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.

 

grumblegrumble

Advertisements

title.png

The Rule of the Playground

Genre: Young Adult | Comic | Comedy |

Kiefer Bloodman is a troubled child. A misfit and social outcast at best, the Rule of the Playground, “survival of the fittest”, has become an ingrained way of life for him. But where lies the balance between “survival” and “schoolyard bully”?

This four-paged character study about childhood societal pressure vs. authentic expression was produced and presented for the online-based course, How to Make a Comic Book, led by artist and mentor, Patrick Yurick (of Making Comics fame).

Click here to start reading.

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.

grumblegrumble

Admiration of the Self

film_star_helen_twelvetrees_rutland_gates_bellevue_hill_sydney_early_1936_-_photograph_by_sam_hood_2963094580

I’ve never quite taken the time to admire my body before. You see women and young girls alike do this in the mirror all the time – it is, at least in movies and TV, one of our most favourite past-times, second to chasing after abusive relationships and in deep meditation over which brand and colour of shoes we should buy this week (thankfully, this ugly trend in media is starting to shift, to great degrees of empowerment).

 

But this particular expenditure of time – admiring myself – wasn’t something I really allowed myself to do. Oh, sure, you look yourself over when doing your hair, or makeup, or whatever. You look yourself over when you’re obsessed with finding that invisible (and likely non-existent) speck of lunch between your teeth – but never have I really stopped to look at myself. To confirm myself, let fall away the flaws, to look myself seriously eye-to-eye, smile, and mean it.

 

When you’re going through a personal transformation, be it something major like realizing you’re transgender, or even something super-minor like “what would my hair look straightened today?” (okay somewhat-minor, not really), it can be difficult, sometimes near impossible, to see the bright side of uncertainty.

 

The fact is, life is full of uncertainty. People try to beat this out by indulging in the constant chase that is “knowledge”, in preparation for everything and everything. But what does this produce? Just a bunch of know-it-alls (I’m sorry, apparently they’re called experts) who, despite all their research on various topics, will still find themselves in the midst of “fight of flight” when the very realness of uncertainty comes to knock at their door.

 

On the same coin, we’re so busy as a culture self-fellating when it comes to everything “wrong” with our lives and how we don’t have enough as it is. The consistency in which we compare, contrast, judge, resent, and envy those around us, that we don’t stop enough to really look at ourselves in the mirror and accept where we’re at and, most importantly, love ourselves for where we’re at.

 

Gonna tell you a little story. So buckle in and get your Dollarama-certified reading glasses out. Ready? Got your tea or water in hand? Snacks all good? Aight.

 

Little Glass House

I was born prematurely, with a bucketful of medical issues. My mother’s cesarean brought forth an inky-dinky seven-month fetus so small, I just fit the length of my father’s hand. Underdevelopments, surgeries, complications, all to spend the first two months of my life in an incubator. Doctors were so skeptical of my survival, that my baptism took place at the hospital, with only my parents, my godmother, and the staff present – just in case.

 

But, obviously, things worked out. Whew! Turns out this 2-pounds, 5-ounce premie had been scooped out a fighter, and kicked some major ass, despite all odds.

At the time of this post’s original draft, back in 2014, I found great difficulty in confiding to friends and family about my journey to transition from male to female (which I termed “regeneration”, after binging Doctor Who episodes on Netflix), because, deep down, not being a cis-gendered woman brought me great shame. In the original draft, I wrote: Even when I do eventually come to fully regenerate, I still won’t be a cis-gendered woman. And that really kills. I had become ashamed of the body I fought so hard to keep alive.

 

Journey of Self Acualization

During that time, I’d just delved into the surface of personal development, consuming all superficial forms of “growth”, from personal Facebook feed quotes, to base self-help books, to even shows like FX’s Wilfred, starring Elijah Wood.

 

But it wasn’t enough. Fear had kept me rooted to the ground for a long time. No matter the amount of inspirational quotes, the number of personal pep rallies I’d hosted in my mind, I couldn’t move forward. Even though it was clear what had to be done and what my desires were, when time came to “fight or flight”, I couldn’t budge, couldn’t free myself.

 

Then one day, while scrolling Facebook for daily inspiration, a particular quote macro roved into eyesight and changed my attitude forever:

 

Knowing is not enough; we must Apply.
Willing is not enough; we must Do.
– Bruce Lee

 

Bruce Lee. Master of self discipline. Contemporary of self empowerment. That guy knew what had to be done, wasn’t afraid to get shit done, and didn’t care who was around to see or judge.

 

The fact is, uncertainty got the best of me. Even though I wanted more out of life, and knew I was meant for greater purpose, I was not applying myself. I was not putting into practice  tools like vulnerability that, deep down, would help me to grow in the way I needed to.

 

It’s true. I do talk to Wilfred – He’s the only one actually helping me

The best example of this is the season 2 episode of Wilfred, when Ryan consumes that imported self-reflection weed when he’s trying to figure out why Kristen’s baby freaks him out.

 

In the episode, Ryan’s high brings him to a plane of subconscious existence, where he’s met by a spirit guide. Ryan is very willing to allow himself to be led by the spirit guide. But Wilfred appears, representing Ryan’s resistance and denial, self-hate and pride – fear of the unknown – so desperate to tug Ryan back to what was safe, what was known. It’s a strange dichotomy, considering in the reality of the show, Wilfred constantly pushes Ryan out of his comfort zone, hell or high water, to guide him on a path of self acceptance and authenticity.

 

For most people, letting go of yourself is drowned out by  the torrential need need for control, the sense of fearful self-consciousness, the want to be liked and validated. It’s like attempting to keep atop a bucking rodeo bronco. But what it all comes down to is self-confidence. And most of us, while confident in certain areas in our lives, are not at all confident when it comes to our souls, our personal expression, who we truly are in the presence of others – especially in the presence of uncertainty.

 

So one day after having read that Bruce Lee quote, I made a vow to at least try to exorcize these inner demons. People do this in a dozen-thousand different ways: blogging, making art, meditating (which is a wonderful habit that you should really consider investing in).

 

What did I do? I smoked a load of weed and decided to get dressed.

 

Seriously. When it comes to the ideology of personal development the quote that “weed shows you who you are” stands firmly true in most every case. I’m not going to wax poetic on the benefits of toking – because, let’s be honest, Cheech and Chong’s fan base do enough of that already on the duo’s respective Facebook pages – but what I will say is that marijuana put me in tune with me – intense negative feelings, insecurities, self-destructive thoughts – complete awareness of depression. These were the demons that needed to be tangled with.

 

The Power of Self Compels You

My choice of wardrobe had every little bit a part in this downward spiral of toxicity in my life. Usually I throw on jeans, a t-shirt, and sometimes some plaid flannel. I’d fall into “guy mode” and automatically fit the behavioral bill in an attempt at “survival”, whatever that meant.

 

But that day, I decided to wear whatever in the blue blazing hell I damn well wanted to. There were old goth clothes I’d only worn a couple of times, that no longer really fit anymore. I said fuck it and put them on, anyway. When I took a look in my parents’ full-sized closet mirrors, I froze for a moment. Paused, like a movie.

 

The person who stared back wore a fearless expression. Her eyes were confident, hard-set, with a resting bitch face that could send Agatha Trunchbull, herself, out a classroom window. This reflection wasn’t anybody I’d recognized before. She looked damn good. A smile broke across her face. She was confident as all fuck.

 

I’ve never felt confident in my life, and I could see it so clearly in my eyes, my posture. I looked like a strong woman. An empowered woman. I looked myself in the eye. These were my eyes. They were not sad eyes. These were the eyes of confidence. I saw before me a woman who was sure of herself, who accepted herself as she was – flaws and all. Despite the “threat” of uncertainty, this woman didn’t even bat a goddamn eye.

 

My reflection smiled at me, and meant it.

 

Just Leap off the Edge, My Love – and Fly

If you’re a person who struggles with self acceptance, who wants desperately to find fulfillment in self-love but doesn’t know how to achieve it, don’t despair. We’re all in this together. All it takes is a solid look in the mirror. It’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of our bodies, be we cis-gendered or transgendered. But that sort of focus doesn’t help. Work towards seeing yourself for you, not judgmental of whatever stares back in your reflection, and stand tall in that.

 

Stand tall in your you-ness. Accept yourself for who you are, for where your at. Don’t let the fear of uncertainty get you between its claws. It takes a lot of hard work and a ton of dedication, but it IS POSSIBLE to break free, to shine in your you-ness.

 

All it takes is the courage to stand in front of the mirror and tell whatever stares back that self-appointed love and acceptance are readily available.

 

grumblegrumble