Emily Dickinson, “Spring is the Period” (844)

I wouldn’t have had a clue what to do with this poem if it weren’t for an incredibly embittering experience. I just watched a young man blithely dismiss the lives of others in order to boast of his commitment to his values. He listed their sufferings, noted their struggle to survive, then waved it all away. They didn’t matter; what mattered was where he stood. I should note that what prompted this display of callousness was virtually nothing—he was definitely looking to grandstand.

It’s hard to convey that adulthood isn’t really about having a job or paying your bills or keeping your apartment clean or having a stable relationship. None of that shit is being a grown-ass man, to be frank. The central issue is whether you’re someone who can be trusted to take care of others, especially those younger than you. If you’re loudly declaring “these are the circumstances in which the children of others must suffer,” it’s useful not only to stop talking, but rethink everything you think and believe until you reach some sufficient degree of decency.

With all this in mind, I get it now. I get why Spring is the Period / Express from God. If you’re wondering whether anything can change—if you’re desperately hoping for renewal, for new life to eclipse the horrors witnessed—then you’re hoping for God to be directly present. The key concept is “Express from God;” “Spring” serves as an attempted illustration:

Spring is the Period (844)
Emily Dickinson

Spring is the Period
Express from God.
Among the other seasons
Himself abide.

But during March and April
None stir abroad
Without a cordial interview
With God.

Spring is the Period—the way around, the ongoing revolution—in which God is most present. Dickinson speaks of all the other seasons almost dismissively: Among the other seasons / Himself abide. Her silence about the rest of the year has me stunned. This year, a friend nearly died: he was hospitalized for weeks and looked a shell of himself in the middle of treatments. It’s been months and he reacts to certain triggers with panic attacks mirroring the symptoms he had before. That’s one way in which I remember the summer. Regarding another season, some failed dates from the previous winter still loom large in my mind. Maybe if I had been the person I want to be, those dates would have been different. I’m still trying to figure out the fall that just passed, as there were some amazing moments of success speaking and teaching, moments that felt like they could be transformative, but transforming what? Who? —If I’ve read these moments correctly, of course.—

Dickinson hints that she’s purposely gliding over a very tough year. God was merely the watchmaker God, the prime mover of a mechanical universe, when he simply abided. Now it is March and April, where thick sheets of ice are melting and a formerly buried world is just beginning to make itself known again. She shows enthusiasm, but she centers it on the smallest phenomenon: None stir abroad / Without a cordial interview / With God. It’s the very fact of stirring—just one bird, some grass among the receding ice, a clearer sky—that commands her attention. God is there; He gives a “cordial interview” to all things that stir; where is Dickinson? She bears witness. There’s reason to hope, but to declare Spring the time one must hope? If you are cordially interviewed by the divine, one hopes you will be in motion, doing what’s right, declaring yourself through gentle actions and lovely thoughts. Not so much the bombast of public declaration, a public display of a defense mechanism.

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