These are the days
Here’s another gem from Emily Dickinson that has seeped into my heart and mind. I love reading it out loud. The cadence is clear, steady and unrelenting: a 3-line metric pattern of 4-4-3, 4-4-3, 4-4-3….
These are the days when Birds come back –
A very few – a Bird or two –
To take a backward look.
These are the days when skies resume
The old – old sophistries of June –
A blue and gold mistake.
Oh fraud that cannot cheat the Bee –
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief.
Till ranks of seed their witness bear –
And softly thro- the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf.
Oh Sacrament of summer days,
Oh Last Communion in the Haze –
Permit a child to join.
Thy sacred emblems to partake –
Thy consecrated bread to take
And thine immortal wine!
Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995
I’m hooked by the opening phrase: “These are the days….” For me, these are the days that will never return. Time and life march on, in one direction only.
Or do they? Look! The Birds are coming back! Well, not so many. OK. Just a few. And yes, they’re coming ‘back,’ not moving forward. They’re looking back, not starting all over again. Perhaps they’re reminiscing, remembering how wonderful that nest was, or the day they barely escaped the hawk’s talons. Right. I do it all the time.
But what about the sky? And even the temperature? Don’t you see that brilliant blue? And feel the golden rays of the sun? Maybe it’s not really fall yet. Still summer. Indian summer. At most, late summer. There’s still plenty of time to enjoy life!
You think the sky is doing what? Pulling the wool over my eyes? Trying to perpetrate a fraud or get me to play make-believe? Well, I like make-believe! There’s plenty of time to get ready for cooler weather. And winter is way off in the distance. What’s the rush?
What?! You think the Bee gets it, and I don’t? What’s the Bee got to do with it? Oh. I hadn’t noticed that. No new flowers to pollinate. Not until when? OK. Don’t get so huffy! Yes, I almost got duped. Actually, I want to be duped. I want to believe we can go back to those golden years when everything was new and fresh.
Now you’ve ruined it. I just noticed all those seeds that have ripened—some of them already floating down through the air. I didn’t really want to see them today. Or those leaves slowing drifting down in spiral loops, hitting the ground with leaf-thuds. What a downer.
At this point, Emily invokes religious terms. Perhaps these days are inviting us to a sacramental meal? Perhaps like the last supper of Jesus and his disciples? There’s so much in the air that’s hazy and unclear. Would someone allow a little child to take part in this holy moment?
I’m not sure what to make of the last stanza. It’s clear Emily wants to partake of the sacred emblems, “consecrated bread” and “thine immortal wine.” It isn’t clear what she means by “thine immortal wine.” Perhaps she’s acknowledging that she is not immortal. Or that death would be welcome—in itself a strange form of ‘immortality’?
As for me, this poem highlights the limitations of my life on this earth. It also invites me to enjoy every second, every breath, every opportunity to bask in the glow of Indian summers and hazy golden days without denying unmistakable signs of impending fall and winter or refusing to grieve what has past.
What do you hear in this poem? Feel free to jump right in. Thanks for reading!
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 February 2016
Photo from wickipedia.org, public domain
Dear Dear Elouise, “These are the days….” For me, these are the days that will never return. Time and life march on, in one direction only.
Now I don’t want to contradict you but I will anyway. These days when the birds return and the trees bud and the bees come to the flowers and the seeds fall and life goes on – these are the days that are new beginnings and we never wait on the end of our life but start anew. Isn’t that the good old Pressie communion service!
I love it when you contradict me, John! Because you’re right. From Emily’s point of view, the darker side emerges more often than the hope-filled joy of life going on and having new beginnings every day. She pushes me to acknowledge the truth that no matter how old I am, the days are always “dwindling down to a precious few.” So the moral for me is: Enjoy each new day. It’s one of a kind! Live in the present. Enjoy every bird and flower and season of the year. Remember the wonderful moments/days from the past when I can, and let them go when I can’t. Don’t immortalize them or keep wishing to go backward to the ‘good old days’ that sometimes weren’t as good as I remember them. I can’t go backward in time or in my body.
Your connection with communion services makes sense. It’s about death and new life. It’s not all sadness and it’s not all joy. It also looks forward to a new heaven and a new earth. This makes sense to me, though I’m not sure about Emily–who seemed to live with death on her mind more often than not, and didn’t seem to care deeply for churchly things. I could be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Lovely poem, Emily Dickinson is one of my favorites…
I think the poem speaks of death and rebirth. The bird looks backwards longing for summer, while the unmistakable signs of decline are everywhere.
And yet, in the midst of this sad joy is the promise of new beginnings, the seeds that now fall and drift will bring renewal. Perhaps the poem’s ending with communion suggests spiritual immortality? It is a bittersweet reflection on the cycle of life, I think.
Thanks for this thoughtful comment, April. Yes, definitely bittersweet and connected to the cycle of life. Emily tends toward the bitter more than the sweet–challenging me (personally) to stop romanticizing things, or quickly reminding myself of them so I don’t have to look the bitter in the eye. Your comment puts it all together beautifully.
As for spiritual or even bodily immortality, I think Emily isn’t sure what to make of that. In her poems she sometimes seems to assume immortality, because she wants God to answer all her questions when/if she ‘gets there’! But she doesn’t seem to count on it. She’s more likely to give us a minute description of what death and dying look/feel like as the end, not as a new beginning (such as springtime). She doesn’t want us to skip lightly over the reality of our mortality. Maybe that’s what she brings to the table that interrupts and challenges me.
Thanks again for reading and commenting.
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So Lovely 🙂 Thanks for sharing this Gem!
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You’re welcome, Morgan! Thanks for reading and commenting. Have a sweet weekend! 🙂
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