Spirituality in Dickinson’s “I’ll Tell You How the Sun Rose” [Analysis]

I’ll tell you how the sun rose, –
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.

The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
“That must have been the sun!”

But how he set, I know not.
There seemed a purple stile.
Which little yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while

Till when they reached the other side,
A dominie in gray
Put gently up the evening bars,
And led the flock away.

Analysis originally published for Humber College, March 2012

Spirituality is an integral aspect of Emily Dickinson’s poem “I’ll tell you how the sun rose”. Under Dickinson’s narrative about the rising and setting sun is deep-rooted symbolism in the variety of descriptions and colours she writes about in order to convey the “birth of a new day” in relation to both spirituality and nature.

While the poem is one of Dickinson’s shortest, the structure includes a lot of vibrancy and description. Within the poem’s structure, it’s interesting to note that each reference to wilderness and “warm” colours is led by a capital letter, when noting the morning’s rising sun. “The Steeples swam in Amethyst / The news, like Squirrels, ran / the Hills untied their Bonnets / the Bobolinks – begun / Then I said softly to myself / ‘That must have been the Sun’!” While the bobolinks’ chirping truly symbolizes the “news” of a new dawn, the use of squirrels for the sun casting new light over the lands is interesting, considering squirrels are very quick creatures, and thus shows how fast the night sky is obliterated by the sun. The steeples that Dickinson’s description refers to, alludes to that of a church steeples, and how they are cast in shadow due to the harshness of the “newborn” sunlight. In that respect, the use of the colour amethyst relates to the colour violet, which in turn symbolizes spirituality and the journey for spiritual fulfillment.

When Dickinson writes about what a setting sun looks like, describing, “There seemed a purple stile / That little Yellow boys and girls / Were climbing all the while”, she doesn’t capitalize the first letter of “purple”, indicating a possible drain of energy. In my interpretation, the “Yellow boys and girls” indicate vibrant energy; excitement over being outside and playing after a long afternoon in Sunday school. In reference to the schoolmaster, it is clear that Dickinson is referring to the end of the new day when she writes, “Till when [the children] reached the other side / A Dominie in Gray / Put gently up the evening Bars / And led the flock away”. The colour of the schoolmaster’s clothing also symbolizes the end of a new day, as gray’s meaning is rooted in stability and rest – while at the same time invokes sorrow, which reflects how the children possibly feel about having to be forced away from playing outside to be led back home, where they must go to sleep.

However, the spiritual symbolism doesn’t stop at Dickinson’s use of colours. Throughout the poem, Dickinson uses a syllable count of six, seven, and eight. The numbers six and seven bear symbolism in Christian beliefs; six referring to “The Sixth Day”, the day Man was created, and seven as “The Seventh Day”, the holy day of rest. The six- and seven-syllable lines in Dickinson’s poem respectively symbolize their spiritual meanings; “I’ll tell you how the sun rose” – seven syllables, a reference to the past, meaning restful reflection on something already occurred – “A Ribbon at a time” – six syllables, a reference to the creation of the sun (or Son, meaning Man? An idea subtly noted later in the poem when Dickinson writes, “But how he set [the sun/Son] – I know not”).

The eight-syllable lines, however, refer to darkness and shadow for the most part, as the number eight is seen in Greek lore as a sign of unhappiness or imperfection. Dickinson uses this “unhappiness” symbolism in the lines that relate to purple shadows cast over the church’s steeples and the fence, marking the end of the day and the children’s disappointment that they can’t stay out longer to play with each other.

Therefore, it’s clear as the day dies down and the children are called back inside, we as human beings are summoned to “sleep” as our own days “die” – until eventual rebirth takes place. The crack of dawn, the song of birds, and our awaking breaths, symbolizing new life, a new day. Dickinson’s narration in this poem describes the constant pattern of life and death – its cyclical nature in the form of spiritual and natural symbolism.

 

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Art is Pain

Someone I once knew in my old life pushed away friendships that weren’t “emotionally easy”, because she was too afraid to share herself deeper than skin-level. She was quiet and awkward, and intelligent and confident, and caring and angry.

I knew her as well as she’d let me, but at one time I considered her a best friend. We’d met in college and spent the first two years of our friendship getting stoned or drunk and bonding over cheesy ’80s movies, midnight adventures with our dorm-mates out in the campus arboretum, or sitting quietly around her kitchen table, gleefully roasting toothpicks over an open scented candle flame.

She was a person who protected her heart behind sky-cutting walls, but wrote beautiful agony inside her notebooks. Her poems spoke of deep and cryptic musings that flowed from the sorrow of her heart. Death. Love. Hurt. Confusion. Pain.

Very few people were granted access to her poetry. Not even her lovers were allowed inside. Distant and guarded face-to-face, it was clear to me that what she wrote was what helped her heal and to sort things out and try to find perspective in life.

The reason I bring her up now is for the simple fact that she’d come to mind recently.  Thinking of her brought on feelings of pain for myself, grief for what once had been. Thinking of my friend caused me to reflect on my own life up to now, how much pain I’ve faced in thirty-one years. How much pain I’ve run away from in thirty-one years.

Nobody enjoys the experience of pain. Real, heart-wrenching pain.

Loss.

Regret.

Embarrassment.

When given the option, we run from pain like it were a sickness – a common cold, the flu. We mask it with alcohol and drugs, with a bright smile and a gregarious nature – sometimes helping others feel good about themselves. Sometimes, we mask our pain with arrogance, overcompensation in our achievements to attempt to showcase a false perception of emotional perfection, that we have our “shit” together.

Many times, we mask our pain with our credit cards and bank accounts.

We do everything in our power to maintain a fleeting sense of happiness. To not be happy means that there is something wrong with us. That something deep within the woodwork has malfunctioned. And instead of putting on our work gloves and hard hats, ready to search within ourselves to fix the problem, we are expected to be stoic. “Pain is weakness,” people with bravado complexes say. Visual vulnerability within a person is taboo. To be genuine with ourselves is almost blasphemy, invokes feelings of shame and guilt.

But pain is a part of life, as natural as all positive emotion we share on the contrary – even if pain is unpleasant and messy, and sometimes shows us harsh and honest truths we would rather not be privy to.

The fact of the matter is that pain shows us who we really are. If we let it, pain can help us to grow and to help others who are in search for a guiding light.

We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.

~ Brené Brown

As artists, it is our duty to peel away the flesh that keeps all that is safe and secure. Emotion is the birthright of humanity, and our exploration of the deeper self – while in no way an easy task – is what allows us to speak to our audiences. This is because artists are obligated to express themselves honestly. Most of us have something evocative to say, we stand for something that resonates with other people. Therefor, it is our responsibility to speak from a place of soulfulness, worldly experience gleaned from the experience of pain.

Whether or not our audiences realize it, we relate to their pain through our own pain. As my friend displayed, art in and of itself is healing. Music resonates with the teenager going through a world-ending breakup. Television, movies, and video games offer cathartic release to wound up adults after a rough day at the office. Books and comics fuel hungry imaginations, and often inspire change.

Art heals, because art is art is pain – and pain is honesty. This is how some of the greatest works in the world, including our own, are created. [Tweet this!]

I started writing this article out of a sense of pain. Grief has been heavy on my heart over the last year, and thoughts of anger, regret, sadness, and ultimate confusion and loss threw me headlong into a hurricane of wavering depression. Some days I have an all right grasp – others, not so much.

Truth of the matter is, the friend from my old life is no longer my friend. We were too different. Needed different things than what the other was willing to offer or compromise for.

We always said our friendship was the type that “you could go years without speaking, and reconnect like nothing separated us.” I believed that.

But I had to move on.

A lot of mistakes were made on both sides. A lot of regret. It hurts like a son of a bitch, even a year later, but when I’m being honest with myself, I know letting  go and thinking on the good memories was the best decision – for the both of us. I hold no anger. No animosity. She was good to me, the best she could be. I am grateful for what we had.

But it still hurts. A fuck ton. I sat down and started to write this article in an attempt to help aid my pain to heal. And this soon became an article about developing your inner pain into art.

It’s important to do something creative and constructive when you’re feeling emotional. It’s healthy. It’s therapeutic. My friend knew this, and so do many artistic geniuses. What I especially love about this process that I feel like the reins are being given back. The emotions have relinquished their control and something tangible, shareable, is carved and fired into existence.

Our emotions are part of who we are as living, breathing, entities of this universe. When we push away our emotions and try to mask our pain with distraction, nothing is solved. On the contrary, our pain will only manifest deeper within our souls, and over time – if we don’t release it somehow – our bodies and mind will be caught in the crossfire and will pay the price in the end.

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The Whisper of the Wind

Hello, lovelies,

It’s been a while. 😦 My laptop decided to crash and burn, a fiery, dripping pulpy, mess of viruses, hard drive malfunctions, and other wonderful oddities and frustrations bestowed upon the tech world of modern advancement. Soooo … that’s where I’ve been ’til now.

Things are back online, and thankfully nothing of value was lost. I’m sorry to those whose prose I promised to look at. I will get on that promptly! In the meantime, to make up for the lack of whiny posts about how much I hate writing, enjoy a poem!

 

The Whisper of the Wind

E.E. Blake

 

Please tell me which way

The wind blows as

It whispers to and fro.

 

The trees all hiss

As they stand unwillingly

In a gale of frantic bliss.

 

A chime draws out—

A hollow clang as

The instrument is struck.

 

Speak to me, oh Whispered Wind—

Make my mind a tumble weed—

And blow away my doubt.

 

Distraction is my mortal sin

It dines with the Fog of Mind.

The pen is said to be a sword—

But all I grasp is din.

 

Peaceful wind, what do you say

As you whisper to and fro?

 

The wasps all hum

As they guard their queen

While she oversees her sons.

 

A chime draws out—

A hollow clang as

The instrument is struck.

 

Come sit with me

Oh Whispered Wind

And carry me far, far, away.

 

Two mourning doves

Perch atop a false barn’s edge

Pecking at some seed.

 

One takes a graceful drop inside—

Where the barn roof should be.

 

A hoot and flutter

Its lover stands guard

Atop the false hay loft.

 

When all is clear but for

the Whispered Wind

inside, he too, drops in.

 

Rotund little doves—

They dine like nobles

A feast for lords and ladies.

 

Then one pops out

And takes his post

While his happy queen

Feasts on.

 

There they rest now

Atop the false barn—

A survey of the yard.

 

Then as she preens

Her man takes charge—

“This is my loft” he must think

 

An ironic sight

While his wife claims

Solitude in the branches

Higher up.

 

Little doves, do tell now—

Which way does the wind blow

As it whispers to and fro?

 

Come speak to me—

Oh Whispered Wind—

And carry me to the place

Where I do not wish to go.

There Is a Fog Which Blocks My Path (Poem)

There is a Fog Which Blocks My Path

E.E. Blake

 

There is a fog which blocks my path.

Though it is silent and clear as glass,

It is a dense weight, pressing firm against

My weary mind.

 

I question the many variables that could

Possibly account for this numb, glass, cloud.

Whether these reasons are tangible or delusive,

I do not know.

 

Like a snow globe, my mind sloshes

To and fro against the dome,

While everything that matters stands rigid

At the base—

A paper-thin, wane, plastic, yellow house with

Two plastic children clad in red and green;

A paper-thin half-made plastic snowman stands

Forever in their wake.

 

All that I strive for bursts against the dome,

A snowy mushroom cloud high above the children’s heads—

And as I fight to catch ev’ry flake upon my tongue,

The heavy fog rolls in.

 

I have these memories—

I know these words—

I see these sights!

How does this taste?

How does this smell?

What did I think?

What did I feel?

 

But the fog consumes it all

Rushing rapids of creamy milk

That swallows up glacial chocolate chunks.

And all I know is gone.

I cannot recall such simple things

Though all these things are simple such.

 

Can I quell this foul fog?

Take up the globe and throw it hard—

The loud smash as glass erupts

In a liquid blast

As the plastic life cracks in half

And the base snaps off—

Watch my snowflakes

Flutter noiselessly

Amidst the mess,

Or am I just to sleep and sleep?

Sleep, Forevermore?

The Man with No Name

Another poem, for your pleasure. 🙂

 

The Man with No Name

E.E. Blake

 

The Man with No Name walks a lonely road.

The sand-laden wind whispers constant—

A banshee’s howl, forever at his ears.

With each step across the sandy dune,

His spurs trill—

Two hide tambourines,

Singing to the moon.

 

They call him the Bullet Blazer,

He is the Quickest of the Dead.

He needs not utter any threat—

For his smoking gun speaks best.

 

The Man with No Name walks a lonely road,

A road no other man would surely go.

It is a road of skulls and poisoned livers,

A road of death and blood-stained money.

 

His future bears no heirs, my friend,

For he is as good as legend.

Though his hands are quick and deadly,

There is always one man quicker.

 

The Man with No Name walks a lonely road.

He knows Fortune is a Mortal Sin,

But it is Fortune he shall take.

His grimace gleams upon the Golden prize

Which lays amidst the sand between

Three shadows reaching for their hips.

The Practitioner of Death

By Stevan AleksićUploaded by Nslazstc at en.wikipedia [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hello, everyone~

Sorry for the laaaaaaaaaaack of updates. Been busy with school and an internship. Working on some stuffs too — a couple novels. Slowly but surely.

I’m in the process of compiling some old reviews and literary/film analysis papers to this site. So please stay tuned and tell your friends. Until then, please enjoy a poem. 🙂

Yours,
E.

The Practitioner of Death
E.E. Blake

The Practitioner of Death came to visit me today.
He said to me, “My dear Penelope—
It is time for us to leave.”
Frightened, I stalled, and instead invited him in for tea.
We spoke of Life, and Life’s regrets, and yet over
And over he reminded me that after our tea,
It would be time for us to leave.

When his teacup neared empty, only a mouthful left,
I promptly offered my Practitioner of Death another.
He found the tremble in my voice amusing; he said,
“It doesn’t hurt, don’t fret—
Just a simple wagon ride, really, you mustn’t worry—
For truly, I am in quite a hurry. Dear girl, it is time for us to leave.”

I offered him biscuits, I offered him baguettes.
I offered him my maidenhood, I offered him my best!
However, there was no way on Earth that I could sway
The Practitioner of Death.

And so he led me off,
Led me off—
On a wagon ride out west.
Lost was I, baffled and mute
As the wagon lifted off
And we commenced our ride
Through the Sky of Souls.

At my shock, he let out a laugh—
The Practitioner of Death—
“A wagon ride, that’s all I said—
No pain, no fret, so please, just rest,”
Said The Practitioner of Death.

Through the clouds, I saw my home,
A distant blot—
Forget me not!
And soon we stopped at a Gate of Gold,
Where I was told to stay.

“What of you?” I asked my guide,
And with a loud laugh he cried,
“Too soon, I’ll return, with friends for you—
But now just rest, please, just rest—
For your Life starts anew, my Word is True—
Child, trust me now—
For I am The Practitioner of Death.”