Updated date:

Emily Dickinson's “Summer for thee, grant I may be”

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.

Introduction and Text of “Summer for thee, grant I may be”

The speakers in many of Emily Dickinson’s poems prominently feature humble prayers to the Blessèd Creator, or God. As the poet adored nature’s many sounds and varieties of colors, she sought to feel her connection through the spiritual level of being to everything that makes up the created world. Her favorite season of summer often served as the resplendent muse that allowed her entry into the mystical nature of sound and sight.

Although, on their physical level, those sense-tinged images are beautiful and inspiring, Emily Dickinson created characters to demonstrate the profound awareness that a deeper, even more beautiful and inspiring level of existence could be intuited. As her speakers approach the ineffable, the language grows more intensely mystical, requiring that special reading that all poetry requires but on an ever deeper level.

Summer for thee, grant I may be

Summer for thee, grant I may be
When Summer days are flown!
Thy music still, when Whipporwill
And Oriole — are done!

For thee to bloom, I'll skip the tomb
And row my blossoms o'er!
Pray gather me —
Anemone —
Thy flower — forevermore!

The Poem in Song

Vincent van Gogh's "Roses and Anemones"

Commentary

Emily Dickinson’s speaker is addressing God, as she prays to retain her special knowledge and insight into musical and visual imagery that have been especially brought into existence for understanding creation through the art of poetry.

First Stanza: Mystical Metaphors

Summer for thee, grant I may be
When Summer days are flown!
Thy music still, when Whippoorwill
And Oriole — are done!

The speaker begins by addressing the Divine Belovèd, imploring the Heavenly Father to allow her continued mystical existence even after the beautiful summer season’s glowing days “are flown!” The inspiration in which she has reveled is exemplified in the music of the “Whippoorwill” and the “Oriole.” Both the music of the bird songs and the warmth and beauty of a summer day are contained in the mere reference in the half-line “Thy music still. . . .” The use of the familiar second-person pronouns, thee and thy, hint that the speaker is addressing God; for only God, the Heavenly Reality, the Over-Soul, is close enough to the individual soul to require such a personally familiar pronoun in the Dickinsonian era of common parlance, as well as in that of present-day English.

Dickinson’s innate ability to intuit from nature the creative power of the Creator urged the poet in her to build entirely new worlds in which she mentally resided, as her soul overflowed with ever new bliss of knowledge. Such knowledge did not arrive in pairs of opposites as earthly knowledge does, but rather that state of knowing afforded her direct perception of truth and reality; thus, she employed metaphor as readily as a child employs new and special ways of putting into language concepts he/she has never before encountered.

A useful example of this child-metaphor engagement can be observed when hearing little toddler girl call a hangnail a string. The toddler who had experienced a hangnail but had no name for it still manages to communicate the reality of the hangnail because she does know the nature of both the finger condition and what a string looks like. Although Dickinson is communicating well beyond earthly reality, she can produce a metaphor for the ineffable as easily as a child can name a hangnail a string.

Second Stanza: Rowing in Bliss

For thee to bloom, I'll skip the tomb
And row my blossoms o'er!
Pray gather me —
Anemone —
Thy flower — forevermore!

The speaker then offers a very cheeky remark in claiming she will “skip the tomb.” But she can do so because she has already just revealed the reason for such an ability. The Divine Reality has been blossoming in her. She can tout her connection and continued existence through Immortality because she knows her soul is everliving, everlasting, and remains a spark of ever-new power.

The speaker then rows her immortal sea craft—the soul—which blooms eternally like the most beautiful flowers that earth has to offer. But even with such knowledge of such power, she remains humble, praying that the Divine Belovèd continues to “gather [her]” as bouquets of other earthly flowers are gathered. She then names the beautiful flower which metaphorically represents her blossoming soul, “Anemone,” whose variety of colors as well as whose musical name play in the minds and hearts of readers, as perfect metaphorical representations of the ineffable entity—the ever-blissful soul.

The minimalism of the Dickinson canon speaks volumes—more than any voluminous text could do. Such an accomplishment belongs to the wisdom of the ages and to the musing, meditative mind that enters the hallways of reality on the astral and causal levels of existence where artists find their most profound inspiration. Those who can turn those inspirations into words will always find an audience down through the centuries as long as this plane of earthly existence continues its twirl though space.

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 that 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 publications 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 on the poems of Emily Dickinson

The text I use for commentaries on the poems of Emily Dickinson

© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on July 08, 2020:

Thank you, Ivana, for your response. You are correct; Dickinson's style and subject focus both render her unique among poets of all ages. She can reveal more profundities in one line than many can muster in their entire collections. There is much to learn from her wide knowledge base as well. She was a deep thinker, whose feelings ran deep, and she possessed the intellect to express her thoughts and feelings in well-crafted little dramas. She, indeed, created her own little world in her poems.

Ivana Divac from Serbia on July 08, 2020:

Dickinson’s poems are one of a kind. This was a very interesting read!

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on July 05, 2020:

Nice hearing from you, Louise! Yes, Dickinson’s poems are the best. Always worth spending time with.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on July 04, 2020:

I've always enjoyed reading her poems.

Related Articles