Emily Dickinson: “A Light Exists in Spring” and Some Words About the Poet

"Bluebonnet Sunrise" licensed by Views of Life under CC BY-NC-SA-2.0. Via Flickr.
“Bluebonnet Sunrise” licensed by Views of Life under CC BY-NC-SA-2.0. Via Flickr.

A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.
When March is scarcely here

A color stands abroad
On solitary hills
That science cannot overtake,
But human nature feels.

It waits upon the lawn;
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.

Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:

A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.

~ Emily Dickinson

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This a picture of Emily Dickinson.

English: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dicki...
English: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dickinson, taken circa 1848. (Original is scratched.) From the Todd-Bingham Picture Collection and Family Papers, Yale University Manuscripts & Archives Digital Images Database, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) {{PD-US}}

This is a “fabricated” picture of Emily Dickinson.

Fabricated portrait of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), the American poet. It is an altered version of the only authenticated portrait of Dickinson made after childhood, with added frilled collar and changed hair to make her appear more feminine. Public domain.
Fabricated portrait of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), the American poet. It is an altered version of the only authenticated portrait of Dickinson made after childhood, with added frilled collar and changed hair to make her appear more feminine. Public domain. {{PD-US}}

According to a docent at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, in the late 1990s, the photograph was probably altered after Dickinson’s death in 1886, as a tribute and a keepsake. At that time, families often had photographs “enhanced” after a loved one’s death.

I didn’t know Emily Dickinson personally, but judging from what I’ve read and heard about her, I think if she’d seen the enhanced version, she’d have hooted.

Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts...
Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts – side view of Emily Dickinson’s house. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Daderot (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
She was obviously depressive, but she also had a sense of humor.

The docent told the following story (documented in an LA Times review by Susan Reynolds):

‘Once, when Samuel Bowles, an old family friend and the subject of Dickinson’s Master poems, went to visit, he found himself yelling up the stairs: “Emily, you damned rascal. No more of this nonsense! I’ve traveled all the way from Springfield to see you. Come down at once!”‘

The detail that doesn’t appear in the article, but that the docent added, is that, at Bowles’ summons, Emily left her room and came down the stairs, laughing.

Try calling someone without a sense of humor a “damned rascal” and see what happens.

And she wasn’t quite as antisocial as she’s generally portrayed. Alix North, in a biographical sketch of the poet, writes that in her twenties, Dickinson had a “busy social life” but that by her thirties, she had become reclusive and withdrew when visitors came.

It’s been speculated that Dickinson pulled away from the public because she thought she wasn’t beautiful, or that she was mourning an unrequited love, or that she was agoraphobic. But perhaps Dickinson “became an isolata , creating a moat around herself to preserve the rarity of her soul and because she believed that isolation was critical to artistic expression.”

English: Grave of Emily Dickinson in Amherst, ...
English: Grave of Emily Dickinson in Amherst, Massachusetts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Midnightdreary (Own work) [CC BY 3.0
By the age of 35, Dickinson “had composed more than 1100 concise, powerful lyrics that astutely examine pain, grief, joy, love, nature, and art.”

In other words, she knew exactly what she was doing: Social butterflies rarely, if ever, compose more than 1100 poems by the time they’re 35, at least not concise, powerful ones.

[Sentiments expressed in the preceding paragraph are mine alone. I could be wrong, but I’m not. A 14-year-old boy once told me that anyone who stayed at home as much as Emily Dickinson did couldn’t know enough about life to write anything worthwhile. I refrained from replying that 14-year-old boys don’t know enough about anything to say what Emily Dickinson could or could not do. Now I wish I’d said it. But as I was saying before I interrupted myself . . .]

Edward Dickinson, the poet’s father, was described by contemporaries as “stern and unyielding”; “within his home his decisions and his word were law.” Emily wrote that she didn’t learn to tell time by the clock until she was fifteen because “[m]y father thought he had taught me but I did not understand & I was afraid to say I did not & afraid to ask anyone else lest he should know.”

The museum’s docent pointed out, however, that he was also kind. He could have required Emily to work and support herself or at least to contribute to family finances. Instead, he supported her until his death in 1874. Her sister, Lavinia, took care of most domestic tasks that would normally have been shared. Her family allowed Emily time and space in which to write.

Well, I’ve gone on about Emily Dickinson for a lot longer than I intended, and I hope you’re still with me. I’ll stop now, but not before saying this, which I’ve said before, but I’m going to say again:

A textbook I taught from in 1973, my first year in the Texas secondary school trenches, contained the statement that Emily Dickinson is one of America’s greatest women poets.

WRONG.

Emily Dickinson is America’s greatest poet. 

And I am unanimous in that.

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See also, Emily Dickinson: “To March”

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“A light exists in spring” was taken from a digitized version of Poems: Third Series by Emily Dickinson, edited by Mabel Todd Loomis, 1896, 1898.

Other sources I’ve used include

Dear March

English: Daffodil Daffodil.
Colin Kinnear [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Dear March — Come in —
How glad I am —
I hoped for you before —

Put down your Hat —
You must have walked —
How out of Breath you are —
Dear March, Come right upstairs with me —

I have so much to tell —

I got your Letter, and the Birds —
The Maples never knew that you were coming — till I called
I declare — how Red their Faces grew —
But March, forgive me — and
All those Hills you left for me to Hue —
There was no Purple suitable —
You took it all with you —

Who knocks? That April.
Lock the Door —
I will not be pursued —
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied —
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come

That Blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame —

~ Emily Dickinson

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Image of daffodil by Colin Kinnear [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Dear March

A close up of a daffodil.
Image via Wikipedia

Dear March — Come in —
How glad I am —
I hoped for you before —

Put down your Hat —
You must have walked —
How out of Breath you are —
Dear March, Come right upstairs with me —
I have so much to tell —

I got your Letter, and the Birds —
The Maples never knew that you were coming — till I called
I declare — how Red their Faces grew —
But March, forgive me — and
All those Hills you left for me to Hue —
There was no Purple suitable —
You took it all with you —

Who knocks? That April.
Lock the Door —
I will not be pursued —
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied —
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come

That Blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame —

~ Emily Dickinson

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Image of daffodil by Nanda93 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons