very interesting quality in an thing that faints in “the face of Noon.” The thing is not the fire but the force that sparks the flame. Examine it under the sun and it effervesces; approach it with awe, however, for it lights the heavens.
            Hindering “Gabriel’s Wing,” is the third aspect of the diviner thing. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Dickinson can be maddeningly secretive at times! Gabriel is a Biblical archangel. His primary role is said to be that of God’s messenger. Why would a diviner thing want to impede him? If we are uncertain of God’s will, perhaps we feel our way with greater humility and care. Perhaps we come closer to the divine when we aren’t overanalyzing it.
An iodine-purple sunset can be 
magnificent -and harrowing.
            The second stanza expands on the idea of mystical truth. It resides in Music and, much as the diviner thing is responsible for the shine of the sun, it provides music’s “hints and sways” that enchant us as we listen. It is also that essence of “Summer days” that seems to distill our vague despairs into something purer and meaningful as if we suddenly saw them clearly for the first time. Finally, the diviner thing is the glory of the sun’s rising and setting, the quality that “enamors” in the morning and harrows us with the beauty of sunset in the evening.

The first two sestets rhyme AABCCB. Two lines of iambic tetrameter are followed by one of iambic trimeter. The effect is stately, supportive of the quiet philosophy of the poem.
            But the last stanza shucks off the conventions. A list of words dances through three of the four lines without benefit of rhyme but without needing or wanting it. One of those words is “proves.” The spirit of scientific investigation is just as much a part of the diviner thing a the spirit of aesthetics. It is the spirit of the quest and self discovery. The musician’s humanity animates music; the human tendency for self examination is focused by the bright light of a summer day; our love of beauty gives us an emotional response to sunrise and sunset. Perhaps the poet is telling us that at least a spark of the “diviner thing” resides within us. Poets and visionaries can reach inside and touch it, but perhaps the rest of us can, too.    



  2. Variant B (above) feels less personal than Variant A because ED deleted the word “Child” and replaced it with “Life” in Line 1. Also, ED reverses the emotional message of the poem by deleting “afflicts us” in Line 10, replacing it with the word “enamored”. Why did she make these changes?

    Perhaps germane, ED signed Variant A "Emily", intending it for Susan Dickinson, to whom a note is penned at the head of the poem: "Excuse me – Dollie”. However, the manuscript was never folded and evidently not sent (Franklin 1998).

    Perhaps germane, Susan’s first child, Ned, was an infant when ED wrote the poem.

    On the other hand, perhaps ungermane. We’ll never know.