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

Updated on April 14, 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 Commemorative Stamp

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Introduction and Text of "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.

Emily Dickinson

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Commentary

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

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.

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.

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.

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
The text I use for commentaries | Source

Emily Dickinson: The Poet In Her Bedroom

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    © 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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