Summer’s end: On Dickinson’s “A South Wind – has a pathos…” (719)

“A South Wind – has a pathos…” (719)
Emily Dickinson

A South Wind – has a pathos
Of individual Voice –
As One detect on Landings
An Emigrant’s address.

A Hint of Ports and Peoples –
And much not understood –
The fairer – for the farness –
And for the foreignhood.


“A South Wind” is Notos, “the wet, storm-bringing wind of late summer and early autumn” (I double checked the references to Hesiod on that page; they’re accurate enough). The end of summer contains “a pathos / Of individual Voice:” “pathos” isn’t just suffering, it can be any passive state, any “accident” or “characteristic.” Here, that “passive state” which might be dismissed as incidental is all there is: one has to wonder if the “pathos” is constitutive “of individual Voice.”

We are moved immediately to simile. The simile reinforces our suspicion: Emigrate describes the move relative to the point of departure… By contrast, immigrate describes the move relative to the destination. We wonder where our “emigrant” came from and so look at his “address” in two ways: his point of origin and what he has left to us. “Land-ings” is of the utmost importance (my hyphen, not Dickinson’s): we have been moved, we may not know where we are ourselves. In “detecting” – some of us, for not all will detect – we manage to become grounded. “Land” is something we create, ironically enough through another.

But again, this is all simile: the literal identification of the South Wind with the detection of “an Emigrant’s address” cannot hold. One reason why it cannot hold is the falling away of the “individual:” our detecting the address on landings creates a relation between two, even as that relation is unspoken. Whereas whatever was in the South Wind was almost characteristic “of individual Voice.”

So again, another abrupt shift, into the second stanza – but this shift is hidden: it is not announced by “as” or the invocation of a storm wind. We don’t know if “A Hint of Ports and Peoples” refers to the “South Wind” or the simile. It is likely that the second stanza is an attempt to unite the two halves of the first stanza, but this is not the most successful attempt: “much not understood” stands out.

Still – “ports and peoples” tells us there are many locations created between individuals, and many individuals. Summer is elsewhere, and it is not meant to be understood. The erotic undertones of summer drive not only the sensual love most poetry obsesses over, but also friendship and love of one’s country, both adopted and native (“farness” and “foreignhood” could refer to where one came from, or where one is going. There might be more significance to “Emigrant,” though). To understand what is going on fully, one must see eros has having two aspects (cf. Benardete in The Rhetoric of Morality and Philosophy): eros implies distance, yes: one is always chasing after the fair beloved. But one wants unity, too. The contradiction, the fact these two elements cannot truly be put together, constitutes eros.

How eros works on the mind was told to us by Socrates in something that sounds like a myth. But whether it is or not I leave up to you. Phaedrus, 255 b-e:

And now that he has come to welcome his lover and to take pleasure in his company and converse, it comes home to him what a depth of kindliness he has found, and he is filled with amazement, for he perceives that all his other friends and kinsmen have nothing to offer in comparison with this friend in whom there dwells a god. So as he continues in this converse and society, and comes close to his lover in the gymnasium and elsewhere, that flowing stream which Zeus, as the lover of Ganymede, called the ‘flood of passion,’ pours in upon the lover. And part of it is absorbed within him, but when he can contain no more the rest flows away outside him, and as a breath of wind or an echo, rebounding from a smooth hard surface, goes back to its place of origin, even so the stream of beauty turns back and reenters the eyes of the fair beloved. And so by the natural channel it reaches his soul and gives it fresh vigor, watering the roots of the wings and quickening them to growth, whereby the soul of the beloved, in its turn, is filled with love. So he loves, yet knows not what he loves: he does not understand, he cannot tell what has come upon him; like one that has caught a disease of the eye from another, he cannot account for it, not realizing that his lover is as it were a mirror in which he beholds himself. And when the other is beside him, he shares his respite from anguish; when he is absent, he likewise shares his longing and being longed for, since he possesses that counterlove which is the image of love, though he supposes it to be friendship rather than love, and calls it by that name. He feels a desire – like the lover’s, yet not so strong – to behold, to touch, to kiss him, to share his couch, and now ere long the desire, as one might guess, leads to the act. (trans. R. Hackforth)

Our question in the Dickinson poem is what happened to the individual; notice how Socrates uses some kind of pre-Socratic atomistic theory here to describe how love works: passion flows into the lover and overfills him; as it comes from the beloved, when the overflow of the lover occurs, passion comes back and hits the beloved. The beloved, then, is filled with images of what the lover loves (again, credit to Benardete here): the beloved is won over to the lover by becoming what the lover wants. There’s a bit more than that going on – I’m obviously simplifying the story greatly – but now that summer is over, it is time for much more understanding of what just happened.

1 Comment

  1. Here’s some random impressions –

    new…. coming to…. mystery

    in distance (other), one perceives beauty, love

    I recall most the awe of discovery of the simplest things in just that special one’s uniqueness.

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