The Music That Isn’t: On Emily Dickinson’s "The Earth Has Many Keys…"

The Earth has many keys…
Emily Dickinson

The earth has many keys,
Where melody is not
Is the unknown peninsula.
Beauty is nature’s fact.

But witness for her land,
And witness for her sea,
The cricket is her utmost
Of elegy to me.


The diversity of keys means a diversity of melodies, and one wonders if order and the beauty which comes from order indeed are the “fact” of the entirety of the world. That which lies ahead – those lands we will travel to later – may not have melodies, only cacophonies.

But beauty is all we have here, in its myriad display.

And yet, what of the cricket’s song? We compared lands in the first stanza: where we were was not unknown. Now we move from that land to the sea, and as we move away from the land of the known, where beauty and order govern, we encounter a song that is a chirp, that bears witness to all.

There is beauty, but a melody? A diversity of keys? In the cricket’s fragmented burst we know beauty, and we know the unspeakable.

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