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Emily Dickinson's "Snow flakes."

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 "Snow flakes."

In Thomas Johnson’s The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, the text I use for these commentaries, the poem, "Snow flakes.," appears to be the only poem with a title. However, one might reasonably argue that the seeming title cannot be considered a true title. In none of the other poems—1,775 in all—does a title grace and define. That any poet would appear so consistent and then offer such an anomaly should raise the doubt that only one poem out of close to two thousand has a title.

There are three reasons for doubting that the poem has a title and therefore realizing that the so-called title functions very differently from most titles.

First, the noun "snowflake" is one word, and Dickinson has clearly written two words, and that act converts the one word to a sentence. A snowflake is a piece of snow that has "flaked off" from a larger entity; thus, "snow flakes." Because of the fact that "Snow flakes." looks like a sentence, it is wise to think of it as a sentence or first line of the poem, and not a title.

Second, that form of the so-called title itself demonstrates that the title is indeed merely the first line of the poem, "Snow flakes." The period at the end—along with the fact that there are two words—indicates a sentence. Emily Dickinson was a voracious reader, and she was well aware that titles contain no end punctuation. And although she did engage in innovative capitalization, punctuation, and techniques employing the use of space and dash, there is no reason to assume that she would title one poem out 1,775, and deliberately make the title look like an ordinary sentence.

Three, by beginning with an act, claiming that "snow flakes," the speaker is heralding the very active "dance" that she creates as she personifies the snowflakes as ballerinas.

Even though Johnson has placed, "Snow flakes.," in the position which a title would occupy, I suggest that the proper form would simply place the line as the first line of the poem. I do admit that the hand-written copy of "Snow flakes." appears to center the line; still, the spacing between the line and the rest of the poem is comparable to the remaining lines of the poem.

Riddle Poem

"Snow flakes." seems to have been intended to function as one of Emily Dickinson’s riddle poems, but it may be that she decided to add the first line because that poem might have remained unintelligible as a riddle. Readers may not be able to understand that this poem is speaking about flakes of snow without the poet offering that first line. Unlike her obvious riddles that do not name the object such as "It sifts from Leaden Sieves" and "I like to see it lap the Miles," this one would offer too many other possibilities to function as a workable riddle-poem, thus the addition of the first line, which can be mistaken for a title.

Snow flakes.

Snow flakes.
I counted till they danced so
Their slippers leaped the town,
And then I took a pencil
To note the rebels down.
And then they grew so jolly
I did resign the prig,
And ten of my once stately toes
Are marshalled for a jig!

Reading of "Snow flakes."

Commentary

Observing fakes of snow creates in the speaker’s mind a phantasmagoric dance with myriad ballerinas competing for visual attention.

First Stanza: Dancing Snow Ballerinas

Snow flakes.
I counted till they danced so
Their slippers leaped the town,

The speaker begins with the odd claim that snow can be perceived as breaking into little pieces or "flakes"; she likely wants the reader to take the term "flakes" as both a noun and a verb—a pun of sorts. This kind of function can often be detected in Dickinson’s poems; she quite frequently employs one part of speech to function as another or both, as in "The Soul selects her own Society" where in the lines, "To her divine Majority – Present no more," the word "Present" functions both as an adjective and a verb in the imperative mood.

The speaker then begins the report of her activity. She is observing flakes of snow falling, likely just outside her window, and she begins to count them. She continues to count the flakes, and suddenly she realizes that they seem to be dancing. It then occurs to her that they are like ballerinas, so she personifies the flake placing "slippers" on the imagined feet and she is off to the races! That ballerinas performing their dance are leaping and bounding all over town.

Second Stanza: Capturing the Scene

And then I took a pencil
To note the rebels down.

At this point, watching the dancing snow flakes that have become countless graceful ballerinas in her imaginative mind, she then grabs "a pencil" to take notes on their movements. Of course, she is referring to taking notes for a poem about what she is observing. She calls the dancers rebels; they seem to rebel against any way of describing them. Thought after thought is passing through her mind, and she has to grab that writing instrument and begin to capture some of those quickly passing images.

Poets sometimes feel that a poem writes itself, but only if the poet can capture the words in time, for so often, an image will present itself only to be lost to the next rapidly occurring image. Most writers keep writing equipment—paper and pen, nowadays computer tablets—in case some graceful ideas clothed in beautiful, meaningful language come dancing across the writer’s mental vision.

Third Stanza: Overwhelmed by Jolly Dancers

And then they grew so jolly
I did resign the prig,

As the speaker continues to take notes and watch those dancers, they become "so jolly" that she feels that they are becoming downright decadent in their outlandish flurry. Because of this decadence, she finds she has to discontinue this observation; likely she is feeling overwhelmed trying to take account of those millions of dancers.

If one tries to imagine a ballet stage with millions of ballerinas all competing for one’s attention, one gets the idea of how the speaker felt watching and trying to see each dancing snowflake.

Fourth Stanza: Itching to Dance

And ten of my once stately toes
Are marshalled for a jig!

The priggish or intrusively haughty nature of such a phantasmagoria stops the speaker from her fitful attempt to capture all the machinations of this metaphoric ballet; thus, she lays down her pencil, likely gives a sigh, but then an odd thing occurs. She notices that her own toes are hankering to imitate that dance that the speaker has just observed and described.

The speaker’s toes were "once stately," remaining dignified and stationary in her shoes, but now they are becoming as rebellious as those dancing snow flakes; they want the speaker to get up and engage them in a dance. They want to commit to a "jig," having been prompted by all those flaking snow ballerinas.

© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on December 07, 2020:

You are welcome, Umesh Chandra Bhatt, and thank you for the comment.

Dickinson's poems are the best. She became a master craftsman, producing some the best poems ever written. She remains an American classic, well worth deep attention and study. She never wastes a word, managing to communicate brilliantly with as few as possible—and that is the hallmark of good poetry. Her unique, minimalist style is always recognizable to the reader who has experienced more than one of her efforts.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 05, 2020:

Well explained. Thanks.

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