Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

This week's featured poem is "The Saddest Noise, The Sweetest Noise" by Emily Dickinson.

This week’s featured poem is “The Saddest Noise, The Sweetest Noise” by Emily Dickinson.

The saddest noise, the sweetest noise (No 1789)

The saddest noise, the sweetest noise

The most mournful sound, the most delightful sound, The most mournful sound, the most delightful sound
The sound of ice that breaks,

It is the craziest of sounds that arise,
The noise of ice shattering.

In spring, the birds make their return.
her fingers felt as if they were pomegranate-flowers.

As the night drew to an end, her fingers had the softness of pomegranate flowers.

Between the March and April line —
That magical frontier
Beyond which summer hesitates,

It’s almost too idyllic here.


This reminds us of all the deceased individuals.
That sauntered with us here,

Using the power of division.

The price was increased unjustly.

The thought of what we once had comes to mind.
And what we currently lament.
would be silenced

We almost hope that the loud sirens would stop sounding.

He/She would stop singing.

The sound of an ear has the power to shatter a person’s heart.
As rapidly as a lance.
We wish the ear had not a heart
So dangerously near.

This undated poem, numbered 1789 in The Poems of Emily Dickinson, seems to inhabit a modest and even populist lexicon at times. Dickinson is known for paradoxical analogies, often opening her poem with a terse declaration of the unexpected: “My life had stood — a loaded gun —”, “Hope is the thing with feathers …” and many others. The two superlatives of the first line, “The saddest noise, the sweetest noise”, are less than arresting. Elsewhere, some adjectives and adverbs seem too metrically driven; “cruelly” in the third verse’s last line may be one of them. But the association of spring and death is slowly firmed and filled out as the slow-paced, regularly constructed verses accumulate. An extraordinary figurative strike in the fifth, with a spear rather than a gun, earns the poem a place among the unforgettable.

Dickinson stays true to her experiences by referring to the birds’ chorus as “noise” rather than “song.” The use of “maddest” as the third descriptor highlights a feeling beyond both “saddest” and “sweetest.” This madness will become tangible in the third verse. On the other hand, the second verse focuses on the joy of the season, while also alluding to the delicate balance between life and death in the transition from spring to summer. The “magical frontier” being “Between the March and April line” alludes to summer’s hesitation and its proximity to heaven.

In the third stanza, the word “sauntered” implies a leisurely pace, as if the people walking together were unaffected by the passage of time. The sound of birds now brings thoughts of the deceased, as if the birds have become a jumbled, spectral choir representing past voices and memories. Even the voice of the narrator, who uses the pronoun “we” throughout, may include the departed. The third line hints at something negative entering the scene, like the harmful magic of a sorcerer who takes away loved ones in order for them to be treasured even more. The birds’ “siren throats” are a danger, stirring up feelings of loss. The poem plainly states this sentiment: “We almost desire for those siren throats / to stop their singing forever.”

Emily Dickinson has created space for joy, sorrow, and insanity, but her final verse is precise in its depiction of jolting violence. Rather than the sound of a bird, it is the human ear that causes anguish, reminiscent of the “spear” with which it rhymes. A well-aimed spear can physically stop a heart, giving new meaning to the metaphorical phrase “heartbreak.” With the phrase “a heart/ so dangerously near,” the ear takes on a life of its own, almost like a creature, especially when the two words are the final words of lines one and three, suggesting the separation of human and ear. The adverb “dangerously,” fueled by understatement, is well-deserved in this verse. This perfectly crafted verse, in a straight-forward and disconcertingly “natural” way, links sound with emotion, almost as if it were its own poem.

A human heart can be shattered by an ear.
As swift as a javelin.

I wish that the ear did not have a heart.
So dangerously near.

Source: theguardian.com