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These are the days when Birds come back

January 2, 2017

These are the days when Birds come back—
A very few—a Bird or two—
To take a backward look.

These are the days when skies resume
The old—old sophistries of June—
A blue and gold mistake.

Oh fraud that cannot cheat the Bee—
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief.

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear—
And softly thro’ the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf.

Oh sacrament of summer days,
Oh Last Communion in the Haze—
Permit a child to join.

Thy sacred emblems to partake—
Thy consecrated bread to take
And thine immortal wine!

–Emily Dickinson, ~1859

COMMENTARY: For much of her life, Emily Dickinson struggled with melancholy resulting from her inability to experience the religious confidence that much of her family did. Morally opposed to the idea of a God who punishes creatures for sins He himself made them liable to (“We apologize to thee/ For thine own duplicity”) and finding public displays of religiosity to be silly (“Every night they pray to an Eclipse they call father”), she nonetheless longed for certain comforts of religious assurance, a kind of lost childhood piety. She wrote to her sister-in-law in her late 20’s “I never experienced such peace and happiness as during that short time when I felt that I had found my savior”–the key words being “short” and “felt.”

This poem takes “a backward look” at that longed-for happiness through the extended metaphor of a late fall day. The blue sky and the unseasonable warmth make it seem like summer has returned. Though the speaker wishes she could let herself believe it were true and, more deeply, let herself believe that even when it was June that the light and the sunshine were more than a temporary “sophistry”–she cannot escape the burden of what she knows–the blowing leaves and the dry seeds of the coming cold. Though Dickinson never explicitly mentions religion in the poem, her use of liturgical language throughout (belief, witness, sacrements, communion) makes the object of the metaphor clear.

Though the last stanza of the poem maybe comes down with too much plump, sentimentality, I like the poem because of the beautiful phrase “sophistries of June” and the striking lines, “Almost thy plausibility/ Induces my belief.”

  1. I’ve always loved this poem.

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