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Emily Dickinson's "Distrustful of the Gentian"

Emily Dickinson's poems remain a vital part of my poet worldview. They dramatize the human spirit via deep attention to life's details.

Emily Dickinson

Introduction and Text of "Distrustful of the Gentian"

Although it seems that a very important word has been omitted from the poem, the drama continues unabated. It would make an interesting study to add a guessed-at word and then see how it might change the outcome of the poem's force. I will venture the guess that the word she meant to supply referred to her mood.

Likely she thought, "Weary for my mood," sounded too ordinary, too mundane, so she meant to come back and add a more dramatic term. But then alas! she either never found the time nor the term, so it gets left double dashed, imposing a quizzical conundrum on her future audience.

Distrustful of the Gentian

Distrustful of the Gentian –
And just to turn away,
The fluttering of her fringes
Chid my perfidy –
Weary for my ———
I will singing go –
I shall not feel the sleet – then –
I shall not fear the snow.

Flees so the phantom meadow
Before the breathless Bee –
So bubble brooks in deserts
On Ears that dying lie –
Burn so the Evening Spires
To Eyes that Closing go –
Hangs so distant Heaven –
To a hand below.

Commentary

The speaker is lamenting the end of summer—a theme that Dickinson returned to again and again.

First Stanza: A Mysterious Weariness

Distrustful of the Gentian –
And just to turn away,
The fluttering of her fringes
Chid my perfidy –
Weary for my ———
I will singing go –
I shall not feel the sleet – then –
I shall not fear the snow.

The first issue that accosts a reader of this poem is that it appears the poet failed to supply the object in the prepositional phrase "for my ———" in the fifth line but instead had simply placed a longer dash placeholder. It does seem that she intended to come back and add a word but perhaps never got around to it. On her handwritten version, there appear to be the letters "a n o w," along side the long dash, but those letters could have been placed there by an editor. The handwriting does not seem to be that of the poet.

The speaker begins by professing her distrust of the gentian flower; her distrust causes her to turn from the flower. And she says that those fluttering fringes of the gentian rebuked her own untrustworthiness, likely for her admission of distrust of the flower. This mutual lack of trust between the speaker and the flower causes the speaker to become "weary," but because she did not state the object other weariness, the reader must guess what is specifically causing the weariness.

The speaker with this unspecified weariness claims that she will continue on, and she will do so "singing." This singing indicates that she will enliven her mood and keep it high through this cheerful act. She then asserts that through this act of singing she will not experience the negativity of "sleet," indicating the season of winter. To further the winter implication, she adds that she will "not fear the snow."

The speaker in this little drama is fashioning her preparation for the end of nice, warm summer weather as she tries to ease herself into readying her mind and heart for the onset of a cold, hard winter.

Second Stanza: Losing a Favored Season

Flees so the phantom meadow
Before the breathless Bee –
So bubble brooks in deserts
On Ears that dying lie –
Burn so the Evening Spires
To Eyes that Closing go –
Hangs so distant Heaven –
To a hand below.

The second stanza continues to find the speaker painting the end of summer with masterful strokes. She reports that the meadow is "flee[ing]," and the bee has become "breathless" at the event. Of course, the meadow is a simple metonymy for all that the meadow holds in terms of green grasses, colorful flowers wild-life such as bees and birds. All those fresh, summer colors will soon turn to a winter brown, and essentially be gone because it will have changed so much. The meadow is thus phantom-like because its qualities will seem to become mere ghosts of themselves as they can no longer remain full-bodied as in her beloved summer.

The speaker finds her happy summer-self dying like one who is thirsting in a desert while phantom brooks seem to bubble nearby. The desert mirage has presented itself, and the poor traveler lies dying with the sound of a babbling water stream flowing through them his field of hearing. And for the eyes, those eyes that are "closing," the spires of evening seem to burn all the more bright. That time of day when shadows loom becomes more engulfed in darkness as those shadows loom larger in fall and winter.

The speaker then avers that to those on earth "Heaven" seems so distant, too distant for the hand to grasp. As summer continues to fade, the speaker becomes painfully aware that the next summer is quite far off. Indeed, it is another fall, winter, and spring away.

The speaker has focused heavily on the sense of sight in this little drama, but she has also included the sense of sound with image of the bee and the brook. She also includes the act of grasping with a hand. As she reaches out her hand to touch the beauty of the seasons, she finds the dying of summer a particularly poignant event; thus she has again created her little drama to play out her melancholy of losing that favored season.

Emily Dickinson

The text I use for commentaries

The text I use for commentaries

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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