Emily Dickinson's "Winter is good — his Hoar Delights"

Updated on January 31, 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.

Emily Dickinson

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Winter is good — his Hoar Delights"

Emily Dickinson can create speakers who are every bit as a tricky as Robert Frost’s tricky speakers. Her two-stanza, eight-line lyric announcing, "Winter is good" attests to the poet’s skill of seemingly praising while showing disdain in the same breath.

The rime scheme of "Winter is good — his Hoar Delights" enforces the slant rime predilection with the ABAB approximation in each stanza. All of the rimes are near or slant in the first stanza, while the second boasts a perfect rime in Rose/goes.

(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.")

The speaker in Emily Dickinson's short winter poem slyly humbles the cold season but not before distinguishing its multitude of genuine positive attributes.

1316 Winter is good — his Hoar Delights

Winter is good — his Hoar Delights
Italic flavor yield—
To Intellects inebriate
With Summer, or the World —

Generic as a Quarry
And hearty — as a Rose —
Invited with Asperity
But welcome when he goes.

Commentary

First Stanza: Winter's Buried Charms

Winter is good — his Hoar Delights
Italic flavor yield —
To Intellects inebriate
With Summer, or the World —

The speaker claims rather blandly that "Winter is good" but quickly adds not so plainly that his frost is delightful. That winter’s frost would delight one, however, depends on the individual’s ability to achieve a level of drunkenness with "Summer" or "the World."

For those who fancy summer and become "inebriat[ed]" with the warm season’s charms, winter takes some digging to unearth its buried charm. And the speaker knows that most folks will never bother to attempt to find anything charming about the season they least favor.

But those frozen frosts will "yield" their "Italic flavor" to those who are perceptive and desirous enough to pursue any "Delights" that may be held there. The warmth of the Italian climate renders the summer flavors a madness held in check by an other-worldliness provided by the northern climes.

The speaker's knowledge of the climate of Italy need only be superficial to assist in making the implications this speaker makes. Becoming drunk with winter, therefore, is a very different sport from finding oneself inebriated with summer, which can be, especially with Dickinson, akin to spiritual intoxication.

Second Stanza: Repository of Fine Qualities

Generic as a Quarry
And hearty — as a Rose —
Invited with Asperity
But welcome when he goes.

Nevertheless, the speaker, before her hard-hitting yet softly-applied critique, makes it clear that winter holds much to be honored; after all, the season is "Generic as a Quarry / And hearty — as a Rose." It generates enough genuine qualities to be considered a repository like a stone quarry that can be mined for all types of valuable rocks, gems, and granite.

The season is "hearty" in the same manner that a lovely flower is "hearty." The rose, although it can be a fickle and finicky plant to cultivate, provides a strength of beauty that rivals other blossoms. That the freezing season is replete with beauty and its motivating natural elements render it a fertile time for the fertile mind of the poet.

But despite the useful and luxuriant possibilities of winter, even the mind that is perceptive enough to appreciate its magnanimity has to be relieved when that frozen season leaves the premises or as the speaker so refreshingly puts it, he is "welcome when he goes."

The paradox of being "welcome" when "he goes" offers an apt conclusion to this tongue-in-cheek, left-handed praise of the coldest season. The speaker leaves the reader assured that although she recognizes and even loves winter, she can well do without his more stark realities as she welcomes spring and welcomes saying good-bye to the winter months.

Emily Dickinson: The Poet In Her Bedroom

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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