A Light Exists in Spring


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 Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.
It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.
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


Comments always are welcome.

65 thoughts on “A Light Exists in Spring

    1. Thank you, Derrick. When the light caught my attention, all I had to do was open the front door and walk into the yard, where one of my bald cypress trees and the sky were ready for a photo session.

    1. Although I haven’t yet commented on your post about the Tahoe snow, I have read it, and noted your comment about cropping. It was cropping that helped with this image. The tree actually stands in my front yard; a bit of in-camera ‘cropping’ and a bit of post-processing cropping produced a perfect image for the poem.

    1. Over the years, I’ve found myself increasingly fond of Dickinson’s poetry: particularly as I’ve browsed through her archives and come across poems that never have shown up in textbooks and such. Clearly, her gardening helped develop her sensitivity to nature, just as her emotional response to the world around her shaped her words.

    1. I’ve wondered whether e.e. cummings was influenced by Dickinson; idiosyncratic syntax and punctuation are common to them both. The branches are bald cypress. I think they’re especially attractive trees in winter. This one was loaded with those ‘cypress balls,’ but the squirrels eliminated them in short order.

  1. Channeling high school English class, I looked to see what the rhyme scheme in the poem is and found it’s ABCB. In other words, only the second and fourth lines in each stanza rhyme. In the second stanza, I thought it a little unusual to have “fields” rhyme with “feels,” but I figured maybe Emily Dickinson or the people in her community really did pronounce the two words the same. To this day, speakers of black English don’t pronounce the “d” in “fields,” so that could have been a feature of Emily Dickinson’s dialect as well.

    What I couldn’t reconcile was the third stanza, where we expect a rhyme for “tree” yet find “you.” When I searched for the poem on the Internet, I checked a bunch of the hits I got and found all of them showed the same mysterious, non-rhyming “you.” So I formulated a hypothesis: Emily Dickinson lived long enough ago that the last word in the fourth line could have been “thee,” which someone in more recent times might have purposely or inadvertently changed to “you.” That would then have gotten standardized as people copied the altered version.

    To test my hypothesis, I needed to see how the poem appeared in books a long time ago. To that end, I went to Google’s advanced book search (https://books.google.com/advanced_book_search), which lets a searcher limit hits to a range of dates. I chose to limit hits to any date before 1900. The 1896 edition of Poems of Emily Dickinson gives the word at the end of the third stanza as “me.” The gist of my hypothesis seems to have been correct, but the original word had been “me” rather than “thee.”

    Just last night I was telling someone how common it is to find many websites offering the same altered version of a quotation, and here this morning was another instance of that. One mystery remains: the original 1890 edition of the book didn’t include the poem at all. Perhaps a researcher after 1890 had discovered it in time to be included in the 1896 edition.

    1. One of my little quirks is an overwhelming desire to rewrite a line in T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. In “East Coker,” he includes the line, “So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.” I would have written it, “So shall the darkness be light, and the stillness the dancing.” Of course, I’m not T.S. Eliot, and it’s his poem.

      Which is to say, I wonder if the same thing hasn’t happened with this Dickinson poem. In the Emily Dickinson archives, an open source website for Dickinson manuscripts, “A light exists in spring” is shown as being written in 1864. The recipient was Susan Dickinson, Emily’s sister-in-law. (The link is very slow to open.)

      If you look at the manuscript of the poem itself by clicking on the first link (the page can take some time to load), and enlarge it, you can compare the lines “it almost speaks to you” and, two lines down, “or Noons report away.” I’m no handwriting analyst, but it seems clear to me that the ‘y’ is the same in both cases, and that, in the manuscript, the word is ‘you’ rather than ‘me.’

      Dickinson’s known for her idiosyncratic punctuation, and it seems that a bit of idiosyncratic non-rhyme showed up here. My own suspicion is that an editor tidied things up: making the rhyme more consistent, but less accurate.

        1. I’m sure they exist, simply because I often trip over her lines, and her odd rhymes are one of the things that cause me to do so. Beyond that, there are plenty of times when it seems words are missing, and it’s difficult to interpret what they might be. I’ll have to take a better look through the archives and see if I can find more examples.

        1. Selecting a translation can be equally eye-glazing, or mind-numbing. Oddly (or not), my favorite translations of some Cavafy poems were done by Lawrence Durrell; they may not satisfy academicians, but they’re approachable in the best way.

  2. Emily wrote this WHEN? Could have been yesterday.

    I’m sorry I’m so behind in reading and commenting on blog posts (or anything else, for that matter.) Between company for a week, a Corkie do at Rick’s, an ear or sinus infection and the mass shooting, I’m not functioning on any kind of reasonable schedule. I don’t know that I’ll ever catch up but will try to get on track.

    1. It could have been yesterday, but she wrote it in 1864 — a hundred years before I graduated from high school. My goodness. Is a ‘Corkie do’ a gathering of the Cork Poppers? It must be, although I’ve never heard you call it that. You certainly have been busy, but there’s nothing new about that; it’s just a shame that good and bad had to be mixed up together. As for catching up? Sometimes the best thing to do is just toss the past and start over. I still remember the sense of relief I felt when I tossed the huge pile of New Yorker magazines I was going to read ‘some day.’ Free of that burden, I started enjoying the magazine again!

    1. I love the way the light changes from season to season. It’s influenced in a variety of ways — sun angle, the presence or absence of vegetation, and so on — but there’s very little that pleases me more.

    1. Thank you! Having a window by my desk means that I sometimes get a glimpse of attractive sky that I’d otherwise miss — as I did in this instance. The light didn’t last long, but it certainly was pretty.

    1. Aren’t they pretty? The tree is bald cypress, and I think they’re among the most attractive of our winter trees. Getting that sunrise was, as I like to say, lagniappe!

  3. What a fabulous sky! Wonderful capture, Linda, and Emily’s poem certainly does it justice. Too often, I’m afraid, I’ve just missed decent photo opportunities, but I cling to the hope that there will be more.

    1. There always will be more opportunities, Debbie. I learned early on how much I miss, even when I’m intent on looking. If I walk on a path in one direction, I see some things, but when I return on the same path, I often see things I missed the first time around. Often, the visual treats are so obvious I can’t figure out how I missed them, but we’re finite, limited creatures. Best to celebrate what we do manage to see!

    1. Our live oaks are beginning to leaf out again, and a very few redbuds and maples are showing spring color, but the cypress are among the last to leaf. I think their branches are lovely, especially in the case of mature trees. As for the colors: it’s as though the sky itself was blooming.

  4. That is a lovely photo and excellent poem. I love a surprise or plot twist, and I admire Dickinson for unexpectedly working the words science, formula and trade into a reflection on the quality of light in springtime.
    Do you think “Noons report away” refers to a sound? I grew up hearing bells from a church at 12, but I know in the 18th/19th centuries, there were a lot of towns that had a “noon gun,” I believe there are still cities in Europe and I think Halifax, N.S. that still have that custom.

    1. Sometimes I imagine Dickinson’s mind as a pinball or pachinko machine; the woman could bounce from here to there and back again in the most engaging ways.

      Like you, I wondered about “noons report away.” The first thing that came to mind was the noon market reports on radio that were such an institution among midwest farmers, but then I remembered the ‘noon whistle’ in my grandparents’ town. It was a mining community, and every day at noon, except Sunday, that whistle would sound as a signal that lunchtime had come. When a country friend’s husband still was alive, she’d ring the big bell in their yard to let him know it was time to come up from his workshop or the pasture for the noon meal.

      1. In my upstate grandmothers village, they turned on the fire siren at noon every day, I always thought that was kind of weird, but maybe just to make sure it was in good working order.
        I was also just reading that Dickinson read the newspaper every day, The Springfield Republican, so maybe that was her lunchtime reading. Or maybe Noon was reporting for duty every day? I yes, it’s a sign of an intriguing poem when you keep turning it over and over in your mind, not just as little word puzzles but to feel like you’ve arrived at your own understanding of the whole message

  5. Critics come and go. We’re still enjoying Ms, Dickinson’s imperfect poetry long after she put the words on paper.

    “A Color stands abroad …” really captures the early Spring sky.
    Your excellent photograph really captures the early Spring sky.

    The light which exists in Spring illuminates my renewed sense of regeneration. Nature, beginning again. My outlook, beginning again.

    1. I didn’t realize until very recently that Emily Dickinson was quite the gardener and botanist herself. Once she’s seen in that context, much of her poetry becomes more accessible, and filled with even more resonance.

      I think one of the commonalities among people at this time of year — at least in the northern hemisphere — is the hunger for color. If the flowers aren’t yet ready to fulfill our need, the sky will do perfectly well. This certainly was a glorious one.

  6. A beautiful photo, Linda. You mentioned that it’s a Bald Cypress–I just love those trees, so gorgeous along a water way and the fall color is lovely. Our winter sunrises and sunsets are something special, I think.

    Oh yeah, the poem is pretty great too.

    1. As much as I love that rusty-brown of the cypress in fall, the first flush of leaves in spring may be even more attractive to me. It’s such a gorgeous, delicate green. It’s just about time to start watching for them. One thing I’ve learned is that once they begin leafing out, it’s not a long, slow process; because they start later than many trees, they seem eager to make up for it.

  7. What an amazing photo, Linda. That glow in the clouds is well captured. I was looking out at the early morning sunlight the other day and thinking how much I love its unique brilliance.

    1. I so enjoy photos like this: affirmations that travel isn’t necessary to enjoy nature’s beauty. Well, unless you count the distance from my desk to the front yard as ‘travel.’ I often think of a favorite quotation from the Swiss naturalist, Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz:”I spent the summer traveling; I got halfway across my back yard.”

    1. They are lace-like, aren’t they? That hadn’t crossed my mind, but now that you say it, I see it. A word that I did think of after I’d posted was ‘tracery.’ I rarely hear it any more, but it’s another great word. Sunrises and sunsets like this are a real gift, that’s for sure.

  8. What caught me by surprise here, Linda, was your photo of the tree. I pictured it out on one of your woodland hikes as opposed to your yard. And I’ve been in that yard. It just goes to show, magic is everywhere. We only have to look.

    1. Surprise, surprise! Every day I see a magnet on my refrigerator that holds a quotation by Georgia O’Keeffe: “Take time to look.” One reason I always have kept my desk next to a window is for the light. Even without a clear view of sunrise or sunset, I can sense the light changing from time to time — and this time, the reward for noticing was substantial. Beyond that, I’ve learned one important ‘light lesson’ — if I notice, I move. Now! That light doesn’t always linger.

      1. Light rarely lingers, which is one of the reasons it is so fascinating. Whoops, I missed that opportunity. I’ve said that many a time. Sometimes it’s just a matter of remembering where I put my camera.

  9. The light and color in your image won’t pass or fade as the light in the poem did. And it’s a beautiful hue, the graceful tree branches are as well.

    1. Isn’t it something, how some photos come to us, without demanding that we go out to pursue them? Call it luck, or whatever, but this one really pleased me. Honestly, I didn’t expect the photo to be as gorgeous as the light, but it was.

      Today? The sky’s far more mundane, but I did have the chance to amuse myself for a while as I watched a girl squirrel tease a boy squirrel in that same tree.

    1. I always open the curtains and shades as soon as I get up, even if it’s dark. I always enjoy watching the light increase, but this was special. I’m glad I was able to capture the color, in order to share it. It does fit well with Dickinson’s poem, doesn’t it?

  10. This is a wonderful shot, Linda. The color and light is extraordinary and maybe Emily would have composed her poem differently if there were cameras during her time. There certainly is no reason for this to be composed differently. I hope you can hang it somewhere to enjoy daily.

    1. I don’t have any of my photos hanging; it’s a combination of lack of wall space and cost. Beyond that, there isn’t anything I’d want to take down to make room for my photos. A digital file is enough to evoke memories of events like this sunrise — and who knows what’s coming next?

  11. I don’t believe I’ve read anything by Dickinson since school. Thanks much for the reminder of what a wonderful poet she was. I’ve been tempted every so often to pull out my big books of poetry and prose from college and start reading through some of them again. Maybe this will help turn those thoughts into actions.

    And as always, I love your pairing of photograph with poem.

    P.S. So I’ve already pulled down one of my old college lit books. I didn’t find this particular poem in it, but there’s still many to go back through and likely many I never read in school.

    1. I’m not yet back home from my weekend,but when I get there I’ll try to remember to leave a link to the Dickinson online site I really like. It has clickable links to the first line of all her poems, so it’s easy to browse and find something that suits your mood, or is just flat intriguing. She’s one of those who’s best known by only a few poems, and the ones that made it into textbooks aren’t necessarily the ones I enjoy the most. It’s like limiting Carl Sandburg to only fog coming in on little cat feet!

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