A neighbourhood encounter involving Emily Dickinson

When I came home on Monday evening from a long weekend away, I found a small mystery in the room where my desk lives: three poetry books in a pile on the floor. Who could have taken the selected Du Fu, the selected Emily Dickinson and the Shambala anthology of Chinese poetry from the shelves? Surely not the Art Student, who is a staunch hater of poetry (unless, she says, it was written by me)? Perhaps she was looking for something to console a sick friend. Unlikely. Then I remembered she had pulled a muscle in her back  and been in pain all Saturday, barely able to sit at her desk. The books on the floor weren’t reading material at all, but a tool for an Alexander Technique Lie-Down. Apparently they were efficacious, because by the time  I arrived the back pain had gone.

Since the Emily Dickinson book had made is way into my hands, I decided to take it for a walk the next morning. The day was brilliant, cloudless, cool and pleasantly humid.  The third poem in the book is about spring, but it chimed beautifully with my Sydney-early-winter-induced mood:

The morns are meeker than they were –
The nuts are getting brown –
The berry’s cheek is plumper –
The Rose is out of town –

The maple wears a gayer scarf –
The field – a scarlet gown –
Lest I sh’d seem old fashioned
I’ll put a trinket on!

As I strolled past a friend’s house, by this time carrying a bulky plastic bag of dog poo as well as my book, the friend happened to be in her front yard. ‘That’s charming,’ she said.

I chose to interpret her as referring to the book. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I studied Emily Dickinson at uni but I’ve hardly looked at this book since.’

‘I love her,’ said my friend.

‘Listen to this,’ I said, and read her the poem.

‘She could have been writing about today.’

And we went our ways, me with the dog, her to her garden, wearing invisible Dickinsonian trinkets

6 responses to “A neighbourhood encounter involving Emily Dickinson

  1. My ageing eyes misread this as ‘The moms are meeker than they were’ which worked fine, but didn’t seem like Emily Dickinson.
    What makes you say it’s a Spring poem? Having just lived through a Canberra Autumn, I can’t see ‘the maple wears a gayer scarf’ as referring to Spring – it’s about the green leaves turning orange and red, not the bare branches getting leaves (‘gayer’ not gay). The morns can be meeker because they’re less hot, not less cold.

  2. shawjonathan

    You’re right, Jane. I could only have read it as a spring poem if I’d spent my childhood in the tropics and so had no deep sense of what nuts, roses, maples, berries and even fields do when in temperate climes.

    And someone really ought to write a “the moms are getting meeker now” poem.

  3. My sister always says the name Emily Dickinson in imitation of the way Meryl Streep tries to say it in a Polish accent just before she faints in the library in Sophie’s Choice.

  4. shawjonathan

    some people claim to be able to sing any Emily Dickinson poem to the tune of ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’. How excellent if they did it with a Polish accent. (Actually, it works well with this poem, though I’m not sure about my Polish.)

  5. That must be because The Yellow Rose of Texas, like E. Dickinson’s poetry, is written in 19th century hymn meter. I’m very weak on the technicalities of poetry, but I read somewhere that E.D.’s poetry is written in the same meter as your average hymn. Sing the poem above to the tune of Amazing Grace. (In a Polish accent.)

  6. P.S. Remember how they used to have those parodies in Mad Magazine, “to be sung to the tune of…”? I used to find it frustrating, because they almost always chose tunes I didn’t know. Like “Over There”.