0005. Emily Dickinson's "I have a Bird in spring"

Updated on December 24, 2017
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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.

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.

* The numbers included with the Dickinsonian titles refer to the number of each poem from Thomas H. Johnson's The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.

Emily Dickinson

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "I have a Bird in spring"

The speaker in Dickinson's "I have a Bird in spring" is offering another Dickinson riddle. She never reveals the specific identity of this strange bird that can fly away from her and return bringing her new melodies from the beyond the sea. This metaphoric bird that flies beyond a metaphoric sea has the delicious ability to calm the doubts and fears of the speaker. That a mere bird could possess such a seemingly magic power renders this Dickinson riddle one of her most profound and most captivating.

I have a Bird in spring

I have a Bird in spring
Which for myself doth sing —
The spring decoys.
And as the summer nears —
And as the Rose appears,
Robin is gone.

Yet do I not repine
Knowing that Bird of mine
Though flown —
Learneth beyond the sea
Melody new for me
And will return.

Fast in safer hand
Held in a truer Land
Are mine —
And though they now depart,
Tell I my doubting heart
They're thine.

In a serener Bright,
In a more golden light
I see
Each little doubt and fear,
Each little discord here
Removed.

Then will I not repine,
Knowing that Bird of mine
Though flown
Shall in distant tree
Bright melody for me
Return.

Reading of "I have a Bird in spring"

Commentary

First Stanza: A Strange Bird

I have a Bird in spring
Which for myself doth sing —
The spring decoys.
And as the summer nears —
And as the Rose appears,
Robin is gone.

The speaker begins with a fairly straightforward statement that becomes curiouser and curiouser as she proceeds. She reports that she has "a Bird in spring." But that "Bird" sings only for her. This claim is curious because one would think that birds sing for everyone or for no one but themselves and perhaps other birds. Even if she is composing a ditty about a pet bird in a cage, that bird would not likely sing only to the pet-companion. As Paul Laurence Dunbar's speaker has asserted in his poem "Sympathy," he "knows why the caged bird sings," and it does not sing for the one who caged it.

Thus the puzzle in on: Why is this "Bird" singing only for the possessor? The speaker then asserts that as spring wears on it lures her away from her "Bird" and as she moves into summer she is attracted by "the Rose" and then her "Bird," whom she now names "Robin" has vanished.

The first stanza leaves the reader/listener wondering about this curious situation: a strange bird belonging to a human being just up and vanishes as spring and its lushness has captured this human's attention and as the roses begin to bloom in summer.

Second Stanza: Not a "bird" — but a "Bird"

Yet do I not repine
Knowing that Bird of mine
Though flown —
Learneth beyond the sea
Melody new for me
And will return.

The speaker then offers another curious statement. She reveals that she does not fret over the bird's disappearance. She knows that her "Bird" has simply wended its way "beyond the sea" where it will gather new melodies, and then it will return to her.

Again, an even more curious situation! This strange bird has gone but its owner knows it will come back. What bird can be recognized again by a human being out of the thousands of chirping birds that appear over the landscape and in the trees during any season?

The speaker seems to have made a ridiculous claim or perhaps that "Bird" that she owns is not a bird but is truly a "Bird," that is, a metaphorical bird must now be considered, if one is to take this discourse seriously. But what is a metaphorical bird? What could the speaker be calling a "Bird" that is not a physical bird?

Third Stanza: Divine Creator as Muse

Fast in safer hand
Held in a truer Land
Are mine —
And though they now depart,
Tell I my doubting heart
They're thine.

The speaker now begins to reveal that this "Bird" is her Muse, that is, her soul qualities that allow her to create this astonishing other "sky," the amazingly wonderful "garden" of verse in which she can pour her time, her effort, and her love.

This "Bird" allows her to understand that she and her talent are secure in the hands of their Creator. They are "Held in a truer Land"—a cosmic place that is more real because immortal and eternal than this place called Earth. They, this bundle of joy including her mind, her writing ability, and her love of beauty and art, this bundle she is now calling a "Bird" is surrounded and held "fast in safer hand." And that Hand belongs to God, the Divine Belovèd, the Blessèd Creator of all things, and the Being of which the human soul is a spark.

The speaker's Divine Creator is guarding and guiding her in mysterious ways, and she knows that she is taking that guidance on faith because she still possesses a "doubting heart." But she tells that heart filled with doubt that those qualities, metaphorically rendered in that "Bird," are hers, despite the fact that they seem at times to recede from her vision and utility.

Like the Shakespearean sonneteer, who complains at times during dry spells when his composing goes more sluggishly than he would like, this speaker admits that spring and summer events distract her, and her "Bird" seems to fly off. But she comforts herself with the knowledge that her abilities are simply off incubating somewhere, they are off simply learning new melodies for her. And most importantly, they will return, she does not doubt that return. They will return because "They are thine." They belong to her.

Fourth Stanza: Seeing Through Mystic Eyes

In a serener Bright,
In a more golden light
I see
Each little doubt and fear,
Each little discord here
Removed.

The speaker continues to impart the details that allow her to realize that her "Bird" will return. In times of clearer sight that she experiences even through the absence of her "Bird," she envisions in a "more golden light" that all her doubts, fears, and discords "here" are removed. While she remains upon this Earth, she knows that those fears will continue to attack her, but because of her secure knowledge of her divine soul, which is a spark of the Divine Soul Creator, she can realize that those tribulations caused by the dualities of Earth life are temporary.

The speaker's ability to see through mystic eyes in this "serener Bright" and "golden light" allows her to quiet that doubting heart with the great news that Eternity and Immortality are hers. Her ability to continue to create her own "sky" and "garden" is absolute, and the knowledge quiets her fears and doubts.

Fifth Stanza: The Virtue of Patience

Fast in safer hand
Held in a truer Land
Are mine —
And though they now depart,
Tell I my doubting heart
They're thine.

Thus, the speaker can aver that she will not fret and complain because her "Bird" is away. She knows it will return to her with bright melodies. Though that "Bird of mine" has a penchant for seemingly vanishing, she knows it is simply her own consciousness being attracted to other aspects of "spring" and "summer" that allow that "Bird" to recede into the dark recesses of her mind.

The speaker finds great enjoyment in fashioning her little dramas, and again like the Shakespearean sonneteer, she can compose her dramas even as she seems to be experiencing a blocked flow of words.

Writing teachers and rhetoricians explain the concept of incubation as a stage of the writing process, a period of time when the writer seems not to be thinking directly about his writing project but to be allowing his thoughts to quietly proliferate, even as he goes about performing other activities. Dickinson and the Shakespearean sonneteer, as creative writers, were able to use that concept for creating their little dramas, even as they, no doubt, chafed under their seeming inability to create.

Dickinson's mystic sight afforded her an even stronger talent for delivering her mind to performance because she knew her soul to be immortal, and she was able to see mystically beyond the physical, Earth-level of being. The Shakespeare writer's faith was strong enough to render him nearly as capable as Dickinson, as his "Writer/Muse" sonnet sequence testifies.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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