Emily Dickinson's "The Gentian weaves her fringes"

Updated on May 21, 2018
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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.

Introduction and Text of "The Gentian weaves her fringes"

Dickinson kept the Sabbath by staying home, as she so colorfully expressed on in her poem, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church." But while others were content to participate in the traditional church services, Dickinson created speakers who marveled in the natural surroundings to the point of uplifting those natural creatures to divine entities in the rarified spiritual air.

As most readers know, Emily Dickinson lived a cloistered life resembling that of a monastic, earning herself the title, "Nun of Amherst." Her poem, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church,” celebrates this cherished belief held by “the nun of Amherst” that merely staying home and worshipping could lead one to heaven instead of waiting for death. In the "Some keep the Sabbath" poem, the speaker creates her own church with a bird serving the position of the choir director and fruit trees serving as the roof of her church. And a the sermon is preached by none other than "God"—"a noted Clergyman."

Like the "Some keep the Sabbath" poem, "The Gentian weaves her fringes" also finds the speaker creating her own church along with a church funeral service that she employs metaphorically as the death or departure of the summer season. The echo of a traditional prayer caps the little drama with beauty and leaves the reader in highly spiritual atmosphere of the divine little Dickinson created church.

The Gentian weaves her fringes

The Gentian weaves her fringes —
The Maple's loom is red —
My departing blossoms
Obviate parade.

A brief, but patient illness —
An hour to prepare,
And one below this morning
Is where the angels are —
It was a short procession,
The Bobolink was there —
An aged Bee addressed us —
And then we knelt in prayer —
We trust that she was willing —
We ask that we may be.
Summer — Sister — Seraph!
Let us go with thee!

In the name of the Bee —
And of the Butterfly —
And of the Breeze — Amen!

Musical Rendition of "The Gentian weaves her fringes"

Commentary

The speaker metaphorically likens the end of summer to the departure of the soul of a loved one, creating a little funeral drama in a church with a final prayer offering.

First Stanza: Observation of the Departing Blooms

The Gentian weaves her fringes —
The Maple's loom is red —
My departing blossoms
Obviate parade.

The speaker observes that the Gentian flower that grows billowy edges has been weaving those edges while the red maple tree remains looming overheard. But then she reveals that she is reporting not a simple celebration of blooming plants, but instead she will be describing the departures of "blossoms." Those blooming flowers are departing because summer is coming to an end.

Second Stanza: Drama of a Church Service

A brief, but patient illness —
An hour to prepare,
And one below this morning
Is where the angels are —
It was a short procession,
The Bobolink was there —
An aged Bee addressed us —
And then we knelt in prayer —
We trust that she was willing —
We ask that we may be.
Summer — Sister — Seraph!
Let us go with thee!

The speaker then creates a fascinating scenario calling the short summer season a "brief, but patient illness." Of course, it is the grieving speaker who feels the illness that her beloved summer with all of its warmth, colors, and inviting other sense pleasures will soon be departing. Thus she is metaphorically likening the end of summer to the end of the life of a beloved friend or relative.

And she is doing so for a very specific reason. Just as the speaker averred in "Some Keep the Sabbath," she is creating a special church service. This time it is a funeral service that includes "the Bobolink" and "an aged Bee" who offer eulogies for the departing loved one.

The speaker then proclaims that the funeral attendees all "knelt in prayer." The prayer expresses the wish that the departing soul is doing so willingly. She then offers startling remark, naming the departing one not only "Summer" but "Sister" and "Seraph." This departing soul is close as a sister and beloved as an angel. Thus this speaker expresses the wish to accompany Summer on its departing journey.

Third Stanza: A Final Prayer Offering

In the name of the Bee —
And of the Butterfly —
And of the Breeze — Amen!

The completion of the prayer echoes the many prayers that are offered weekly in most churches. But instead of "In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit," this speaker's created natural church prayer pays homage to the natural creatures, Bee, Butterfly, and Breeze. She then appends the same devotional closing found in most if not all Christian prayers, "Amen!"

Emily Dickinson

Source

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.

Thomas H. Johnson's The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson The text I use for commentaries

Thomas H. Johnson's The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

The text I use for commentaries
The text I use for commentaries | Source

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.

Finding Emily Dickinson in the power of her poetry

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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