Search This Blog

11 February 2013

There are two Ripenings –

There are two Ripenings –
One – of sight – whose forces Spheric wind
Until the Velvet Product
Drop, spicy, to the Ground –

A Homelier – maturing –

A Process in the Bur –
That Teeth of Frosts, alone disclose –
In far October Air –
                                                                            F420 (1862)  J332

The poet helpfully announces that she will be telling us about two types of ripenings – one per stanza. The first stanza with its “spicy” and “Velvet” fruit refers, no doubt, to a peach or something similar. It ripens before our eyes: we can see it grow (“wind”) into a sphere until it falls from the tree. Dickinson uses the word “Product” to refer to this fruit, setting up the very different second stanza that talks about an internal ripening (where the meanings are).

Chustnut burr opening to reveal the nuts inside
(courtesy Ruefleur Chestnuts)
         This ripening is meant to apply not only to the chestnut, but to humans. She substitutes “maturing” for “Ripenings” to give us an early indication that her subject has shifted. The nut of the chestnut tree matures within a spiny husk. Its maturation is invisible to see until autumn when the “Teeth” of October frosts nudge the husk to split open and reveal the glossy brown nut inside.
         Just so with human life – at least for the better of us. We mature inside, a “Process” that is not usually visible. Our hidden core – hopefully ripe and beautifully formed – can only be seen under duress. Hard times can reveal the best in us. But Dickinson is getting at a little more than duress here. She writes that our “Homelier – maturing” is only disclosed by the “Teeth of Frosts” as if there were an intelligence behind the tribulations, something ripping and tearing at us.
         It’s a typical Dickinsonian conclusion.


  1. Nice. I felt reading the poem that she was also talking about two kinds of female beauty, the first being the kind that can't go out without a trinket on. It has a "shelf life"--"Velvet" and "spicy" perhaps tongue-in-cheek.

  2. This one seems to go along with the recent series of poems on warm and spicy friends who don't hold up (drop to the ground) and tougher, frigid friends who can be counted on.

  3. The wild American plum, Prunus americana, reaches its natural northern limit near Amherst but plantings extend farther north to Quebec. Its fruit, when ripe, has a dusty velvet appearance and sharp spicy taste, excellent for jellies but somewhat mouth-puckering when eaten raw. The fully ripe fruit drop off the tree with the slightest breeze.

    In ED’s day, American chestnut, Castanea dentata, comprised up to 40% of trees in mature eastern forests. During autumn, migrating Passenger Pigeons by the billions fed on chestnuts, sometimes breaking limbs with their weight. An imported Asian blight virtually eliminated wild chestnut trees from American forests during the late 19th and early 20th century. Unlike the extinct Passenger Pigeon, a few stunted wild chestnut still survive on dry, rocky, frequently burned Appalachian hilltops.

  4. It would not be surprising if Stanza 1 metaphorically describes enchanting Sue, social butterfly, velvet wings, spicy but sometimes sharp in an unpleasant way.

    Of course, ED paints her self-portrait in Stanza 2, homelier, hidden behind her protective prickly husk, but delicious for those willing to work at harvesting her.