“I… am small, like the wren; and my hair is bold, like the chestnut burr; and my eyes, like the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves.”

I… am small, like the wren; and my hair is bold, like the chestnut burr; and my eyes, like the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves. (Dickinson)

At first, I thought whoever would write such a thing had to be hitting on the recipient. But I couldn’t really make head or tail of this without looking at pictures of a wren and a chestnut burr. (I am purposely ignoring the larger context of the letter. Somehow I suspect this was meant to have an impact all its own.)

A wren is really small. But many species sing loudly and the songs can be intricate. A chestnut burr isn’t just “bold,” with a hazel/brown color. It’s extremely thorny.

So Dickinson is calling herself small and bold, loud and annoying, musical and a seed all at once. The associations can’t be disassociated: you can’t have one without the other. Which brings us to “the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves.”

Only the burr gives you a hint that she’s talking about color. I don’t know that she cares about color with the sherry image. What seems to be at stake are a host of things: hospitality, depth, pleasure in another’s company. A certain richness and sweetness. What her eyes are about is not being remembered, but the moment where one could choose to remember another.

I was talking about Jonah today and spent a lot of time emphasizing that maybe what God wanted wasn’t immediate conversion, but moments where one could possibly convert. The sailors in the storm versus Nineveh; neither has to be a crisis, but the latter especially not so. In a way, while you’re cleaning up after the guest, the enormity of what just passed hits you. I know there are times where I’ve fallen in love not during, but after. Those moments aren’t really choices. They’re more like the whole revealed, all at once, and it is too much to take in.

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