Emily Dickinson's "A Light exists in Spring"

Updated on April 14, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Emily Dickinson

Source

Introduction and Text of "A Light exists in Spring"

The poem features five quatrains with a somewhat erratic rime scheme. Each quatrain follows a fairly regular pattern of ABCB with the second quatrain offering the slant rime, "fields / feels," and the third quatrain offering no rime at all. The final quatrain again features an irregular pair, "Content / Sacrament."

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

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.

Recitation of "A Light exists in Spring"

Emily Dickinson

This is the unretouched daguerreotype of Emily when she was around 17 years old.
This is the unretouched daguerreotype of Emily when she was around 17 years old. | Source

Commentary

This speaker is striving to portray a certain kind of light that "exists [only] in Spring" or very near spring.

First Quatrain: A Particular Light

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here

The speaker asserts that, "A Light exists in Spring," and this particular light cannot be experienced any other time of the year.

The speaker reports that this light does appear, "When March is scarcely here." This claim, however, suggests that the light might also appear just before it is actually spring. Spring does not begin until the third week of March, not in late February, as the speaker has suggested.

Second Quatrain: Not Identified by Science

A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.

The speaker now claims that, "A Color stands abroad / On Solitary Fields." This extraordinary "color" apparently has not been identified in nature by science. However, human beings, according to this speaker, are capable of sensing this color without a name for or scientific description of it.

The speaker, therefore, hints that the color of this special light does not exist at all in nature, and it perhaps only visible to the human soul, not the mind or even the heart, as such lights as rainbows or the aura borealis is visible to the eye.

Third Quatrain: Unearthly, Perhaps Mystical

It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.

This unearthly, perhaps even mystical, light and color may be experienced as it stands "upon the Lawn." However, the light may also appear in trees that grow very far away, and may also be gleaned from faraway, quite distant from the where the speaker views it.

The speaker now reports that this strange mystical light "almost speaks to you." Of course, the language would be one only known to the soul.

The speaker attempt to elicit from her listeners and readers an understanding that would be quite likely impossible to shape into words. The speaker has been carried to an indescribable place within the her own soul.

This light that is capable of "wait[ing] upon the Lawn" but does not instantly pass across the lawn strongly suggests that it is capable of halting time for a short period—possibly to allow the observer to contemplate the nature of its existence.

Fourth Quatrain: As the Light Passes

Then as Horizons step
Or Noons report away
Without the Formula of sound
It passes and we stay —

However, that time cannot wait long and thus "it passes." Of course, we remain, that is, the speaker remains where she is while the light passes on.

The special light thus seems to resemble sunlight after it has passed overhead around the noon hour. Of course, its leaving is without fanfare, although the speaker seems to have expected a sound, or some other sign to help her understand the strange feeling that this light has engendered in her.

Fifth Quatrain: An Inappropriate Intrusion

A quality of loss
Affecting our Content
As Trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a Sacrament.

The speaker then asserts that she feels a kind of deep loss. Its as if something drastically inappropriate has happened. She feels as wronged as Jesus felt upon encountering the money handlers in the temple. The loss seems as inappropriate as the intrusion of "Trade" "Upon a Sacrament."

Spiritual Clarity

The speaker has remained vague about what this light looks like, but she has made it quite clear how it has made her feel.

The speaker's experience viewing this special light has moved her very deeply. Although she cannot portray the light's physical nature, she can suggest the nature of the way the light has influenced her mentally and spiritually.

Dickinson's Titles

Emily Dickinson did not provide titles to her 1,775 poems; therefore, each poem's first line becomes the title. According to the MLA Style Manuel:

"When the first line of a poem serves as the title of the poem, reproduce the line exactly as it appears in the text."

APA does not address this issue.

Life Sketch of Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson remains one of the most fascinating and widely researched poets in America. Much speculation abounds regarding some of the most known facts about her. For example, after the age of seventeen, she remained fairly cloistered in her father's home, rarely moving from the house beyond the front gate. Yet she produced some of the wisest, deepest poetry ever created anywhere at any time.

Regardless of Emily's personal reasons for living nun-like, readers have found much to admire, enjoy, and appreciate about her poems. Though they often baffle upon first encounter, they reward readers mightily who stay with each poem and dig out the nuggets of golden wisdom.

New England Family

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born December 10, 1830, in Amherst, MA, to Edward Dickinson and Emily Norcross Dickinson. Emily was the second child of three: Austin, her older brother who was born April 16, 1829, and Lavinia, her younger sister, born February 28, 1833. Emily died on May 15, 1886.

Emily's New England heritage was strong and included her paternal grandfather, Samuel Dickinson, who was one of the founders of Amherst College. Emily's father was a lawyer and also was elected to and served one term in the state legislature (1837-1839); later between 1852 and 1855, he served one term in the U.S. House of Representative as a representative of Massachusetts.

Education

Emily attended the primary grades in a one room school until being sent to Amherst Academy, which became Amherst College. The school took pride in offering college level course in the sciences from astronomy to zoology. Emily enjoyed school, and her poems testify to the skill with which she mastered her academic lessons.

After her seven year stint at Amherst Academy, Emily then entered Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in the fall of 1847. Emily remained at the seminary for only one year. Much speculation has been offered regarding Emily's early departure from formal education, from the atmosphere of religiosity of the school to the simple fact that the seminary offered nothing new for the sharp minded Emily to learn. She seemed quite content to leave in order to stay home. Likely her reclusiveness was beginning, and she felt the need to control her own learning and schedule her own life activities.

As a stay-at-home daughter in 19th century New England, Emily was expected to take on her share of domestic duties, including housework, likely to help prepare said daughters for handling their own homes after marriage. Possibly, Emily was convinced that her life would not be the traditional one of wife, mother, and householder; she has even stated as much: God keep me from what they call households.

In this householder-in-training position, Emily especially disdained the role a host to the many guests that her father's community service required of his family. She found such entertaining mind-boggling, and all that time spent with others meant less time for her own creative efforts. By this time in her life, Emily was discovering the joy of soul-discovery through her art.

Although many have speculated that her dismissal of the current religious metaphor landed her in the atheist camp, Emily's poems testify to a deep spiritual awareness that far exceeds the religious rhetoric of the period. In fact, Emily was likely discovering that her intuition about all things spiritual demonstrated an intellect that far exceeded any of her family's and compatriots' intelligence. Her focus became her poetry—her main interest in life.

Publication

Very few of Emily's poems appeared in print during her lifetime. And it was only after her death the her sister Vinnie discovered the bundles of poems, called fascicles, in Emily's room. A total of 1775 individual poems have made their way to publication. The first publicans of her works to appear, gathered and edited by Mabel Loomis Todd, a supposed paramour of Emily's brother, and the editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson had been altered to the point of changing the meanings of her poems. The regularization of her technical achievements with grammar and punctuation obliterated the high achievement that the poet had so creatively accomplished.

Readers can thank Thomas H. Johnson, who in the mid 1950s went to work at restoring Emily's poems to their, at least near, original. His doing so restored her many dashes, spacings, and other grammar/mechanical features that earlier editors had "corrected" for the poet—corrections that ultimately resulted in obliteration of the poetic achievement reached by Emily's mystically brilliant talent.

Thomas H. Johnson's The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson The text I use for commentaries

Thomas H. Johnson's The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

The text I use for commentaries
The text I use for commentaries | Source

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

    Comments

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    • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Sue Grimes 

      2 years ago from U.S.A.

      Thank you, who. Glad you found my Hub useful. Blessings!

    • whonunuwho profile image

      whonunuwho 

      2 years ago from United States

      Interesting to read about one of my favorite poets and always learning something new about each one. Thanks for the nice info. whonu

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