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Emily Dickinson's "A Light exists in Spring"

Emily Dickinson's poems inform my own worldview as a poet and scholar. They dramatize the human spirit via deep attention to life's details.

Unretouched daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson around 17 years old

Unretouched daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson around 17 years old

Introduction and Text of "A Light exists in Spring"

This Emily Dickinson 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"

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.

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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.

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

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on May 16, 2016:

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

whonunuwho from United States on May 16, 2016:

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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