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Indian Summer

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Indian Summer

Another American poet with a good  October poem is Emily Dickinson. This poem I always remember because I saw it first a quarter century ago preparing for the AP English test. When published in 1864 it actually was labeled ‘October’. While there are words and even metaphors in common with the later poem on October by Helen Hunt Jackson, Dickinson takes a much different tack – focusing  not on the change of seasons – but a pause in the transition (what we Midwesterners used to call ‘Indian Summer’).

There is this idea that the warm spell of weather implies that summer, and perhaps life, can go on forever – or at least return again and again forever – as the ‘ranks of seeds their witness bear.’ This idea of immortality deftly becomes a religious metaphor on the seasons(sacraments) of life and death, and what awaits us in the transition and rebirth. Dickinson’s skill lies in showing us this universal metaphor – framing it in so few words – and imparting  such a sense of awe. --Steve

These are the days when Birds come back

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

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