The Wind took up the Northern Things | Covid-19

Emily Dickinson’s poem rings eerily true, given the current pandemic. How will we pick up our pieces? What, if anything, will we have learned about ourselves? And how many of us will be present and accounted for?

Winds of change overtake us every day. Natural and unnatural disasters intrude. Emily Dickinson invites us to take a closer look. My comments follow.

The Wind took up the Northern Things
And piled them in the south –
Then gave the East unto the West
And opening his mouth

The four Divisions of the Earth
Did make as to devour
While everything to corners slunk
Behind the awful power –

The Wind – unto his Chambers went
And nature ventured out –
Her subjects scattered into place
Her systems ranged about

Again the smoke from Dwellings rose
The Day abroad was heard –
How intimate, a Tempest past
The Transport of the Bird –

c. 1868

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

The calm before a storm is nothing compared to the calm after a storm. Wind, dust, earthquakes, locusts, famine, fire, floods. Devastating, destructive, unpredictable. Then it’s over. Deadly silent. Until nature ventures out, surveys the damage and begins reclaiming her rhythms, colors, textures and stunning beauty.

There’s nothing romantic about the destructive forces of nature. No one who has survived their fury can forget the terror. Or the people, animals, natural resources and futures gone or changed forever.

Nonetheless, I hear Emily inviting us to consider the other side of the storm. What happens following unpredictable upheaval? What happens when everything is different and nothing can be taken for granted?

Healing and rebirth don’t happen overnight. Nature will take its time just as it always has. We can count on her subjects and systems doing their thing, even though everything will be different, changed in some way.

As for us, life changes immediately in the aftermath of major upheaval. Belongings and people we took for granted or undervalued yesterday are suddenly precious. Whether missing or found against all odds, each person and each item becomes the subject of conversation, tears and thoughts shared around fireplaces. Personal and intimate.

This everyday hearth fire, unlike a firestorm, warms our hearts. We’re not alone. A bird sings. Was it blown here by the storm? I don’t know. Still, its simple song says I’m not forgotten, even though my small world just got turned upside down.

I hear in Emily’s poem an invitation to think about the value of human life as well as the value of our planet. Both seem under siege right now. Not just by politicians or corporations, but by people such as you and I. I don’t have answers. I do, however, have hope that we’ll wake up before it’s too late.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 June 2017, reposted 22 April 2020
Photo of recent storm damage in the South found at washingtonpost.com