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Emily Dickinson's "Nature — the Gentlest Mother is"

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

Emily Dickinson

Introduction and Text of "Nature — the Gentlest Mother is"

Emily Dickinson was the quintessential nature-lover. Her keen observation along with her study of science allowed her to make remarkable artistic statements about the functioning of natural events. That she found Mother Nature to be a nurturing, caring, softly disciplining force comports with her deep love for all natural creatures of both plant and animal kingdoms.

Contrasting with Emily's riddle-poems, this one quite explicitly names the focus of her drama. She then moves on to reveal marvelously how closely she observed and how skillfully she was capable of reporting her observations.

Nature — the Gentlest Mother is

Nature — the Gentlest Mother is,
Impatient of no Child —
The feeblest — or the waywardest —
Her Admonition mild —

In Forest — and the Hill —
By Traveller — be heard —
Restraining Rampant Squirrel —
Or too impetuous Bird —

How fair Her Conversation —
A Summer Afternoon —
Her Household — Her Assembly —
And when the Sun go down —

Her Voice among the Aisles
Incite the timid prayer
Of the minutest Cricket —
The most unworthy Flower —

When all the Children sleep —
She turns as long away
As will suffice to light Her lamps —
Then bending from the Sky —

With infinite Affection —
And infiniter Care —
Her Golden finger on Her lip —
Wills Silence — Everywhere —

Reading of "Nature—the Gentlest Mother is,"

Commentary

Emily Dickinson's speaker, employing her peerless mystical voice, is dramatizing a selection of the countless ways in which Mother Nature looks after her charges.

First Stanza: The Mothering of Mother Nature

Nature — the Gentlest Mother is,
Impatient of no Child —
The feeblest — or the waywardest —
Her Admonition mild —

The speaker in Emily Dickinson's "Nature — the Gentlest Mother is" (#790 in Thomas H. Johnson's The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson) attributes to Mother Nature the quality of "Gentlest Mother."

The speaker also informs her listeners that this gentlest of mothers is infinitely patient with her children, cautioning even the "feeblest" and the "waywardest" in a "mild" manner.

Second Stanza: Disciplining Methods

In Forest — and the Hill —
By Traveller — be heard —
Restraining Rampant Squirrel —
Or too impetuous Bird —

As her human children travel over hillsides or ride through forests, those children are likely to hear their gentle Mother, "Restraining Rampant Squirrel," or muffling a "too impetuous Bird." The speaker expresses the natural behavior of animals in terms of the disciplining methods used by the "Gentlest Mother."

The behavior of the animals indicates that the mother has dealt gently with them. It is her tenderness that allows them to grow, flourish, and remain ensconced in her gentle arms.

Third Stanza: Measured Ways

How fair Her Conversation —
A Summer Afternoon —
Her Household — Her Assembly —
And when the Sun go down —

The speaker reports that the Mother's "Conversation" is utterly "fair." Relating to the beautiful, peaceful occasion of "a Summer Afternoon," the speaker proclaims the measured ways in which the Mother keeps "Her Household," as she brings together all aspects of her being, or "Her Assembly."

The speaker begins her next thought in the third stanza yet leaves its completion for the next stanza. This break in thought allows the action of the line, "And when the Sun go down," to complete itself, before moving on to the next part of the idea.

Fourth Stanza: Bringing Forth Prayer

Her Voice among the Aisles
Incite the timid prayer
Of the minutest Cricket —
The most unworthy Flower —

The speaker situates the gentle Mother "among the Aisles" where the Mother elicits from the parishioners "the timid prayer." An earlier Dickinsonian speaker has established that her church is one that included the natural creatures who lived around her cloister-like home:

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.

Thus, in this stanza, her speaker reports that the gentle Mother can be found bringing forth prayer from "the minutest Cricket" and "The most unworthy Flower." Of course, the notion of "unworthy" does not apply to this gentle Mother who accepts all prayer with equal justice and equanimity.

Fifth Stanza: Dousing the Lights for Sleep

When all the Children sleep —
She turns as long away
As will suffice to light Her lamps —
Then bending from the Sky —

Moving to the end of the day, "when all the Children sleep," the Mother quietly withdraws to "light Her lamps," which would be the moon and stars, of course. Again, the speaker begins a thought, this time her final thought, in the fifth stanza but waits to finish it in the final stanza.

The thought begins, "Then bending from the Sky,"—the Mother has traveled far to light her night lamps, and now she must bend back to her children.

Sixth Stanza: Hushing for Slumber

With infinite Affection —
And infiniter Care —
Her Golden finger on Her lip —
Wills Silence — Everywhere —

And "with infinite Affection / And infiniter Care," the Mother raises her "Golden finger" to her lips and makes the sign that calls for "silence" as the night enfolds her children "Everywhere" allowing them to slumber peacefully in the stillness she bestows on them.

(Note: To see a Dickinson hand-written version of this poem, please visit "Nature — the Gentlest Mother is")

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

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.

Questions & Answers

Question: How does nature deal with the feeble and wayward children?

Answer: The speaker is informing her listeners that this gentlest of mothers is infinitely patient with her children, cautioning even the "feeblest" and the "wayward" in a "mild" manner.

Question: Why does nature have to restrain animals and birds in the forest?

Answer: According to the speaker of Emily Dickinson's "Nature — the Gentlest Mother is," as her human children travel over hillsides or ride through forests, those children are likely to hear their gentle Mother, "Restraining Rampant Squirrel," or muffling a "too impetuous Bird." The speaker expresses the natural behavior of animals in terms of the disciplining methods used by the "Gentlest Mother." The behavior of the animals indicates that the mother has dealt gently with them. It is her tenderness that allows them to grow, flourish, and remain ensconced in her gentle arms.

Question: Why is nature's conservation "fair" in "Nature" by Emily Dickinson?

Answer: The speaker reports that the Mother's "Conversation" is utterly "fair." Relating to the beautiful, peaceful occasion of "a Summer Afternoon," the speaker proclaims the measured ways in which the Mother keeps "Her Household," as she brings together all aspects of her being, or "Her Assembly."

Question: Why do you think the words,"household" and "assembly" have been used in connection with nature?

Answer: They are used metaphorically.

Question: What is the poem "Nature-the Gentlest Mother Is", about?

Answer: Dickinson's speaker, employing her peerless mystical voice, is dramatizing a selection of the countless ways in which Mother Nature looks after her charges.

Question: What poetic device is featured in Emily Dickinson's "Nature — the Gentlest Mother is"?

Answer: In Emily Dickinson's "Nature — the Gentlest Mother is," the speaker employs an extended metaphor, describing and comparing nature to a mother.

Question: How does nature deal with the feeble, the wayward and the children?

Answer: Nature deals with the feeble, wayward, and children as a gentle mother deals with her charges.

Question: What does "Her Golden finger" mean?

Answer: "Her Golden finger" represents the personification of sunset in Emily Dickinson's "Nature — the Gentlest Mother is."

Question: What feelings does the speaker of Emily Dickinson's "Nature" have for nature?

Answer: The speaker loves nature. Her detailed observation and gentle, loving descriptions exude deep affection for her subject.

Question: What does "How fair Her Conversation" mean from

Emily Dickinson's "Nature — the Gentlest Mother is"?

Answer: The speaker is reporting that the Mother's "Conversation" is utterly "fair," because it relates to the beautiful, peaceful occasion of "a Summer Afternoon." The speaker is asserting that it is in measured ways that the Mother keeps "Her Household," as she brings together all aspects of her being, or "Her Assembly."

Question: How is the nature portrayed in Emily Dickinson's poem "Nature — the Gentlest Mother is"?

Answer: Nature is portrayed as a gentle mother--actually the gentlest.

Question: Why has the word "aisles" been used in the line, "Her Voice among the Aisles"?

Answer: In Dickinson's "Nature — the Gentlest Mother is," the speaker employs the term, "Aisles," because she wishes to invoke the atmosphere of a church, just as she continues in the next with "timid prayer."

Question: Why do you think Emily Dickinson wrote the poem "Nature — the Gentlest Mother is"?

Answer: Emily Dickinson was the quintessential nature-lover and apparently she liked to share observations. Her keen observation along with her study of science allowed her to make remarkable artistic statements about the functioning of natural events. That she found Mother Nature to be a nurturing, caring, softly disciplining force comports with her deep love for all natural creatures of both plant and animal kingdoms.

Question: Please explain "Golden finger on the lip"?

Answer: The metaphorical Mother is raising her "Golden finger" to her lips, making the sign that calls for "silence," as the night enfolds her children, allowing them to slumber peacefully in the stillness she bestows on them.

Question: "Her Voice among the Aisles / Incite the timid prayer": Explain this line?

Answer: The speaker situates the gentle Mother "among the Aisles" where the Mother elicits from the parishioners "the timid prayer." An earlier Dickinsonian speaker has established that her church is one that included the natural creatures who lived around her cloister-like home:

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.

Thus, in this stanza, her speaker reports that the gentle Mother can be found bringing forth prayer from "the minutest Cricket" and "The most unworthy Flower." Of course, the notion of "unworthy" does not apply to this gentle Mother who accepts all prayer with equal justice and equanimity.

Question: What is the rime scheme of the poem "Nature- The Gentlest Mother Is"?

Answer: The rime scheme in each stanza of Dickinson's "Nature — the Gentlest Mother is" is ABCB.

(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 at https://owlcation.com/humanities/Rhyme-vs-Rime-An-... .”)

Question: Is this poem, "Nature -- the Gentlest Mother is," a riddle poem?

Answer: Emily Dickinson's "Nature — the Gentlest Mother is" actually is the opposite of her riddle poem variety; this one quite explicitly names the focus of her drama. She moves through the little drama revealing marvelously how closely she observed details and how skillfully she was capable of dramatizing her observations.

Question: Why is nature being personified as mother?

Answer: Likely because of the phrase, "Mother Nature."

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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