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24 August 2012

There came a Day—at Summer's full,

There came a Day—at Summer's full,
Entirely for me—
I thought that such—were for the Saints—
Where Resurrections—be—

The Sun—as common—went abroad—
The flowers—accustomed—blew,
As if no soul the solstice passed—
That maketh all things new.

The time was scarce profaned—by speech—
The symbol of a word
Was needless—as at Sacrament—
The Wardrobe—of our Lord—

Each was to each—the sealed church,
Permitted to commune this—time—
Lest we too awkward show—
At “Supper of the Lamb.”

The Hours slid fast—as Hours will—
Clutched tight—by greedy hands—
So—faces on two Decks—look back—
Bound to opposing Lands—

And so when all the time had failed—
Without external sound—
Each—bound the other's Crucifix—
We gave no other Bond—

Sufficient troth—that we shall rise—
Deposed—at length—the Grave—
To that new Marriage—
Justified—through Calvaries of Love!
                                                                                      F325 (1862)  322

The summer solstice is the peak of summer in solar terms: it’s the longest day of the year. Coming in June, it also coincides with beautiful bloomings, birds, and butterflies. Add to that a rendezvous with a secret lover and what could be more perfect? Well, the narrator of this poem admits that she and her lover are “Bound to opposing lands” as if they were two passengers on a ship looking towards opposite shores. The lover has his life, where he has commitments (probably a wife, as Dickinson’s love interests at this time were married), and Dickinson has her own commitments at home and to her poetry.
            She sets the stage as if for a story: “There came a Day…” It was solstice, the sun and flowers were doing their normal thing. Amid this lovely plenty were two lovers, silent as if to speak would be to profane the magic time. One doesn’t talk during Communion. It was, she continues, as if they were in a sealed church, so holy did the hours feel. The two were “Permitted” to have this stolen time together because (in a bit of wild speculation) otherwise they would be falling all over each other when they met up in heaven at the  “‘Supper of the Lamb.’” Heaven forfend!
            When finally their time was up they pledged over each other’s crosses that they would meet beyond the grave in a heavenly and eternal marriage. This, the poet claims, is justified because of all the suffering, the “Calvaries,” they have suffered because of their love.
            Dickinson touched on something similar in “Title divine, is mine” where she, “Empress of Calvary,” was “Betrothed, without the Swoon
God gives us Women.” In “A Wife—at daybreak—I shall be,” Dickinson implies that the night of her death she goes to bed a “child” but will wake in heaven as a wife. This idea of an eternal and perfect union must have been sustaining to her, for otherwise the “Calvaries” she suffered might have been too much to bear.
            The poem has a regular ballad or hymn structure: iambic tetrameter alternating with iambic trimeter and an ABCB rhyme scheme. I can easily imagine it declaimed or sung.

1 comment:

  1. The wonderful Dartmouth "White Heat" blog has this very interesting story about this poem:

    Dickinson wrote a letter to Edward Dwight, a former local pastor, during this week. A month before, Dickinson received a letter from Dwight informing her that his wife, Lucy Dwight, had died. The couple, who were family friends, lived in Amherst until Lucy fell ill. Dickinson thought Dwight the best pastor in town. She wrote a passionate letter in response lamenting his loss, but accidentally switched it with a letter to Charles Wadsworth, another minister she met in Philadelphia, to whom some biographers connect her romantically.

    Awkwardness ensued: a recent widower and family friend receives a letter which might have contained romantic yearnings, and the very much alive Mrs. Wadsworth wonders at her assumed death. Dickinson cleared the air and sent an adapted version of the last stanza of “There came a day at summer’s full” (F325, J322) to Mr. Dwight, and received a poem and a photo of Lucy in return.

    I highly recommend this blog -- you can sign up to automatically receive the weekly entries.