Fall is fully underway here in Western Massachusetts, and I have begun to accept the need to get out winter clothes.  Emily Dickinson’s “Indian summer” poem shares a response to its welcome and inevitable, but temporary respite. “These are the days when Birds come back -” is such a musical, nostalgic and personal poem. It’s also like a painting in its control.

These are the days when Birds come back –
A very few – a Bird or two –
To take a backward look.

These are the days when skies resume
The old – old sophistries of June –
A blue and gold mistake.

Oh fraud that cannot cheat the Bee –
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief,

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear –
And softly thro’ the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf.

Oh sacrament of summer days,
Oh Last Communion in the Haze –
Permit a child to join –

Thy sacred emblems to partake –
They consecrated bread to take
And thine immortal wine!

I am tickled by the thought of a bird looking back over its shoulder, “To take a backward look”. Any day now there will be a balmy morning or afternoon when I will be reminded of the carefree temperatures of early summer. But, being reminded of “June,” is for the weather to behave as a sophist, “a person who reasons with clever but fallacious arguments,” my dictionary says.

Indian summer is “A blue and gold mistake./Oh fraud that cannot cheat the Bee.”

Of course Dickinson never uses the term Indian summer, when weather is sunny and clear and above 21°C (70°F), and all of the leaves of the trees have turned. But before the first snow has fallen, “..softly thro’ the altered air/Hurries a timid leaf”.

This period normally associated with mid-October to late-November in the northern states of the U.S. will become, “Oh sacrament of summer days,/Oh Last Communion in the Haze -”.

I come from Christian teachings, so I can identify the reference: “Permit a child to join -”. In Christian churches, no child prior to “confirmation” or “profession of faith” is allowed to join in the sacrament of communion, a worship service tradition. Anyone not familiar with Dickinson’s use of this understood cultural norm of her day, will be familiar with some other sort of “coming of age” ritual. Youngsters eager to grow up chafe at its imposition when they are “too young.”

The last stanza seems to me to equate summer with everyone’s best days, that “…immortal wine!” we like to think of as heaven.

Digest A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

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