The Hills Are Alive

How interesting that poem #6 falls on June 6th.  The sixth poem on the sixth day of the sixth month.

Emily’s contribution to this day consists of a quick series of images from the landscape around her.  What happens in the course of a year.

Frequently the woods are pink—
Frequently are brown.
Frequently the hills undress
Behind my native town.
Oft a head is crested
I was wont to see —
And as oft a cranny
Where it used to be —
And the Earth — they tell me —
On its Axis turned!
Wonderful Rotation!
By but twelve performed!

Okay, I’m sorry . . . but the hills undress?!  Yes, of course they do. But if  I had written that or something like it, I’d be accused of excessive cuteness or projecting my own coy sexual agenda onto the landscape.  “Pathetic fallacy!” someone would cry.  And in my case really pathetic.  What would be the harm in that, I’d ask.  We’ll get to that later.

When Emily drops this borderline naughty verb into her poem, vivifying the hills (hills,hills, c’mon people, hills)  she gets away with it because she’s Emily Dickinson.

Enough.  Okay.  So the hills undress.  Got it.  Then we are sliding into winter and all the rest of it, alluding to the apostles and the months of the year. Isn’t that all a great coincidence that these both come in twelves? Got it.

Two things I notice about the end.  The first is this side comment:  “they tell me”.  Emily doesn’t take any of this scientific information as the manifest wisdom of God’s creation to be observed and known by any sensate being.  She has to be told by some clever scientist.  This knowledge is distinct from the knowledge Em receives through her own five senses and her imagination.  Her ability to perceive the truth of God’s creation, this world, depends simply on being in it, and keeping her third eye open to “see”.  The sunlight in the darkness.

The second thought that occurs is that her poem follows a line toward fall and winter.  Because she is Emily and I am me, we don’t understand “undress” in the same way.  She is not inserting this verb into her landscape as an allusion to the actions one takes in anticipation of making love.  She alludes to the actions one takes to prepare a body for burial.  When her landscape undresses, the leaves die and drop from the trees, all green signs of life turn brown, crumble and fall away, leaving the bare bones/branches.  The exposed rocks show fissures or a “cranny” where once there had been a verdant cover of foliage.

Bringing the two of us together:  So the world is beautiful dressed.  And undressed?  The change in nature signals the end for us as well.  The ultimate destination for all that creative energy is to drive us all closer to the grave.  No wonder we prefer to sleepwalk our way there.  Only Em will look unflinching at this prospect.  And call it “wonderful Rotation.”  What else is there?

Strawberry Moon tomorrow night.  Look out for it.

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