Emily Dickinson, “It’s like the Light” (297)

It’s like the Light (297)
Emily Dickinson

It’s like the Light –
A fashionless Delight –
It’s like the Bee –
A dateless – Melody –

It’s like the Woods –
Private – Like the Breeze –
Phraseless – yet it stirs
The proudest Trees –

It’s like the Morning –
Best – when it’s done –
And the Everlasting Clocks –
Chime – Noon!

Comment:

“Light”/”Bee”/”Woods”/”Breeze”/”Morning” – all these things are “like” something; “woods” is central in multiple senses. It opens the second stanza and closes it: “Trees” taken together are “Woods.” So we are being given many examples of singularities in “woods.” “Private” might be of some importance to the riddle’s solution.

Which is strange because “Light,” “Bee,” “Morning” and “Clocks” that chime are all very much public. “The” precedes each, though, and their publicity is qualified. “Light” is “fashionless.” It does not mold anything and we rarely think of it as being molded (Plato, Republic: you can create a fire and, for most intents and purposes, it will act as the sun). It is a simple delight and its power to reveal to all isn’t discussed.

“The Bee” – singular – has a “dateless – Melody.” “Dateless” is kept away from “Melody,” somewhat: the Bee fails to keep track of time. It does not mark its labors; it just sings to itself. The public benefits from the bee: flowers pollinate, other bees survive, we gather honey. And yet it seems none of that matters. The bird sings brighter, sweeter melodies.

“The Breeze’s” phraselessness at first had me thinking this poem was about eros. I don’t think that is entirely off the mark. We have talked about light as delight, about the bee in its thoughtless labors doing what the season bids. But “Woods” and “proudest Trees” complicate things. Darkness and silence are brought into the poem. While logos is absent, it isn’t hard to think of a tree as an intellectual image (cf. Shakespeare, Sonnet 73).

So what does stir the “proudest Trees?” It has to be something that’s part of a cycle, as morning will turn into evening and the day will begin again. It can’t be something entirely erotic, for while erotic desire wishes completeness, it also is thrilled with the chase. It can’t be fully rational, for the poem lacks anything discussing speech explicitly. While private, it more than likely has a public marker, and there is a peak of sorts when it is best.

My guess is that we’re talking about the want of some people to articulate thought. That want is very much an emotion, and Dickinson’s speaker has gone out of her way to make it sound natural and joyous. It’s not hard to put together another set of images that locate thought in artifice (maybe the speaker is surrounded by dead authors) and emphasize the labor and sacrifice involved. Note that “best – when it’s done” can refer only to the want; no one said anything had to result from that want.

3 Comments

  1. Ashok,

    I’ve been thinking about this poem for a couple of days, now. Its frustrating because the possibilities are endless. At first i had no ideas though the nagging feeling of knowing what shes talking about kept bubbling up.
    I know, i’m probably projecting my own feelings onto it, in the absence of concrete answerers, but i think the answer is humility. In everybody’s life there comes a point where you realize how little you knew in the past(usually at turning points – teen to twenties -forties-ect.)- “stirs the proudest trees” where all your public and private words/thoughts are reassessed – and sometimes you feel humbled by the weight of it all. The very fact that you didn’t know – yet you answered so eagerly…i’m thinking shes talking about one of those transition points.

  2. Yes, I too think it is modesty. I feel it fits in perfectly with every little detail described by Dickinson – fashionless like light because modest/immodest are like light/dark and there is no middle path there, dateless melody and so on.

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