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06 September 2012

Of all the Sounds despatched abroad

Of all the Sounds despatched abroad
There's not a Charge to me
Like that old measure in the Boughs—
That Phraseless Melody—
The Wind does—working like a Hand--
Whose fingers comb the Sky—
Then quiver down—with tufts of tune—
Permitted Gods—and me—

Inheritance it is to us
Beyond the Art to Earn—
Beyond the trait to take away
By Robber—since the Gain
Is gotten not of fingers—
And inner than the Bone
Hid golden, for the Whole of Days—
And even in the Urn—
I cannot vouch the merry Dust
Do not arise and play,
In some odd Pattern of its own—
Some quainter Holiday—
When Winds go round and round in Bands—
And thrum upon the Door—
And Birds take places – overhead—
To bear them Orchestra—

I crave Him Grace of Summer Boughs—
If such an Outcast be—
Who never heard that fleshless Chant—
Rise solemn on the Tree,
As if some Caravan of Sound—
Off Deserts in the Sky—
Had parted Rank—
Then knit and swept
In Seamless Company –
                                                            F334 (1862)  321

Dickinson reveals an almost mystic sensibility in this powerful tribute to the music of wind. Nothing brings such a “Charge” to her, as if the wind were elemental energy. In an effective simile she personifies Wind as a hand coming the sky as if it were a head of hair. Clouds sometimes form long rows that look a bit like a series of waves. These are classified as undulatu and do inteed give the impression that the sky has been carefully combed and parted. But then the fingers “quiver down,” and here we see them shaking the leaves and creating “tufts of tune” as the trees respond.
            While many poets would follow this imagery, Dickinson pivots and ends the stanza by saying that the ability to hear this music is “Permitted Gods—and me.” It’s a worshipful statement. The gods (and this has a Greek rather than a monotheistic sound) are “permitted” to listen. They lack the right or ability on their own—as does the poet who is also permitted. Clearly the wind wields a power beyond that of gods or poet and it is a holy honor to fully experience it.
The sky, combed by wind
photo: Peter Mann
            Yet even if the sound is “Hid golden” for the “Whole of [our] Days,” it is still our “Inheritance.” We can’t earn it, no matter how diligent or skillful we may be. Consequently, it cannot be taken from us. Dickinson distinguishes here between what can be taken—something “gotten…of fingers,” and what cannot—our inalienable inheritance that is more “inner than the Bone.” Since the bone is pretty “inner,” she must be referring to the soul. The wind animates the soul. Even the ashes of the dead “arise and play” within their urn when the “Winds go round and round in Bands.” The last lines of the long second stanza (all one sentence) introduce an image to balance the earlier one of the wind “working like a Hand.” But while that image was all visual, the second stanza image of the birds to perch  in the trees to “bear [the wind] Orchestra,” is essentially an aural one. The birds serve as accompaniment to the voices of the wind.
            The third stanza begins as a prayer: “I crave Him Grace.” A Christian or other prayer would continue with the hope of forgiveness and salvation. But Dickinson asks for the grace of “Summer Boughs”—windsong through the trees—for the poor”Outcast” who has never appreciated the wind. In her final image she shows the reverse order of the Wind that started high above combing the sky and then dropping down into the trees. This time the wind rises “solemn” up the trees into the sky. The final image is of Arab traders crossing the desert. This “Caravan,” however, is of sound and the desert is up above. As the Caravan makes its way up through the forest it splits and then eventually knits back together and sweeps away, all its separate breezes and murmurings now “In Seamless Company.”


  1. I love your commentary- I am knitting two shawls from a pattern that was inspired by Emily's poem "Because I could not stop for Death." One is an autumn shawl and one a winter shawl, so of course I had to find poems for my shawls. The autumn one was easy:
    Autumn—overlooked my Knitting—
    Dyes—said He—have I—
    Could disparage a Flamingo—
    Show Me them—said I—

    Cochineal—I chose—for deeming
    It resemble Thee—
    And the little Border—Dusker—
    For resembling Me—

    And for winter, I stumbled on the poem above, but was a little unsure if she was actually talking about wind. I really appreciated your reflection. I live in Arizona, and wind in the desert is very much a part of our winter. In addition, the colors are pink and light brown, or dust-colored. And finally, the winds all knit together in the end, and become seamless! Thank you again for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Thanks, Laurie. I'd love to see the final shawl inspired by "Because I could not stop for Death"! Post pictures!
      What a beautiful poem the Autumn one is. Can hardly wait to work my way to it.
      I was born and raised in Arizona -- Prescott-- and graduated from ASU. The Arizona landscape really does form you--it's more "inner than the bone."

  2. Wow! I should have read your bio before I commented! Our lives are in reverse- I grew up in the Monterey Bay area, and went to the University of San Francisco before moving to Chandler. I love living here- after 8 years I still love the heat- but I do get back to the Bay area often to visit my family.

    I will definitely send pictures of the finished shawls, but be warned, I am very slow. My knitting friends have teased me that if I'm going to name these for seasons, I need to finish them in the season. We shall see... (I sure hope so!) Here is the link to the pattern:

    I was immediately taken with the Autumn poem, some of her poems are so sweet. She is definitely someone I would have loved to talk to.

    1. That is a beautiful and perfectly appropriate shawl. I love it! Very fine work.

  3. This reminds me of DH Lawerence's great: not me but the wind through me. ..

  4. Loved the poem but it was your commentary that made me see it's translucency, that shimmering beauty I was missing out.
    Many thanks for this outstanding work.

  5. In the image for the wind " Whose fingers comb the sky", I see the wind playing upon the clouds like a musician "combing the strings of a harp" to produce "tufts" and other measures of music that quiver down from the sky.

  6. Perhaps a poor distinction (that between soul and spirit) but I think of how the Bible links the concept of wind to the human spirit with the Hebrew "ruach" and Greek "pneuma". That "inheritance" more "inner than the bone" is perhaps the human spirit. Although not constrained by Biblical and religious imagery, her poems seem rife with it, as one would I suppose expect from someone in her time/station. Thanks much for your commentary. I am very much enjoying it!

    1. Interesting -- but now I'm wondering about the biblical linkage of ruach and pneuma you mention. Can you explain a bit? Thanks for the insightful comment -- and compliment!

  7. Bom dia, você tem Instagram??

    I am from Brazil. I love your blog.

  8. Susan, nice work with your explication, it’s worthy of this poem. which seems holy spoken silently or out loud.

    On the heels of unholy poem after unholy poem, without pause she gives us ‘Of all the Sounds despatched abroad’. How does ED stun us with such sounds? It feels a gift of God. “Tufts of tune —" she tells us, “Permitted Gods—and me —". She’s convinced this fan.