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Emily Dickinson's "There is another sky" and "It did not surprise me"

Emily Dickinson's poems inform my own worldview as a poet and scholar. They dramatize the human spirit via deep attention to life's details.

Emily Dickinson  -  This daguerrotype circa 1847 at age 17 is likely the only authentic, extant image of the poet.

Emily Dickinson - This daguerrotype circa 1847 at age 17 is likely the only authentic, extant image of the poet.

Introduction and Text of "There is another sky"

Emily Dickinson's "There is another sky" is an innovative, or American, sonnet. The lines are short, only 3 to 5 metric feet, and with Dickinson's characteristic slant rime, the rime scheme is roughly, ABCBCDECFCGHIH.

This innovative sonnet sections itself into two quatrains and a sestet, making it a gentle melding of the English and Italian sonnets.

The speaker of the poem is announcing her intention to create a world where the pairs of opposites does not intrude. Beauty, peace, and harmony will reign uninterrupted in her new special "garden," and she is inviting her brother to come enjoy the divine atmosphere of her new creation.

(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.")

There is another sky

There is another sky,
Ever serene and fair,
And there is another sunshine,
Though it be darkness there;
Never mind faded forests, Austin,
Never mind silent fields –
Here is a little forest,
Whose leaf is ever green;
Here is a brighter garden,
Where not a frost has been;
In its unfading flowers
I hear the bright bee hum:
Prithee, my brother,
Into my garden come!

Reading of "There is another sky"

Commentary on "There is another sky"

This American (innovative) sonnet reveals an attitude dramatized in the Shakespeare sonnets: the poet's confidence in her creation of a world of beauty that will last forever.

First Quatrain: Physical Sky, Metaphysical Sky

There is another sky,
Ever serene and fair,
And there is another sunshine,
Though it be darkness there;

In the first quatrain, the speaker claims that in addition to the sky of the physical universe, there is an additional sky in existence. But this other sky is "ever serene and fair."

She then reports that there is also "another sunshine," which is capable of shining through darkness in this other place.

Second Quatrain: No Fading in the Metaphysical Universe

Never mind faded forests, Austin,
Never mind silent fields -
Here is a little forest,
Whose leaf is ever green;

The speaker then directly addresses another person, telling him that he should ignore "faded forests," and she calls the addressee by name, "Austin," who happens to be the brother of the poet. She then tells Austin also to ignore the "silent fields."

The reason he should ignore those faded forests and silent fields is that in this place to which she is inviting Austin, the "little forest" contains leaves that are perpetually green.

The speaker remains very mysterious about this place where the sky, sunshine, forest, fields, and leaves behave differently from the physical universe.

Sestet: Invitation to the Metaphysical Garden

Here is a brighter garden,
Where not a frost has been;
In its unfading flowers
I hear the bright bee hum:
Prithee, my brother,
Into my garden come!

The speaker now claims that the place to which she refers is "a brighter garden," and this garden never experiences the killing effects of "frost." Its flowers remain "unfading" while she listens pleasurably to "the bright bee hum."

The final couplet is the invitation to her brother to come into this wondrous garden: "Prithee, my brother, / Into my garden come!"

The Dickinson Riddle

This little American sonnet is one of Dickinson's many riddles. Her speaker never states explicitly that the garden is her poetry, but still, she is inviting her brother in to read her poems.

Dickinson's speaker is implying throughout the sonnet that she has constructed a whole new world, where things can live untested by the molestations of the physical plane of life. The sky can remain "serene and fair."

And the sun can even shine through the darkness. Forests never die out, and the fields are always bursting with life; they never lie fallow as in the real world. And the trees enjoy wearing green leaves forever. She knows all this because she has created it.

And like the master writer of the Shakespeare sonnets, Dickinson's speaker knows that she has fashioned out of crude nature an art that will provide pleasure in perpetuity.

That she has the courage to invite her beloved brother into her world demonstrates the confidence she has in her creations.

Emily Dickinson - circa 1859 - age 29 with Kate Scott Turner.  This daguerrotype is purported to be an image of the poet, but it has not been authenticated.

Emily Dickinson - circa 1859 - age 29 with Kate Scott Turner. This daguerrotype is purported to be an image of the poet, but it has not been authenticated.

Introduction and Text of "It did not surprise me"

As in her riddle-poem, "I have a Bird in spring," Dickinson is employing the bird metaphor to muse on the possibility that her special awareness might abandon her.

The bird becomes a useful poetic device for this poet as she often bestows on her talent the characteristic of flight.

Similar to her riddle-poem, "I have a Bird in spring," in this poem, Dickinson is also featuring the metaphorical bird as her mystical muse, as she ponders the possibility of that little birdling flying away from her, leaving her heartbroken.

However, unlike the riddle aspect in "I have a Bird in spring," she allows her speaker to report first as if she is merely describing an actual bird. She then shifts to a questioning format focusing on the mere thought that her muse might fly off as a bird would do.

The speaker must leave the issue unanswered because she will retain that question as long as she continues to create. After all, creative artists can never know if or when their inspiration might vanish and never return.

It did not surprise me

It did not surprise me –
So I said – or thought –
She will stir her pinions
And the nest forgot,

Traverse broader forests –
Build in gayer boughs,
Breathe in Ear more modern
God's old fashioned vows –

This was but a Birdling –
What and if it be
One within my bosom
Had departed me?

This was but a story –
What and if indeed
There were just such coffin
In the heart instead?

Reading of "It did not surprise me"

Commentary on "It did not surprise me"

The speaker metaphorically likens her muse—which she knows is bound to her mystical insight—to a bird, as she ruminates on the possibility of losing the blessing provided by that spiritual entity.

First Stanza: An Awakened Thought

It did not surprise me –
So I said – or thought –
She will stir her pinions
And the nest forgot,

The speaker begins her report by confessing her lack of "surprise" at some event, which turns out to be that of a bird stirring and leaving its nest.

She inserts between her opening statement and the bird’s first movement that upon realizing her lack of surprise, she spoke out but then rephrased her claim to the fact that she merely thought about the following events.

The final two lines of the stanza hold the main possibility of an activity as she states that this bird will begin fluttering its wings for flight and then leave its nest. The bird forsaking its nest will then not remember that it had ever lived there.

Such is the nature of natural creatures, as well as certain metaphorical birds that are likened to the muse. If this muse leaves permanently, it will likely not remember that it once inspired such and such a soul.

Interestingly, Dickinson employed the past tense "forgot" but clearly the essential meaning is "forget." She likely used the past tense because it offers a closer rime with "thought."

On the other hand, the meaning may also demand that "forgot" be read as the shortened form of the past participle, as in the nest will be forgotten. Through her employment of minimalism and ellipsis, the poet leaves out "nest will be," demanding that that phrase be understood.

(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.")

Second Stanza: Ranging to New Lands

Traverse broader forests –
Build in gayer boughs,
Breathe in Ear more modern
God's old fashioned vows –

After stirring its pinions and flying from its nest, this bird will roam in new territories or "broader forests." It will build its new nest in a place deemed happier for its circumstances, that is, "gayer boughs."

The bird will listen to new sounds, accompanied by the blessings of its Creator, Who has promised to guide and guard all of His creatures.

At this point, the bird has taken on few metaphorical qualities. The report could be that of merely dramatizing what any young bird might do, after awakening to the delicious reality of being able to fly and range wide from its original location.

Third Stanza: Bird in the Bosom

This was but a Birdling –
What and if it be
One within my bosom
Had departed me?

The speaker now confesses that the little flying creature she has been describing was, in fact, a simple little bird, or "Birdling." But then she shifts her focus to the "One" that resides in her heart, asking the fundamental question, "what if my little bird-muse leaves me?"

In her poem, "I have a Bird in spring," Dickinson has also described her mystical muse as a bird. That poem behaves as one of her many riddle-poems, as she seems to be describing some impossible entity which can fly from her but then return bringing her gifts from beyond the sea.

That particular metaphoric bird has the power to calm her in times of stress. Like that poem, which is one of her most profound, this one, "It did not surprise me," remains on the same consistent plane of mystical awareness.

Clearly, the bird as a metaphorical vehicle for the soul (muse or mystically creative spirit) remains quite appropriate.

Fourth Stanza: A Pregnant Inquiry

This was but a story –
What and if indeed
There were just such coffin
In the heart instead?

The speaker makes another admission, that thus far she has been merely speculating about her bird/muse flying off from its nest in her heart/mind/soul. And then she poses another inquiry, repeating the quaint phrase "[w]hat and if" preceding her question.

This pregnant question employs the term "coffin" indicating the dire and deadly situation that would exist in her mind/heart/soul, if her bird/muse did, in fact, fly away to explore vaster forests and build on more jovial boughs.

The speaker suggests in her musing that her heart would be that "coffin" if such an event materialized.

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: Can you give a summary of Dickinson's "There is another sky"?

Answer: Dickinson's speaker is implying throughout the sonnet that she has constructed a whole new world, where things can live untested by the molestations of the physical plane of life. The sky can remain "serene and fair." And the sun can even shine through the darkness. Forests never die out, and the fields are always bursting with life; they never lie fallow as in the real world. And the trees enjoy wearing green leaves forever. She knows all this because she has created it.

Question: What influence or impact does Emily Dickinson's "There Is Another Sky" poem deliver?

Answer: A possible impact of Dickinson's "There is another sky" is that the reader may come to realize the nature of alternate modes of thinking; however, the exact "influence or impact" of any poem is highly personal and individualized.

Question: What are some sad and gloomy aspects of life mentioned in "There is another sky"?

Answer: According to the speaker in Dickinsons's "There is another sky," some of the negative aspects of life include darkness, faded forests, silent fields, green leaves turning brown, frost, and fading flowers.

Question: What is the theme of Emily Dickinson's poem "There is another sky"?

Answer: The theme of Dickinson's "There is another sky" is poetry creation.

Question: What is the theme of Emily Dickinson's "There is another sky"?

Answer: The focus of the theme is the poet's confidence in her creation of a world of beauty that will last forever.

Question: If the “little forest” and “brighter garden“ refer to home, what do you think the “Green leaf,” “Unfading flower,” and “bright bee” refer in the poem?

Answer: "Little forest” and “brighter garden“ are metaphors for her metaphysical garden of poetry; therefore, the “leaf" that "is ever green,” “unfading flower,” and “bright bee” refer metaphorically to her poems.

Question: What kind of sky does the speaker mention in the first two lines of Emily Dickinson's "There is another sky"?

Answer: A sky that remains calm and bright.

Question: What kind of sky does

Emily Dickinson's mention in the poem "There is another sky" in the first two lines?

Answer: The first two lines describe a sky that is always calm and cloudless.

Question: What is this poem about?

Answer: This American (innovative) sonnet reveals an attitude dramatized in the Shakespeare sonnets: the poet's confidence in her creation of a world of beauty that will last forever.

Question: What is "inversion" as a figure of speech?

Answer: As a literary device or figure of speech, inversion reverses the ordinary word order in a sentence, such as subjects, verbs, and objects. The only "inversion" in Dickinson's "The is another sky" is "Into my garden come!" She likely did this to effect the rime with "hum" two lines prior.

(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: What style of lyric poem is Emily Dickinson's "There is another sky?

Answer: Emily Dickinson's "There is another sky" is an innovative, or American, sonnet. The lines are short, only 3 to 5 metric feet, and with Dickinson's characteristic slant rime, the rime scheme is roughly, ABCBCDECFCGHIH. This innovative sonnet sections itself into two quatrains and a sestet, making it a gentle melding of the English and Italian sonnets.

Question: Does Dickinson's poem, "There is another sky," allude to "The Sower" by Victor Hugo?

Answer: Emily Dickinson's "There is another sky" contains no allusions to Victor Hugo's "The Sower."

Question: What is the other sky?

Answer: Dickinson's sonnet reveals an attitude dramatized in the Shakespeare sonnets: the poet's confidence in her creation of a world of beauty that will last forever. The other metaphorical, metaphysical sky represents that created world.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

Comments

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on February 27, 2018:

Alex,

My commentaries are not influenced by any of the "critical theories" that you listed. They are based on my personal interpretation with a bit of influence from New Criticism: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/learn/glossary-te...

Hope this helps.

Blessings,

Linda Sue Grimes

(Maya Shedd Temple)

Alex on February 27, 2018:

i would like to know what critial theory goes with this. (Ex: Feminisim, marxism, archetypal, and new historicism) And if so can you explain why

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on February 26, 2018:

"Faded forests," "darkness," "silent fields," "fading flowers"—all appear on the physical, material level of being—in other words, in the real world.

The speaker is creating a metaphysical, or alternative world, in which forests do not fade, no darkness exists, fields do not lie fallow, and flowers do not fade. She is creating this world with her poetry.

The speaker is inviting her dear brother into this world she is creating with her poetry—which is the other world that has "another sky." She refers to her created poetry world as her "garden."

Hope this helps, Maylene! Thanks for asking.

Maylene on February 26, 2018:

What do faded forest stand for?

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on May 07, 2016:

Well, I'm so glad, Harish! I guess my efforts are not in vain.

Harish Mamgain from New Delhi , India on May 07, 2016:

Hello Linda, ' there is another sky ' is a lovely poem. I enjoyed the poem more after reading your fine commentary. Thank you.