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10 July 2012

My first well Day – since many ill –

My first well Day – since many ill – 
I asked to go abroad,
And take the Sunshine in my hands,
And see the things in Pod – 

A'blossom just – when I went in
To take my Chance with pain – 
Uncertain if myself, or He,
Should prove the strongest One.

The Summer deepened, while we strove – 
She put some flowers away – 
And Redder cheeked Ones – in their stead – 
A fond – illusive way – 

To Cheat Herself, it seemed she tried – 
As if before a child
To Fade – Tomorrow – Rainbows held
The Sepulchre, could hide.

She dealt a fashion to the Nut – 
She tied the Hoods to Seeds – 
She dropped bright scraps of Tint, about – 
And left Brazilian Threads

On every shoulder that she met – 
Then both her Hands of Haze
Put up – to hide her parting Grace
From our unfitted eyes.

My loss, by sickness – Was it Loss?
Or that Ethereal Gain
One earns by measuring the Grave – 
Then – measuring the Sun –
                                                            F288 (1862)  574

Dickinson contemplates here the passage of time, seasons, and the perspective a serious illness can bring. It’s written in traditional hymn or ballad form; if so minded, one could sing it to the tune of “Amazing Grace.”  She makes abundant use of slant rhyme a practice frowned upon at the time.
The wings, or "hoods," that Summer ties to
maple seeds 
            It is spring when the  narrator takes to bed; the world is “A’blossom.” Her condition is fairly serious for she is not sure if she can overcome the pain or if pain “Should prove the strongest One.”  While she and pain “strove” indoors, Summer “put some flowers away” but substituted the deeper, redder autumnal colors that presage winter.  This, Dickinson says, is a bit of an illusion to take away the sting. It is similar to reassuring a child who is about to die, or “Fade,” that although all he can see is the grave, tomorrow actually holds a beautiful rainbow.

            Summer, that lovely and stylish mother, plumps out the nuts to a fashionable roundness and gleam, ties the little  wings and other devices on seeds so the wind may blow them to new ground, and then goes about adding fall color. She drapes the fields and hills with oranges, reds, and browns – the “Brazilian Threads.” And then as she leaves, Summer puts up “her Hands of Haze” that mist the countryside during autumn.
            Dickinson uses a similar image some years later in “As imperceptibly as Grief.” In that poem summer takes on a “courteous, yet harrowing Grace, /  As Guest, that would be gone.” She finally makes “her light escape / Into the Beautiful.”
Before she leaves, Summer stylishly
plumps the nuts
            It’s a lovely depiction of early autumn. The poet is finally able to get outside and admire it for herself, see the beans and mustards and other “things in Pod.” But as she thinks about the summer that she missed she wonders if she really suffered a loss. There is an “Ethereal Gain,” she concludes, in a brush with death. After measuring the grave, how very vast and wonderful seems the sun! The appreciation of a thing by awareness of its opposite is a theme in several Dickinson poems reviewed here so far, most recently in “The Zeroes taught us – Phosphorus – .” There, “We learned to like the Fire / By handling Glaciers.”


  1. Thank you for this, Susan. I did have difficulty figuring the rainbow/sepulchre passage. She says "a fond illusive way..." Fond here may mean not only affectionate, but also foolish--an unconvincing bit of self-trickery futile as encouraging the dying child. What do you think?

  2. Is this poem ED's third longest so far? L1 was 40 lines and L2 36 lines (both Valentine poems), and F288 28 lines.

  3. New England summers are nice, winters not. Losing summer to sickness zeroed gardening; ED’s stoic closing lines sound rhetoric, unconvincing. Oh well, window-watching summer beats a sepulchre any day.

  4. That fourth stanza’s syntax is more difficult than it should be. Every now and then, I give thanks that on rare occasions, ED is not “precisely” “perfect.” Vendler calls that extended simile of showing a dying child a rainbow one of her “cruelest.” I don’t think so. When my wife was a chaplain in a childrens’ hospital there were rainbows all around the building, and very often in dying childrens’ rooms. As for the “unconvincing” “gain”—I guess you might have to have been there. I played golf with a fellow one time who had been in and out of hospitals in the previous two years and now on the golf course for the first time. He played badly and just about the best time of any golfer I’ve ever witnessed.