Summary of “The sky is low, the clouds are mean”
This poem has set a mood where Emily Dickinson picturizes human elements in nature. Nature has been used in an unconventional way by Emily unlike many of the other poets. As readers, we draw inferences about human aspects through nature. Emily draws inferences about nature through human elements. This poem tries to normalize nature’s functioning by relating it to human aspects.
The sky is low, the clouds are mean,
A travelling flake of snow
Across a barn or through a rut
Debates if it will go.
The line “The sky is low; the clouds are mean” set a mood for the reader. It indicates the gloomy weather of winter, where the clouds are heavy and the sky is overcast. She personifies a snowflake where it is confused as to which direction it should go. Should it go across the barns and farm or the rut? It reflects the human nature decision making. We tend to debate upon making a choice or an important decision. Hence, this human aspect has been reflected in the snowflake.
A narrow wind complains all day
How some one treated him;
Nature, like us, is sometimes caught
Without her diadem.
The wind complains of how someone mistreated him and stuck in the dilemma of it. There is a stress on the wind being narrow which might mean to stress on the human essence of the wind or the strength of the wind. This even expresses the notion of some people not getting along or socializing with others. She concludes the poem saying that like nature is just like humans, sometimes having bad days. “Without her diadem” denotes many meanings. Firstly, as nature is considered as mother nature, the diadem or the crown describes the stature one gives to nature. So, Emily wants to say that Nature can also have her bad days just like humans where without the crown she is just normal. Secondly, diadem might even mean the multiple facades a person puts up in their life to confront the world but there are days when they fall out.
Like many of her nature centric poems, Emily has stressed on nature-related words in the poems to show its importance in life. In this poem, she brings out the humane characteristic of nature. She tries to draw parallels between the process of living between nature and man. We see that this poem speaks of daily human struggles in the light of nature. She has personified nature elements like snowflakes and wind. Like the snowflake is debating on a decision, we humans debate over life choices. Emily expresses that humans and nature go through emotions just the same way. The only real connect Emily had with anyone was Nature. Hence, she always related to nature. Some scholars believe that Emily might have written this poem on one of her bad days trying to relate to the closest thing to her heart, Nature. She has always throughout her poem not glorifies nature, rather spoken of it in a more realistic manner with humane touch to it. So, we see in this poem, she strips down nature from the crown and says that even nature has bad days.
As we know, nature has been a vital aspect of Emily’s life. Since religion was never a base of belief for her, nature was her solace. She looked to nature for understanding every aspect of her life. Therefore, she never put nature on a pedestal or exaggerate on its existence. Rather treated it like any other aspect of the worldly living.
This poem is reflective of what is between nature, humans and beyond. Throughout the poem, we see Emily is associating nature with normal human behavior to stress on the fact that nature should not be put on the pedestal but give the same level as humans. She tries to say that we need to reflect ourselves with nature as it’s the closest relatable aspect of the world.
In this poem, Emily Dickinson has brought out the humane characteristics of nature through vivid imagery and personification of the natural elements. She speaks of daily human struggles in the light of nature. In an almost reflective tone, she has expressed the various complaints Nature receives from us when we catch them without their “diadem”.