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Emily Dickinson's "I know a place where Summer strives"

Emily Dickinson

Daguerrotype of Dickinson circa age 17
Daguerrotype of Dickinson circa age 17 | Source

Dickinson's Titles

Emily Dickinson did not provide titles to her 1,775 poems.  When referring to a Dickinson poem, it has become customary to use the first line of the poem, capitalizing and/or punctuating only as Dickinson did.  

Therefore, this commentary is titled:

Emily Dickinson's "I know a place where Summer strives"

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

This volume includes all of Dickinson's 1775 poems; it was edited by Thomas H. Johnson, who restored Dickinson's original forms.

 

Introduction

Emily Dickinson's poem, "I know a place where Summer strives," consists of three stanzas. Each stanza has the rime scheme ABCB.

The poet especially loved summer, and in this fascinating poem, she allows her speaker to convert summer into a gardener who experiences the obstacles that sometimes accompany the difficult birth of the summer season.

Sometimes it seems that it takes great effort or striving to overcome the coldness of late spring in New England, which may suffer snow and frost before the warmth of summer blossoms into the promised reality.

The poem offers a unique look at the arrival of the summer season. The speaker's personification of summer as a woman tending her garden creates a magnificent drama that occurs every late spring.

First Stanza: "I know a place where Summer strives"

In the first stanza, the speaker makes the puzzling claim that she knows "a place where Summer strives." This remark is startling; one does not think of seasons as having the ability or the need to "strive."

Only people are capable of striving. But in this poem, the speaker is, in fact, dramatizing the onset of summer by personifying Summer as a woman; Summer becomes a gardener who is endeavoring to accomplish the arrival of the summer growing season.

Unlike those who find the arrival of each season an automatic transition that is hardly noticeable, this speaker dramatically reveals that sometimes the Summer growing season is won by fits and starts. The speaker says that Summer "strives / With such a practised Frost."

Late spring can remain cold in New England, where Dickinson lived all of her life. So it would seem that summer sometimes had a difficult birth, contending with frost and even snow. But Summer makes a great effort, and her endeavors result in bringing back the flowers, which seemed lost during the winter.

Second Stanza: "But when the South Wind stirs the Pools"

The speaker then asserts that for all the difficult attempts at arriving a situation arises that offers a helping hand to Summer in bringing the season to full bloom. The "South Wind stirs the Pools," and a summer storm blows up.

But Summer then still has some doubt about her success, and she has a promise to keep in delivering summer qualities of warmth and fertility so that seeds in the ground may grow into viable plants for food for people and animals.

But then the rains begin, and Summer does absolutely arrive. All her striving has paid off.

Third Stanza: "Into the lap of Adamant—"

Summer "pours soft Refrains // Into the lap of Adamant"; she strives fiercely to arrive. She brings rain to the plants that will flourish during the growing season, which she had promised.

The rains will convert the landscape to a glowing green grassy hue that will illuminate the summer's growing season. The Summer as a woman will tend her garden, and she will get mud on her shoes. That mud will become hardened like "Quartz." Thus "Sumner" will sport shoes of "Amber."

But happily, all her arduous striving will have succeeded: the flowers will gloriously come back. The frost will have finally departed, and the summer rains will be moistening the thirsty mouths of the plants.

Marvelous spices will results from Summer's loving care of sun and rain. And even the gardener's shoes will wear a beautiful "amber" because she has trampled in the mud caring for all the varieties of plants that help fill her larder for winter.

Dickinson's "I know a place where Summer strives" rendered in song

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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