A Short Analysis of Emily Dickinson’s ‘As imperceptibly as grief’

‘As imperceptibly as grief’ describes the passing of summer, which happens so slowly and subtly that it is almost missed. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing: it happens ‘as imperceptibly as Grief’, suggesting that something is coming to a close but brighter times are just coming into view. An unusual take on the onset of autumn, admittedly, but one of the many reasons why Emily Dickinson’s poems repay closer analysis: they avoid the obvious take on things, and offer a strikingly individual perspective on the natural world.

As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away –
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like Perfidy –
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature spending with herself
Sequestered Afternoon –
The Dusk drew earlier in –
The Morning foreign shone –
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that would be gone –
And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
Into the Beautiful.

‘As imperceptibly as Grief’ sounds a morose note, associating the passing away of summer with death and grieving; but it is grieving that is passing, suggesting that the coming of autumn represents, as much as spring, a new beginning and a new world. There is nothing treacherous or perfidious (‘Perfidy’) in the fact that the summer departs to be replaced by the season of falling leaves and bare branches, and we shouldn’t view it as such.

Instead, it’s a gentle quietness as mature and refined as a distilled whisky or other beverage that has been perfected over the years, or like nature spending a long, warm afternoon with itself. The summer departs not as a bird flies (recalling the idea of birds flying south for the winter) or like someone fleeing on a boat; instead, it slowly makes way for the beauty of the arrival of autumn.

‘As imperceptibly as grief’ is a fine evocation of late summer, and the way the summer gradually and beautifully gives way to autumn.

If you want to own all of Dickinson’s wonderful poetry in a single volume, you can: we recommend the Faber edition of her Complete Poems. You can discover more about her work with our analysis of her poems ‘My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun‘, ‘Because I could not stop for Death’, and ‘A narrow Fellow in the Grass‘.