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Two Winter Poems: Emily Dickinson's "Winter is good – his Hoar Delights" and "Like Brooms of Steel"

Daguerrotype image of the poet at age 17 - full image below

Daguerrotype image of the poet at age 17 - full image below

First Winter Poem: "Winter is good – his Hoar Delights"


Emily Dickinson creates speakers who are every bit as a tricky as Robert Frost’s tricky speakers. Her two-stanza, eight-line lyric announcing, "Winter is good" attests to the poet’s skill of seemingly praising while showing disdain in the same breath.

The rime scheme of "Winter is good – his Hoar Delights" enforces the slant rime predilection with the ABAB approximation in each stanza. All of the rimes are near or slant in the first stanza, while the second boasts a perfect rime in Rose/goes.

Winter is good – his Hoar Delights

Winter is good – his Hoar Delights
Italic flavor yield–
To Intellects inebriate
With Summer, or the World –

Generic as a Quarry
And hearty – as a Rose –
Invited with Asperity
But welcome when he goes.

Reading of "Winter is good – his Hoar Delights"

Commentary on "Winter is good – his Hoar Delights"

Emily Dickinson loved all of the seasons, and she found them inspiringly colorful in their many differing attributes. These seasonal characteristics gave this observant poet much material for her creative little dramas.

First Stanza: Winter's Buried Charms

Winter is good – his Hoar Delights
Italic flavor yield–
To Intellects inebriate
With Summer, or the World –

The speaker claims rather blandly that "Winter is good" but quickly adds not so plainly that his frost is delightful. That winter’s frost would delight one, however, depends on the individual’s ability to achieve a level of drunkenness with "Summer" or "the World."

For those who fancy summer and become "inebriat[ed]" with the warm season’s charms, winter takes some digging to unearth its buried charm. And the speaker knows that most folks will never bother to attempt to find anything charming about the season they least favor.

But those frozen frosts will "yield" their "Italic flavor" to those who are perceptive and desirous enough to pursue any "Delights" that may be held there.

The warmth of the Italian climate renders the summer flavors a madness held in check by an other-worldliness provided by the northern climes.

The speaker's knowledge of the climate of Italy need be only superficial to assist in making the implications this speaker makes.

Becoming drunk with winter, therefore, is a very different sport from finding oneself inebriated with summer, which can be, especially with Dickinson, akin to spiritual intoxication.

Second Stanza: Repository of Fine Qualities

Generic as a Quarry
And hearty – as a Rose –
Invited with Asperity
But welcome when he goes.

Nevertheless, the speaker, before her hard-hitting yet softly-applied critique, makes it clear that winter holds much to be honored; after all, the season is "Generic as a Quarry / And hearty – as a Rose."

It generates enough genuine qualities to be considered a repository like a stone quarry that can be mined for all types of valuable rocks, gems, and granite.

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The season is "hearty" in the same manner that a lovely flower is "hearty." The rose, although it can be a fickle and finicky plant to cultivate, provides a strength of beauty that rivals other blossoms.

That the freezing season is replete with beauty and its motivating natural elements render it a fertile time for the fertile mind of the poet.

But despite the useful and luxuriant possibilities of winter, even the mind that is perceptive enough to appreciate its magnanimity has to be relieved when that frozen season leaves the premises or as the speaker so refreshingly puts it, he is "welcome when he goes."

The paradox of being "welcome" when "he goes" offers an apt conclusion to this tongue-in-cheek, left-handed praise of the coldest season.

The speaker leaves the reader assured that although she recognizes and even loves winter, she can well do without his more stark realities as she welcomes spring and welcomes saying good-bye to the winter months.

Second Winter Poem: "Like Brooms of Steel"

Emily Dickinson’s "Like Brooms of Steel" features the riddle-like metaphoric usage that the poet so often employs. She playfully turns the natural elements of snow and wind into brooms made of steel and allows them to sweep the streets, while the coldness draws stillness through the landscape.

Like Brooms of Steel

Like Brooms of Steel
The Snow and Wind
Had swept the Winter Street –
The House was hooked
The Sun sent out
Faint Deputies of Heat —
Where rode the Bird
The Silence tied
His ample — plodding Steed
The Apple in the Cellar snug
Was all the one that played.

Reading of "Like Brooms of Steel"

Commentary on "Like Brooms of Steel"

For Emily Dickinson the seasons offered ample opportunities for verse creation, and her love for all of the seasons is quite evident in her poems. However, her poetic dramas become especially deep and profound in her winter poems.

First Movement: The Nature of Things in Winter

Like Brooms of Steel
The Snow and Wind
Had swept the Winter Street —

The speaker has been observing and musing on the nature of things in winter. She finally speaks and makes the remarkable claim that the "Winter Street" looks as if it has been swept by "Brooms of Steel." The "Snow and Wind" are the agencies that have behaved like those hard, industrial brooms.

In Dickinson’s time were decidedly absent those big plows we have today that come rumbling down the streets, county roads, and interstates.

But those simple natural elements of snow and wind have moved the snow down the street in such a way that it looks as if it has been swept with a broom. And not just a straw broom would do, but it had to be a steel broom, an anomaly even in Dickinson’s century.

Second Movement: House as Big Warm Rug

The House was hooked
The Sun sent out
Faint Deputies of Heat –

The speaker then remarks about "the House," which looked as if it had been, "hooked." She is referring to the process of creating a rug with a loom that employs a hook.

The house is like a big warm rug as "The Sun sent out / Faint Deputies of Heat." Of course, the sun will always be sending out heat, but this speaker looks upon those dribbles of warmth as mere "Deputies." They are sent in place of the sheriff, who will not appear until summer, or late spring at the most.

Third Movement: A Tree Steed

Where rode the Bird
The Silence tied
His ample – plodding Steed

The speaker then spies a bird, who seems to have ridden in on a "plodding Steed." But the steed has been stilled by "silence"—denoting that the steed was indeed a tall tree. The tree is silenced by fall having blown away all of his leaves. He no longer rustles in the wind, but he does serve as a useful vehicle for both bird and poet.

Fourth Movement: Silent, Frozen

The Apple in the Cellar snug
Was all the one that played.

The winter scene is filled with things that are still, silent, frozen in place by those agents of cold. The still bird sits in the still tree, silent, waiting in the frozen atmosphere. The musing speaker detects both silence and stillness and makes them vibrant with an inner, spiritual movement.

Yet, the speaker has to confess that the only real movement, things that might be said to have "played" that cold day, belongs to the "Apple in the Cellar." The apple is "snug," wrapped in tissue paper, preserved for the long winter months.

Or perhaps even some apple wine is "snug" in its bottle, and might even be a better candidate for playing.

But they differ greatly from those outdoor creatures; those apples possess a level of warmth that allows them to play, although the irony of such playing might intrigue and tickle the fancy of the musing mind that deigns to contemplate the icy bitterness of winter.

Misplaced Line Alters Meaning

A number of sites that offer this poem—for example, bartleby.com—misplace the line, "The Apple in the Cellar snug," relocating it after "Faint Deputies of Heat."

This alteration changes the meaning of the poem: Dickinson's poem makes it clear that it is the "apple" that is the only one who played. While it might seem more sensible to say a horse played instead of an apple, that is not what the original poem states.

And, in actuality, the apple does, in fact, do some moving as it will begin to decay even though it is securely wrapped for winter and stored in the cellar.

The problem is, however, that the speaker has said that silence has "tied" or stilled the steed; he is not moving, which means that the bird is not moving. So to claim that the steed is playing gives motion to the bird, which the speaker claims is still.

The only thing that makes sense is that the speaker is exaggerating the stillness by saying that the snug apple is playing. The irony of a playing apple does not contradict the stillness that the speaker is painting, while the playing steed would violate and confuse that meaning.

This daguerrotype of the poet at age 17 is likely the only extant authentic image of Emily Dickinson.

This daguerrotype of the poet at age 17 is likely the only extant authentic image of Emily Dickinson.

Rime vs Rhyme

Life Sketch of the Poet

  • Emily Dickinson: A Life in Poetry
    Dickinson lived a solitary life that in many ways paralleled that of a religious monastic. She passed her life in quiet contemplation, becoming addicted to creating little dramas resulting in her fascicles of 1775 poems . . .

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2023 Linda Sue Grimes

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