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28 March 2013

A Murmur in the Trees – to note –

A Murmur in the Trees – to note –
Not loud enough – for Wind –
A Star – not far enough to seek –
Nor near enough – to find –

A long – long Yellow – on the Lawn –
A Hubbub – as of feet –
Not audible – as Ours – to Us –
But dapperer – More Sweet –

A Hurrying Home of little Men
To Houses unperceived –
All this – and more – if I should tell –
Would never be believed –

Of Robins in the Trundle bed
How many I espy
Whose Nightgowns could not hide the Wings –
Although I heard them try –

But then I promised ne'er to tell –
How could I break My Word?
So go your Way – and I'll go Mine –
No fear you'll miss the Road.

                                                                                     F433 (1862)  J416

Dickinson takes a break here from matters of life, death, and the afterlife to find the world full of magic. Something whispers in the trees, an indeterminate star appears – a fairy lantern perhaps? And in the long yellow light of the moon, the fairies hurry home. Maybe they are elves or brownies or something else, though; but for some reason they are all male. I like that their feet are more dapper and sweet than those of our human males.
      The mystery of the poem is who the “you” is in the last stanza? I suspect Dickinson addresses the stodgy townspeople who don’t believe in fairies or magic or wonders in the night. These folks have a “Road” they travel, and because they aren’t tempted into following fairy lights, are unlikely to miss it. Dickinson is pretty blunt about this world view: you “go your Way – and I’ll go Mine.” She is not going to give up the magic world.  
The Forest of Arden, Albert
Pinkham Ryder, 1888
         The poem begins as if it were a story and continues in a lighthearted vein all the way through. I am happy to believe in the little dapper, sweet footsteps of “little Men” hurrying home, and that trundle beds have robins trying to hide their wings in children’s nightgowns.   A bit of googling of “Robins in the Trundle bed” reveals that I am not the only one who finds that a charming phrase. There are lots of antique and boutique shops called “Robins in the Trundle bed.”


  1. This poem is a puzzle. I don't think I have figured it out -- except that maybe that is the point because the poem centers on a mystery that is just at the limits of our understanding.

    The description is of the natural world -- I think the world outside the door of a house after nightfall in the Spring or early Summer maybe (many Robins). The yellow light of the lamps in the house stretches out over the lawn (I would go with the moon -- but the moon doesn't cast yellow light).

    The beautiful image that repeats through the poem is of something in the darkness, just exactly at the limits of perception -- a murmur not loud enough to identify, a star not so far to have to search for but not near enough to find, a hubbub that is inaudible, houses unperceived. The poet perceives what is in the night -- but not with physical senses -- or, if it could be explained, in a way that could be believed.

    In the last stanza, the poet says she will keep the secret of the night. Then she parts with the reader.

    I don't understand the last line. Maybe a view based on equanimity in the presence of the unknown -- the poet's encouragement that the reader's perception as well as the poets can be trusted and that there is no way to miss the mystery of the night. The only difference between the poet and the reader is that the poet is comfortable with the secret -- the reader is still a little caught up with "irritated grasping after fact and reason" (to paraphrase Keats) but the reader's discomfort and the grasping is also based on a perception of the mystery. So the road cannot be missed. But this reading may be too much me and too little ED -- and so not accurate.

    In the last line we are just left with a mystery -- but also with a sense that a mystery is alright -- everything doesn't have to be resolved and brought into the light.

    1. If you’re not looking for mystery, you’ll never get lost.

  2. That last line is a bit of a jolt. The tone jars with the rest of the poem. I agree with the lamps vs. moon, now that you mention it. "Just exactly at the limits of perception" -- nicely put and true, I think. Thanks.

  3. I think there's a lot I've missed in the first three stanzas: clues that I just am unable to decipher.

    That said, I think I've come up with four reasonable interpretations of the last line--there might be more still. (1) It could read: "Fear not or you won't make the journey." So, again she and the reader part ways (in understanding of the poem or in life), but that's life. She gets things, and we don't. The reader and the poet take different journeys. Be actively brave she implores the reader--if your constantly afraid, where will you end up? So, she could be saying, interpret away--there's no wrong answers. (2) "Without fear you'll miss the Road." Or, miss signposts of the road, curiosities of the road/journey, or things/dangers to avoid. In this case, she could be describing either curiosities of a journey to see and look out for, or spookies/dangers of a journey in the first three stanzas to avoid. In either case, she is acting as the reader's guide. Or, if you don't use your wits, you'll miss that one signpost for the road--so be fearful. I guess this advice could work for how to interpret the poem too. (3) "Don't worry, or you will miss your own journey." Here, she could be saying "if your constantly looking at the forest, you might just see the forest, but miss the trees," thereby inverting the usual idiom. Or, conversely, "The Devil's in the detials."(4) "There is no chance you can miss your own journey." While the reader and the poet depart ways, maybe, with regards to interpretation or life, she wishes the reader well and to enjoy the journey by implication!

    Maybe, (1) and (3) are bit similar, but I think might be differences...

    If this is a letter to a deceased person, there are other interpretations of the last line. To me, it's slightly interesting that she has a different loneliness here than to the one given in "The Skies can't keep their secret!" There the bird and the entire natural world knew something, and she was the lonely one that didn't. Here, she knows something, and we don't... I'm a little happy that she's found solace in this knowledge. Envious, but happy. As a rule, she also appears to never give away answers. So, here, she's now actively colluding with the Robins! Okay, I'm jealous again!

  4. I also responded to the poem as a glimpse into an enchanted world that others on the Main Road might not perceive. I see the poem as happening at sundown (I can't explain the long long yellow) as the birds return to their roosting places. The star I see as a flicker of color in the trees, not far enough for a star, not close enough to find. If only 'yellow' were 'shadow', it would be perfect. I love all the different interpretations…I look forward to reading this blog after I've read my poem for the day!

  5. What beautiful magic and so magically expressed. I love the last stanza, filled with secrecy in the first two lines that open to such hope in the ultimate, hope for all, with the bridging penultimate line, which summarizes the absolute of our human condition while specifically acknowledging the poet's active understanding through her own life's choices.

    As always, I fall in love with this magical poet nearly every new poem I read, and this is only 433. OMG!

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  8. anice poem
    but can anyone tell me what are the various figure of speeches in the poem I cannot find it

  9. Pls tell the figure of speech used in the poem

  10. Pls tell the figure of speech used in the poem

  11. First, do all you interested in figures of speech know what a figure of speech is? It's easy to find out via Google. I must admit that I wouldn't use this poem as an assignment for figures of speech, but you can indeed find at least one and make an argument for others. But once you know what to look for it isn't too hard ...

  12. the long yellow on the lawn i thought of being the ribbon of light coming from perhaps her own light from her window? it makes a path for the little men to walk on, going to their invisible houses. she only hears them and doesn't see them. perhaps they too are invisible. we are mainly hearing sounds giving a feeling of straining our ears in the darkness trying to solve the mysteries around us. Just like a lot of her poems are about noticing the things in nature around us, here we have her noticing the supernatural things of the night. both are as magical and otherworldly as the other

  13. This poem is a message conveyed in words that goes beyond words, right on the thin line between language and immaterial thought. Read it and listen to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Trying to explain it in words is like shattering a crystal chandelier.

    1. I like that pairing and enjoyed rereading this poem to the sonata (in my head). thank you for the comment.

  14. I've been going through The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson slowly over the past three years. I always go to your blog to see just what the poems are about. Your analysis is excellent.

  15. Franklin dates the fascicle version of F433 “about autumn 1862”. Its fairy-tale quality reminds me of the famous robbery of Grandmamma and Grandfather by the notorious thief, Ned Dickinson, and his accomplice, “Uncle Emily” (F311, ‘I know some houses down the lonely way’).

    Yes, Ned was only 1 year old in Autumn 1862, but a year is long enough for ED to overcome her “fear of joggling him” (F189, 19 June 1861, ‘Is it true, Dear Sue?’) and not too early for her to be cultivating a real-child/adult-child friendship that would last throughout Ned’s early years (F311, 5/11/2023 “Speculation” comment).


  16. Stanzas 1-4 of F433 remind me of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, but it would be three more years (1865) before Lewis Carol published that masterpiece of metaphoric make-believe.
    Stanza 5 is in a different universe. What and whom did she “promise not to tell”? Who is the you of “your way”? And why is ED so sure that person will “not miss the road”?

    ED kept a lot of secrets: her history with Susan D, her private conversations with Sam Bowles, her brother’s sexual infidelity with Mabel Todd at Homestead, her real and/or imaginary romance with Charles Wadsworth. To make certain her secrets went to the grave with her, she had Vinnie burn all her correspondence.

    Whomever that mystery person was, she said goodbye in her penultimate line:

    “So go your Way – and I'll go Mine –”

    And parts with, at least to my ear, one last sarcastic sting:

    “No fear you'll miss the Road.”