Split the Lark

    SPLIT the Lark--and you'll find the Music--
    Bulb after Bulb, in Silver rolled--
    Scantily dealt to the Summer Morning
    Saved for your Ear when Lutes be old.

    Loose the Flood--you shall find it patent--
    Gush after Gush, reserved for you--
    Scarlet Experiment! Sceptic Thomas!
    Now, do you doubt that your Bird was true?

    Emily Dickinson(1830-1886)

Emily Dickinson lived and died, unmarried and intensely private, in Amherst, Massachusetts. Nearly all of her poems were published after her death and the circumstances surrounding the first publications resulted in versions of the poetry that were in many cases significantly different than the form of the poems as written by her since many were edited by her friends and differ in minute but important detail with regards to punctuations. Her manuscripts are well worth reading in part for its punctuation and her heavy use of dashes and periods. Her father was a prominent politician in the community and founder of the Amherst College. Writing to someone she knew when he was a young man, she remarked, "We used to think, Joseph, when I was an unsifted girl and you so scholarly, that words were cheap and weak. Now I dont know of anything so mighty.... Sometimes I write one, and look at his outlines till he glows as no sapphire. " Her "dearest earthly friend" was the Reverend Charles Wadsworth and although she never married he was a romantic figure in her writings, his orthodox Calvinism acting as a catalyst to her theoretical inferences. One researcher notes:
    He had the same poise in the pulpit that Emily had in her poetry. Wadsworth’s religious beliefs and presumptions also gave Emily a sharp, and often welcome, contrast to the transcendentalist writings and easy assumptions of Emerson. Most importantly, it is widely believed that Emily had a great love for this Reverend from Philadelphia even though he was married. Many of Dickinson’s critics believe that Wadsworth was the focal point of Emily’s love poems.
Shy and playful Emily is most remarkable with the unusual angles and a tendency to pack brief stanzas with cryptic meanings. Merging metaphors of bulbs, music, and silver, she employs a startlingly original comparison of ideas in her first verse. Composed in 1896, she begins with an allusion to one of Aesop's Fables, The Hen and the Golden Eggs, the story of the man splitting the goose open in his own selfish greed to look for the highly prized and sought after golden eggs and cleverly compares this to humanties search for the Holy Grail of loyalty and redemption. Larks are sparrow like birds who nest in open fields on the ground. Although it would be the Horned lark that is native to Amherst, it may be the European skylark, or lark of the poets (Alauda arvensis), that is the imagry used here. Although they rarely sing on the ground, when flushed from their nests they sing in flight towering high above the sky, a long aerial song of sweet liquid notes. It is with precious metal that Emily speaks to the eloquence of the lark's silver-tongued music. The bird has become the Christ figure crucified and like a lark, from his death has risen lark -like as the Holy Spirit lofting across the sky with chiming forth the gosple passion.

With her usual thrift and airy discreteness Emily's lark has ' saved for your ear', and binds the to song in the second stanza his unobstructed love and loyalty likened to the blood as it streamed forth from Christ on Calvary. Addressing the reader again in the first line of the second verse Gush after Gush, reserved for you--she admonishes and asks at the same time if there are any doubts. The obvious allusion in the line, Scarlet Experiment! Sceptic Thomas! is derived from the Easter story concerning the sacrament of forgiveness instituted when Thomas was absent and the act of forgiveness when Thomas was present. The story found in the John 10 of the Gospel. Unable to believe when the other disciples tell him that Jesus has risen from the dead Thomas says, "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side". Thomas desired like so many Christians a realistic faith, and that in itself is neither good nor bad, only, as Jesus replies, "You have believed because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

In 1981 Paul Schwartz set this verse to music in Three Choruses on Poems by Emily Dickinson . Not altogether unsurprising this is thought to be her personal reaction to a comtemprary of her day, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and his theories. And it is to him that perhaps she asks the question in her last line Now, do you doubt that your Bird was true? You may be interested in reading another composition of hers, "Faith" is a fine invention, along similar ideas. Emily deftly uses her puzzle of language in each line of this alliterative poem about the limits of man's spiritual knowledge with a dissonance between the music of the natural world and the social world prompting the reader to imagine a lexicon rich with images that are truer to experience. Like the story of Thomas she calls the reader to experience nature with their being, not with intellect alone.


Dickinson Rediscovered:

Emily Dickinson :

Public domain text taken from The Poets’ Corner:

The Wondering Minstrels:

CST Approved.

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