Night Poetry: Emily Dickinson’s Symbol Challenge

Can night poetry have sunshine? If you’re Emily Dickinson, you might find a way to mix dark and light by speaking symbolically.

There is Another Sky

There is another sky,
Ever serene and fair,
And there is another sunshine,
Though it be darkness there;
Never mind faded forests, Austin,
Never mind silent fields –
Here is a little forest,
Whose leaf is ever green;
Here is a brighter garden,
Where not a frost has been;
In its unfading flowers
I hear the bright bee hum:
Prithee, my brother,
Into my garden come!

—Emily Dickinson

Poetry Prompt

Write a poem that plays with the dark by virtue of a symbol. Invite a friend, family member, or lover to enter into the symbol with you, the way Emily invites her brother Austin into her dark-light “garden.” The fun of symbols is that no one can be entirely sure what is meant, although people can certainly have their hunches!

Thanks to our participants in last week’s poetry prompt. Here’s a villanelle poem we enjoyed from Richard…

I Am Not One Who Fears the Night

I am not one who fears the night;
It is in darkness I began;
It hones the edges of my sight.

I’m told it is the ghouls delight;
and though I’ve walked there in the rain,
I am not one who fears the night.

How well its sable scrim makes bright
The stars in the empyrean.
It hones the edges of my sight,

To find the silent night bird’s flight.
Though wild thoughts run as wild thoughts can,
I am not one who fears the night.

Its muted hues inspire in spite
of days advantage, days bright span.
It hones the edges of my sight.

What evening gives me I ghostwrite,
Moon’s midnight lake, the owl’s wingspan.
I am not one who fears the night.
It hones the edges of my sight.

—Richard Maxson

Photo by therealmikeyboy, Creative Commons, via Flickr.


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  1. says

    Clearing Fog

    We manage in the fog,
    each looking
    for the other’s heart.

    But out there,
    somewhere between us,
    the old dark words

    still hang. Please
    don’t wait till sunrise,
    Love, to rub a circle

    clear, to let in
    your once-bright light
    through my window.

  2. says

    A Kind of Sleep

    Dreamlessness is the shadows passing noiselessly
    from trees, on tiptoes across the grass, past the window.

    Here, between two worlds, the pearl turns on its chain,
    becomes the bluish moon that waits through the day,
    to soon find its place on the black neck of starless evening.

    Of what do you not dream, when you do not dream?
    Distance says night is where we live, and light
    leaves its unraveling at the end, like seasons
    on the lawn, or enough to keep the attic
    alive with the pulse of things struggling in fresh webs;

    I hide here among forgotten patches, the quilting frame,
    with its labyrinth of ties, shirts and dresses, triangles
    and squares holding fast to their distinctions, though cut
    and sorted in their places; I seek to understand the story
    of our life in this house, from the past hung on its bones,
    in dark exhibits: lightless lanterns with withered wicks,
    empty packs and creels and placeless, faceless frames—
    the only voice, a groan of years finally pushing grain across a nail.

    And in the darkest corners, along the flooring rail, I know there
    runs the grit of hairs that never needed light to find their way.

    • says

      Beautiful, sensual imagery, especially “black neck of starless evening”; many lovely lines, such as “the pulse of things struggling in fresh webs”.

      I feel myself quieting as I read this poem, where something deep below the surface is at work.

  3. says

    Dance Recital

    Bright sliver of moon

    in rosy sky at dusk

    gleams sideways smile,

    poised, waiting…

    grinning confidently

    as tired old sun

    burns down slowly,

    limps below dark edge

    of corn rows’ silhouette stage.

    Day’s number is done…

    time for moonlight’s moves!


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