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Split the Lark -- Emily Dickinson

Not had a Dickinson in a while...
(Poem #580) 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
An exquisite poem, mixing imagery in a way that few other poets would be able
to get away with. Countless poets have attempted to capture the essence of
music in a number of images, but Dickinson's is surely one of the most
beautiful I've seen.

Today's poem seems to be highly allusive, and I'm not sure I've not missed a
reference or two. One obvious allusion in the first verse, for instance, is
to the goose that laid the golden eggs (a reading supported by the use of
'bulb'), but do the next two lines refer to anything? Likewise, the second
verse refers to the New Testament story of Doubting Thomas, who refused to
believe that Jesus had risen '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'. And the Bird (tying rather neatly in with the first verse)
is probably a reference to the Holy Spirit descending upon Christ in the
form of a dove, but if anyone has something stronger to suggest do write in.


See the comments after 'There's a Certain Slant of Light', poem #92

The above poem presents another of Dickinson's startlingly original
comparisons, incidentally (again involving music, though on the other side
of the equation).


The story of Doubting Thomas is in John 20:

Here's a discussion of the poem:
[broken link]

The poem has been set to music by Paul Schwartz:
[broken link]


60 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Jeff Berndt said...

Wow, I'm just surprised to see an Emily Dickinson poem that can't be sung to
the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas."

I'll be sharing this with friends. ;-)

Thanks for running this day-brightening list!

Jeff Berndt.

Todd said...

I would like to offer a reading of this poem, for what it is worth. As is not
unusual with Dickinson's poems, it is puzzling in some ways.

The lark represents the speaker, the poet. The lark's music is the outpouring of
the speaker's heart, or her poetry. She addresses one who, like Thomas, lacks
belief. The allusion to Thomas puts the speaker into a position parallel to that of
Christ. Thomas refused to believe that Christ had risen, that he lived. In the
final line the speaker asks, "Now, do you doubt that your Bird was true?" Her love
and fidelity are as infinite as those of Christ -- of God!

The second line ("Bulb after Bulb, in Silver rolled --") occasioned the discussion to
which Martin gave us a web-link. I believe that the poet is offering here a visual
image of her music. I was reminded of a poem that I read recently in which the poet
offered a whole series of visual equivalents of musical sounds. It was very well
done, but I searched for it this morning and couldn't find it. For me "bulb" is just
a rounded, tapered shape such as a musical note might make. "Silver" is suggestive
of music.

I was also reminded of Emerson's poem "Rubies." These are the first two stanzas:

They brought me rubies from the mine,
And held them to the sun;
I said, they are drops of frozen wine
From Eden's vats that run.

I looked again, -- I thought them hearts
Of friends to friends unknown;
Tides that should warm each neighboring life
Are locked in sparkling stone.

Dickinson frequently speaks of rubies, Eden, wine... Emerson was a an enormously
influential figure in Dickinson's day, a world-famous writer and philosopher who
lived in a nearby town (and who once visited at the Dickinson home).

In lines three and four ("Scantily dealt to the Summer Morning/Saved for your Ear
when Lutes be old...") the poet suggests how vast are the reserves of her love. The
song of the lark, so abundant on a summer morning, is scantily dealt in comparison
with the outpouring she is saving for this other person.

The song of the lark, once truly "loosed," will gush out in a great flood. The word
"flood" recalls Dickinson's comment to someone that immortality was her "flood
subject," i.e., the subject that caused the greatest outpouring of her creative work.


Christine Schroeder said...

Actually my reading is somewhat different -
By "split the lark" Dickinson means just that - cut the lark open, and
you will easily find the bits and pieces that make the music (bulb after
bulb...ugh...). She says if you want to dissect something to make
absolutely certain that it is true (the "scarlet experiment" and the
"gush after gush" is the blood of the bird), then you can certainly
verify it...but at what cost? Obviously, once you have proven that the
bird is capable of song (by killing it and splitting it open), it is no
longer capable of it because of what you have done. That's where the
"sceptic Thomas" comes in...she is gently chiding the disbeliever for
not having enough faith to take the beautiful music for the gift that it

sandi_ordinario said...

I agree with Christine's comment above. Us poets,
would-be poets, obscurantists all, tend to read
too much into poems. I think the doubting Thomas
referred to is someone who is incredulous of the
"songs" of she suggests to "open" her
up to see that she is indeed real. The downside of
course is that it will mean the end of her songs
just to convince the skeptic...


Ethan0807 said...

I've always thought that this poem was an obvious description of, how should
I put it, defloration. It's about man that doubted his loves "virtue," but
was assuaged of this fear by their first act of lovemaking. She was virginal.

I think once you look at it under this interpretation, it becomes quite
obvious, especially the second verse.

"Patent," by the way, means "exposed" or "spread." (It's an older use of the

vadrine said...

I agree whole-heartedly with Ethan.

A friend showed me this poem, to get my take on it. I hadn't read it before. Seemed obvious to me.. glaringly so.

I Googled it only after he'd been shocked by my interpretation and I was gobsmacked to see no one had read it this way until ethan's post.

Graphic imagery for a dramatic experience.

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Anonymous said...

Split the lark and you will find the soul.

The bird's song plainly spoken, bulb after bulb is the lengthy growth of profound love hidden and revealed in precious depths, layer upon layer.
To spit the bird open can reveal the pain and blood of despair. (& objective death.)

love given to the lover that will never fade, on a beautiful morning. (the beginning)

The lover has only heard the voice. (what else lays in wait?)

the emotion is open, it is only for you.
do not fear the repercussions of your actions.

The blue bird has sung. (Lets hope it hasn't stung.)

Anonymous said...

P.s. A lengthy love affair conducted through music

Anonymous said...

Herein lies mystery! On reading this my mind was immediately taken to the sayings of Jesus attributed to Thomas called the Gospels of Thomas
1st or 2nd Century.

(Saying 77) Jesus said: "Where there are [two, they are not] without
God, and when there is one alone, [I say,] I am with him. Raise
the stone, and there you will find me; cleave the wood, and there
I am."

from the Gospel of Thomas (Nag Hammadi scrolls discovered 1945 Codex 2)

(Saying 30) Jesus said, "It is I who am the light which is above them
all. It is I who am the All. From Me did the All come forth, and
unto Me did the All extend. Split a piece of wood, and I am
there. Lift up the stone, and you will find Me there."

fom the Gospel of Thomas, Oxyrhyncus Papyri (fragments late 1800s)

Anonymous said...

Sans A's cannon

Fox said...

(Shakespearean dialect)

Anonymous said...

Thomas the Rhymer's hind.

Anonymous said...

Yes she has been freed and is working towards an AIM. Indo needs ya.

Anonymous said...

(Dec january) Oh Dear. No pun intended. Did enjoy the funny photos. made me giggle. Good to giggle.

Anonymous said...

For the grace of god go I. You before i. or is it e before i?
In my mind. validate wanting you.
The lark Ascending
still wobbly but getting a hearing aid fitting tom. (never could abbreviate that word when texting. too obvious!
Then I can hear you Chubba.
Can;t wait to hear your Long Play. Me Me. Bravo, or should I say potatas?
Walked through the tunnel (of Love) was on my own though, in deed, not spirit.
It the name of the father, son and holy spirit.
My memory still ill-udes me. I think we met on a PGL holiday in Wales. Its a shed on wheels. Breacon Beacons.
Can't see your face, just felt your force. Some sort of collision, I think. Up in the trees. 1.866 square root = 1.3
Still can't remember the song. doing my nut in.
The turquoise lakes surrounded by mountains is in Gallithia, Spain. There is 1 flaw. The bottom is clay. If you touch the bottom, you drown. Beautiful but leathal. False paradise, my darling. Anyway I can never swim again.
Natasha. I do not have the bottle to book a table on sunday, as I will sit alone, again, as usual. it is a flight of fantasy.
Write soon Chubba.
You know I do. Orange and Blue; I love you.
Eat this.
Ps wearing your dressing gown!
No goodbye. merely separation, I shall c u soon. Remember the 3 C's!
ABC is three. not binary but tertiary. PHI, not Pie.
Diddle daddle doo, can't stop writing to you, fucker.
I alsways wrote, you always did. But I was unaware. Lost in my own chamber of a 5 chambered room. (ref angela carter and simon and garfunkel, AGAIN!)
Never can let that one go. Yes, Scarborough fair aint pretty. Sorry to be so demanding.
Logic precedes desire. If desire triumphs over logic I am dead. RED IS DEAD.
There is a third, called the law of Ohmn. (the razor.) sounds nasty. just logic shaving away the straggly bits. Wont cut my hair again, I PROMISE.
But it is thin and lanky. a bit like my body.
Camper van = VW. very warm. car has to be faster baby. A carmen Ghia, if they still make them. POP!
I LOVE KUNG FU HUSTLE. My favourite film in the whole world. I know what yours is. Spirited away.
I am not the slug. it merely unlocked the Chi. We met in mid air, on a metal rope through the trees, like apes. There is one ape with green eyes. He is called Thomas. He carries the baby in his tummy.
I liked casual vacancy. took me a while to work it out!
God speed, my Chubba
Jogi x

Anonymous said...

Binary with you and me. So hear I am again. Something as simple as girls and boys. Waited a long time for an answer.
You looked at my picture. So I put it by my bed. To remember your look.
Can't you send me a copy before the 16th may? I need to hear you song Chubba.
A prayer on your back, you wait a long time for an answer.
oxo cube.

Anonymous said...

P.s 3 bad mice, or is it 2?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Have it wrong. KISS chAse in the playground. i could'nt catch you. you were too fast. No, you had a runny nose and I did'nt want your kiss. Shit I can't remember. makes a big difference. I wanted to kiss someone else. They were too fast. I never got your kiss, thomas. What about one now?
We were at school together. St Joseph's on the hill. Not CG.
Hey I've recreated a personal facebook i go ranting about myself, desperate desiring subliminal attention.
I'd better be right, or its off to the docs for me.
Il ei Midi.
Shit i've said too much. AGAIN) over and out, scout.

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Del Toro said...

india. one day. man-grove jungle.
Tendrils of the square root touch down. 1 - 2.
in the river, in the rain. green, that is.
trying to recapture an image, well several. turquoise is too virile. blue is that bubble, before it smacks the asphalt and cooks like an egg on the sidewalk.
green on gray. dark grey for Borte.
You make me laugh.
Why is the lyre an Ode de lait? Because it carries the invisible, like walking across a tight rope up across the Shard. Painting must continue, to proliferate the feather. Boa constrictor, you say? Maybe just for another Day. Not dreaming now, wide awake.

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