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13 January 2013

Over and over, like a Tune—

Over and over, like a Tune— 
The Recollection plays— 
Drums off the Phantom Battlements 
Cornets of Paradise— 

Snatches, from Baptized Generations— 
Cadences too grand 
But for the Justified Processions 
At the Lord's Right hand.
                                                             F406 (1862) J367

Written in common ballad or hymn form, this poem returns to the theme of ethereal music that Dickinson hears. This time she keeps returning to something "like a Tune" that she has heard and that now plays over and over in her mind. It is "too grand" for anything earthly, so in the second stanza she attributes it to those souls who reside in heaven, the "Baptized Generations", who comprise the heavenly processions. They are "Justified" by their faith (Romans 5:1) and are able to stand at the right-hand side of God.
        Perhaps because Dickinson is writing this poem during the Civil War, she hears their "Cadences" as military music. There are drums from the battlements and cornets rousing the troops. She only hears "Snatches" and "Cadences" from this music, but it is enough to convince her that it is "too grand" for any source but a heavenly host. Perhaps the martial heavenly music is meant to mirror the fight of Good against Evil that many New Englanders saw being played out on the battlefields of the Civil War.
Album cover: The Heavenly Music Corporation
(Robert Fripp and Brian Eno)
          In F334, "Of all the Sounds despatched abroad," Dickinson writes of "That Phraseless Melody" played by an orchestra of wind and bird and forest. The music is more "inner than the bone" and has even the power to raise the dust of the dead and make them dance. 
          She makes a more explicit reference to the singing of the saints in f229, "Musicians wrestle everywhere," where she describes a glorious music that she hears throughout the day and when she wakes up in the night. It isn't bird or band or hymn. Instead, the poet speculates, it is either the saints or the music of the spheres.
          It will be interesting as I make my way through her poems (only 1350+ more to go!) to see other poems about the transporting music Dickinson hears.


  1. This music is different. I don't believe it is coming from nature but from man: "Phantom Battlements" (heroic actions) and "Baptized Generations".(sacraments and declarations of faith). It almost seems like a baptism in blood. The music of man's martyrdom for a greater cause?

    1. I'm still engaged by the music being 'recollected'. I wonder if she heard it in a transcendent state.

  2. “Drums”, “Battlements”, “Justified Processions” aren’t words we associate with “Music of the Spheres” but with war, as SK suggests.

    Two wars come to mind, the Battle of Jericho, the first battle fought by the Israelites to retake Israel as their homeland. According to Joshua 6:1–27, the walls of Jericho fell after the Israelites marched around the city walls once a day for six days, seven times on the seventh day, and then blew their horns (cornets?), which destroyed the battlements.

    More likely is the Civil War, famous for songs like The Battle Hymn of the Republic, the favorite song of Union troops. Julia Ward Howe, first published the song in The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862; it was immediately adopted by marching soldiers. The Atlantic Monthly was required reading in the Dickinson household. Franklin dates ‘Over and over, like a Tune’ “about autumn 1862”:

    Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
    He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
    He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
    His truth is marching on.

    I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
    They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
    I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
    His day is marching on.

    I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
    "As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal";
    Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
    Since God is marching on.

    He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
    He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat;
    Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet!
    Our God is marching on.

    In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
    With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
    As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
    While God is marching on.

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  4. If this conjecture is correct, the dogma that ED never mentioned the Civil War in her poetry is not.

    On March 14, 1862, Frazar Stearns, Austin's college roommate and ED's close friend, Frazar Stearns died at the Battle of New Bern in North Carolina. The Union Navy returned his body to Amherst where he was buried two weeks later. He was the son of Amherst College president, William Stearns.