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31 August 2013

The Wind didn't come from the Orchard — today —

The Wind didn't come from the Orchard — today —
Further than that —
Nor stop to play with the Hay —
Nor threaten a Hat —
He's a transitive fellow — very —
Rely on that —

If He leave a Bur at the door
We know He has climbed a Fir —
But the Fir is Where — Declare —
Were you ever there?

If He brings Odors of Clovers —
And that is His business — not Ours —
Then He has been with the Mowers —
Whetting away the Hours
To sweet pauses of Hay —
His Way — of a June Day —

If He fling Sand, and Pebble —
Little Boys Hats — and Stubble —
With an occasional Steeple —
And a hoarse "Get out of the way, I say,"
Who'd be the fool to stay?
Would you — Say —
Would you be the fool to stay?

                                                                    F494 (1862)  J316

This delightful anthropomorphism of the wind is full of rhymes and fun. The wind may be here or there, come "from the Orchard" or from farther away; may climb trees like a child and leave pine cones at the door as a momento; may go out with the workers in the field and pick up the odor of clover; and may get up to all kinds of mischief. In the end, though, he is not to be trifled with. The gust that blows off a boys hat can turn into a gale that takes the steeple off a church. Would you be fool enough to stand in his path?
       Each stanza is full of rhyme, and that contributes to the playful tone. In the first stanza: today, play, hay, very; and that, hat, and that. In the second, Bur, Fir, Fir – which is related to door, Where, Declare, and there.The third stanza has Odors, Clovers, and Mowers –related to Ours and Hours; and then Hay, Way, and Day. In the fourth, Dickinson gives us Pebble, Stubble, Steeple; and way, say, stay, Say, and stay. You've got to love a poem that rhymes Pebble, Stubble, and Steeple.

Some of the images are amusing, too, such as the wind threatening a hat (Johnson's version has it joggling a hat, which isn't as amusing), or occasionally flinging a steeple along with the usual sand and hats.
Scything Hay, near Bowland Forest, UK
    But for me, the main charm of the poem is its sweet drollery. Dickinson addresses the reader directly as if discussing a familiar village character. That wind is inconstant. "Rely on that," she adds, knowing we've all known such restless characters. She deduces the wind has come from a fir, but challenges the reader to locate the tree. Impossible to know just where he's been, she knows. And just like an idling husband or father, if we notice that he smells suspiciously as if he'd been lolling about in the meadow, why "that is His business – not Ours." Finally, when he comes blustering by, the reader is certainly wise enough to just get out of the way.

My favorite line: "sweet pauses of Hay." It doesn't make literal sense (and I have no idea how this reads to those of you using translations), but it captures the rhythm of the mowers scything the meadow, accompanied by the sweet smell of cut grass and clover.


  1. I love the line: He's a transitive fellow, formal and jocular at the same time, carving into the rhyme, making the wind, as you say, a character in the town. I get a sense ED had real fun and a smile writing this one. To see her smiling and delighted makes me happy.

    1. It's almost Shakespearian the way she takes a word and makes a new form out of it.

  2. This one made me think of God. Playful, but totally powerful. Knowable, but only by observing the the effects of his actions. There is respect and also intimacy.
    "Where you ever there?" Reminds me of God's answer to Job - where were you when I made the so and so... Where were you when I made the this and that...
    The Holy Spirit is sometimes likened to wind.
    What you're saying about the wind being a member of the village - I like that with my God interpretation. Like God is a part of the concrete humdrum world. Watching the Dickinson movie, the one with Cynthia Nixon as Dickinson, is the extent of my research on the poet. That said, the God-Ness of the wind gels with her theology depicted in that movie.

    1. Your God interpretation seems to me more like the old pantheistic gods where each one might have a village or a stream and be known for his or her personality and foibles.

  3. I love the way the trochees move it along in gusts and eddies!

    1. Good point. I reread the poem with that in mind and could really feel the eddies and gusts. As to your point below about the steeple, I really think it was inspired by a pairing with 'stubble' -- and your deeper meanings are sauce for the goose.

  4. The recursive rhymes - internal, external, true, slant, in surprising places, repeating - are almost like little dust devils, those tiny whirlwinds that toss up dust and leaves in swirling patterns! She is so clever! I wonder if the “occasional steeple” toppling gave her a chance to belittle a familiar human construct as powerless and inconsequential. It
    IS his only malicious action.