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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. 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.

  2. Here is the first paragraph of ED’s apology letter to Reverend Dwight for the mix-up in correspondence [brackets mine], followed by Johnson’s Note on this letter (L246).

    2 January 1862

    Dear friend [Rev. Dwight].

    I made the mistake - and was just about to recall the note - misenveloped to you - and your's - to the other friend - which I just knew [does this imply, incorrectly, that ED just recently met Wadsworth?] - when my "Sister's" face [picture of Mrs. Dwight, deceased] - put this world from mind - nor should I mention it - except from the familiar address [Is ED's return address the only reason ED explains her mistake to Rev. Dwight?] - must have surprised your taste - I have the friend who loves me [Wadsworth] - and thinks me larger than I am - and to reduce a Glamour, innocently caused [Is ED lying here that she was innocent of Wadsworth's misunderstanding? Did Wadsworth think they had agreed during his visit to marry here on Earth?] - I sent the little Verse [the last stanza only?] to Him. Your gentle answer - undeserved, I more thank you for.

    Thomas Johnson's Note on Letter 246

    MANUSCRIPT: AC. Ink. Dated: Amherst. Envelope addressed: Rev Edward S. Dwight./Gorham./Maine. Postmarked: Amherst Ms Jan 3 1862. Unpublished.

    ED had reversed the contents of envelopes posted about the same time in December, one to Dwight and one to the (unidentified) friend who "thinks me larger than I am." Dwight replied, enclosing a verse and a photograph of his late wife. This letter, which acknowledges Dwight's, concludes with the final stanza of "There came a Day at Summer's full," adapted to the memory of Mrs. Dwight.

  3. In her manuscript ED offered two alternative wordings, “Revelations” for “Resurrections” in Stanza 1 and “While our two souls” for “As if no soul” in Stanza 2.

  4. An interpretation:

    There came a special summer day, my wedding day - I thought such days were reserved only for Saints in Heaven.

    The Sun rose as usual, breeze blew the flowers, while our two souls joined in matrimony.

    We barely spoke words, which are mere symbols; as in silent prayer, words were unnecessary.

    Each of us, former separated souls, communicated without words. Words would be awkward at such a holy time.

    The hours slid fast, as hours will, clutched tight by greedy hands. We were faces on two passing ships bound for disparate ports (Amherst and San Francisco).

    When we had to part, we silently promised “I do” on each other’s crucifix. We gave no other bond.

    That was sufficient promise that we shall rise from our graves into a new marriage in Heaven, justified by our sacrifices of love!

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  7. Time is out of joint in 'There came a Day—at Summer's full' (F325).

    No published timeline of ED’s important life events mentions that Wadsworth visited ED in Amherst in summer 1861, though some authors imply that possibility (Whicher 1938, Schurr 1983, Habegger 2001).

    We know Wadsworth first visited ED in Amherst in March 1860. Franklin estimates ED copied F325 into Fascicle 13 “about late 1861”.

    ED’s apology letter to Reverend Dwight concerning her mistaken switch of addressed envelopes is postmarked January 3, 1862:

    “Amherst. Envelope addressed: Rev Edward S. Dwight./Gorham./Maine. Postmarked: Amherst Ms Jan 3 1862.”

    (Thomas Johnson's Note on Letter 246;

    Lines 1 and 6 of F325, if true, are compelling evidence that Reverend Wadsworth visited ED in Amherst on or about June 21, 1861:

    "There came a Day—at Summer's full,
    · · · ·
    The flowers—accustomed—blew”

    ED closes F325 with Lines 23-28:

    “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!”

    We can consider F325 simply a flight of ED’s poetic fancy, her incredible subconscious imagining an event that never happened. Or we can accept F325 as true, more or less. If so, and this is my take on F325, our knowledge of what actually happened between ED and Wadsworth during the years 1855-1880 is a fraction of their relationship.

    ED's lovely 1879 code-poem inquiry about Wadsworth's wellbeing, ‘Spurn the temerity —' (F1485), which he apparently took as an invitation, probably is the reason he arrived unannounced at her front door in 1880.

    TPB Comment 6 of January 10, 2024, on 'That I did always love' (F652) gives more details.

    (William H. Shurr. 1983. The Marriage of Emily Dickinson. University Press of Kentucky, 230 pp.)