Bruce Watson: With apologies to Emily D.

Last modified: Tuesday, May 06, 2014
LEVERETT — The folks who bring us the weather tell us that in normal years, May comes during what the locals in these parts like to call “spring.” And that’s why biographers tell us that our local poet Emily Dickinson, whose death will be observed here next week, died awash in blossoms and beauty.

Born in December, raised in snowy New England, the Belle of Amherst had a special affinity for spring and wrote many odes to her favorite season.

A Light exists in Spring …

A little Madness in the Spring …

Spring comes on the world …

That, however, was then. Oh, sooooo then. This so-called spring has been, well … different. This spring itself is madness. This spring comes on the world like November. This spring’s light exists in the woodstove.

Yet Emily D. (she loved it when friends called her that) was nothing if not surprising. And a surprising new cache of poems, recently discovered in a cooler left out back at the Dickinson Homestead, suggests she must have suffered many a gray, drizzly May afternoon.

What else are we to make of this poem:

Will there really be a springtime?

Is there such a thing as May?

Could I see it from Miami

If I bought a trip one way?

Has it blossoms like a pear tree?

Has it a gentle breeze?

Did I see spring last weekend

Or was that just a tease?

Oh some snowbird

Oh some student

Oh some tourist passing by

Please to tell a little ice cube

Where the place called springtime lies.

Sure, it’s easy to catch spring fever when the high is in the 70s and the low won’t come till September. But what about this spring, when the high is in the 40s and the low is like December? Then even a belle finds it hard to ring, as this newly discovered ED poem suggests:

I’ll tell you how the sun rose

A pothole at a time

The steeples swam in hoar frost

The clouds committed crimes.

But how he set I know not

There seemed a purple glass

Another freezing spring day

Had me drunk right on my –

As you might suspect, some scholars dispute the authenticity of these new poems. Surely the demure poet in the white dress would not rhyme “glass” with a crude term for the human posterior!

Surely these poems are fakes, some scholars say. Yet none of these scholars ever spent a spring day gathering firewood or cursing what passes for an April sun in these parts. If any had, they would understand why a poet might write:

Hope is the thing with thermal underwear…


I dwell in possibility

A fairer house than spring

At least in Possibility

You don’t keep your

@$@*(%$! storm windows up till

The Fourth of July!

Time was when it was enough each spring to mutter “April is the cruelest month” and let it go at that. But T.S. Eliot was from St. Louis. Emily D. was from New England, so she knew that when it comes to cruelty, April is just a warm-up.

There’s a certain slant of light

April afternoons

Make you wonder why you ever

Came back from Cancun.

And although the official cause of Emily’s death is Bright’s disease, these new poems suggest she may have died of a broken spring.

Consider this poem, perhaps her last:

She died, this was the way she died.

Saw gray out the window again

and sighed.

And I think all of us, scholars and survivors alike, know just what she meant.

Bruce Watson’s column appears twice a month. He can be reached at opinion@gazettenet.com.