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Emily Dickinson's "I know a place where Summer strives"

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

Emily Dickinson

Introduction and Text of "I know a place where Summer strives"

Emily Dickinson's poem, "I know a place where Summer strives," consists of three stanzas. Each stanza has the rime scheme ABCB. The poems is #337 in Thomas H. Johnson's The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.

The poet especially loved summer, and in this fascinating poem, she allows her speaker to convert summer into a gardener who experiences the obstacles that sometimes accompany the difficult birth of the summer season. Sometimes it seems that it takes great effort or striving to overcome the coldness of late spring in New England, which may suffer snow and frost before the warmth of summer blossoms into the promised reality.

The poem offers a unique look at the arrival of the summer season. The speaker's personification of summer as a woman tending her garden creates a magnificent drama that occurs every late spring.

(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.")

I know a place where Summer strives

I know a place where Summer strives
With such a practised Frost —
She — each year — leads her Daisies back —
Recording briefly — "Lost" —

But when the South Wind stirs the Pools
And struggles in the lanes —
Her Heart misgives Her, for Her Vow —
And she pours soft Refrains

Into the lap of Adamant —
And spices — and the Dew —
That stiffens quietly to Quartz —
Upon her Amber Shoe —

Reading of "I know a place where Summer strives"

Commentary

In Emily Dickinson's "I know a place where Summer strives," the speaker personifies summer as a woman who struggles to overcome the coldness of late spring.

First Stanza: Summer Endeavoring to Become

I know a place where Summer strives
With such a practised Frost —
She — each year — leads her Daisies back —
Recording briefly — "Lost" —

In the first stanza, the speaker makes the puzzling claim that she knows "a place where Summer strives." This remark is startling; one does not think of seasons as having the ability or the need to "strive." Only people are capable of striving. But in this poem, the speaker is, in fact, dramatizing the onset of summer by personifying Summer as a woman; Summer becomes a gardener who is endeavoring to accomplish the arrival of the summer growing season.

Unlike those who find the arrival of each season an automatic transition that is hardly noticeable, this speaker dramatically reveals that sometimes the Summer growing season is won by fits and starts. The speaker says that Summer "strives / With such a practised Frost." Late spring can remain cold in New England, where Dickinson lived all of her life. So it would seem that summer sometimes had a difficult birth, contending with frost and even snow. But Summer makes a great effort, and her endeavors result in bringing back the flowers, which seemed lost during the winter.

Second Stanza: A Helping Hand

But when the South Wind stirs the Pools
And struggles in the lanes —
Her Heart misgives Her, for Her Vow —
And she pours soft Refrains

The speaker then asserts that for all the difficult attempts at arriving a situation arises that offers a helping hand to Summer in bringing the season to full bloom. The "South Wind stirs the Pools," and a summer storm blows up.

But Summer then still has some doubt about her success, and she has a promise to keep in delivering summer qualities of warmth and fertility so that seeds in the ground may grow into viable plants for food for people and animals.

But then the rains begin, and Summer does absolutely arrive. All her striving has paid off.

Third Stanza: A Fierce Attempt

Into the lap of Adamant —
And spices — and the Dew —
That stiffens quietly to Quartz —
Upon her Amber Shoe —

Summer "pours soft Refrains // Into the lap of Adamant"; she strives fiercely to arrive. She brings rain to the plants that will flourish during the growing season, which she had promised. The rains will convert the landscape to a glowing green grassy hue that will illuminate the summer's growing season. The Summer as a woman will tend her garden, and she will get mud on her shoes. That mud will become hardened like "Quartz." Thus "Sumner" will sport shoes of "Amber."

But happily, all her arduous striving will have succeeded: the flowers will gloriously come back. The frost will have finally departed, and the summer rains will be moistening the thirsty mouths of the plants. Marvelous spices will results from Summer's loving care of sun and rain. And even the gardener's shoes will wear a beautiful "amber" because she has trampled in the mud caring for all the varieties of plants that help fill her larder for winter.

Emily Dickinson

Daguerrotype of Dickinson circa age 17

Daguerrotype of Dickinson circa age 17

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.

Reclusiveness and Religion

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.

Emily's reclusiveness extended to her decision that she could keep the sabbath by staying home instead of attending church services. Her wonderful explication of the decision appears in her poem, "Some keep the Sabbath going to Church":

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —
I keep it, staying at Home —
With a Bobolink for a Chorister —
And an Orchard, for a Dome —

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —
I just wear my Wings —
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton — sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman —
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last —
I'm going, all along.

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.

The text I use for commentaries

The text I use for commentaries

Questions & Answers

Question: How does Emily Dickinson's speaker in the poem, "I know a place where Summer strives," use personification?

Answer: The poet especially loved summer, and in this fascinating poem, she allows her speaker to convert summer into a gardener who experiences the obstacles that sometimes accompany the difficult birth of the summer season. Sometimes it seems that it takes great effort or striving to overcome the coldness of late spring in New England, which may suffer snow and frost before the warmth of summer blossoms into the promised reality.

The poem offers a unique look at the arrival of the summer season. The speaker's personification of summer as a woman tending her garden creates a magnificent drama that occurs every late spring.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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