In the first three stanzas of her wonderful poem, “A Light Exists in Spring,” Emily Dickinson says,
A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period-
When March is scarcely here
A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.
It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.
I ran across this poem the other day and it reminded me of something I had written in Never Look Down, my upcoming book, about spring light in the Northwest:
Spring in Oregon is more than anything else a celebration of light. After months of bullying by a gray, joyless cloud cover, the sun begins to assert itself again with more than just token gestures. Not that the rain isn’t appreciated here. Without its abundance Oregon simply wouldn’t be the place that it is, and we Oregonians get that. But the sun, the light in spring—ah, that’s a welcome treat.
Now, I hadn’t read Dickinson’s poem when I wrote that paragraph, and of course, I’m not comparing my scribbling to her genius! But I was struck by the similarity in tone of the two pieces and it got me to wondering about the light in spring and why it is so special that we want to write about it.
To be sure, the word light is loaded with deep meaning and symbolism in literature. From Genesis—“Let There Be Light”—to Shakespeare, who had Romeo say when he spotted Juliet on the balcony, “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” Two examples of a multitude that use the word to stand for life, goodness, happiness, and love.
I’d be woefully out of my depth to write about that symbolism and wouldn’t have the space for it in any case.
What interests me is the specific, spring light that Dickenson writes about and I touch on. I’ve experienced that light and I’m guessing many of you have as well. It’s unique and primal, and it stirs us at a deep level when we encounter it early in the season. As Dickinson points out, science can’t explain our reaction to it. Why not the light of summer or fall? And it isn’t just our reaction to a long winter with low light. It’s something deeper, more fundamental.
I can certainly imagine that the plants and flowers experience something akin to this as they push their way up through the soil in spring to bathe in the first rays of sunlight. For them the light is life-giving and nurturing.
For us humans, perhaps the special light in spring is nature’s way of reminding us that we are organisms, too, and that we don’t stand apart from nature, and we certainly don’t hold dominion over it. It’s quite the reverse. We are but a part of the web of life and the light is an invitation to live in that web in harmony.
Maybe that was what Emily was getting at. What do you think?