Nature the Gentlest Mother is is a poem by Emily Dickinson that personifies nature through a perfect mother. Dickinson uses the view of a person in order to create a better understanding of the complexity of nature’s position. Furthermore, this poem stresses the love and purity emanating from the mother of nature and her children, while the humans serve as an interloper and are thus separate from nature’s virtue.
Dickinson definitely has a habit of turning her characters into children in many of her poems. By using this symbolism, she makes her characters seem very vulnerable and thus making other characters such as the mother of nature seem more influential and dominant while also retaining that “gentle” eminence (Soll & Dorr, 1992). This poem is a poem of personification and child elegy that holds a more serious and deeper reflection towards the actions of the human race (Petrino, 1994). Dickinson’s focus on the perfection of nature creates an effect where humanity is deemed an outsider even though humans are barely mentioned throughout the poem.
In the first stanza, Dickinson’s first line is that of the title: “Nature the gentlest mother is,”. She uses this as the title of the poem because alone it is a phrase that could virtually be followed by anything. This gives the mood a creative spin, which Dickinson aspired towards. She wants this mother, which is the main subject of the poem, to have a boundless realm of sufficient qualities for her children. This makes the connection with the word “gentlest” making these qualities purposefully respectable. The next line states that she is not impatient of any children. It is important for this line to follow the first since the poem ultimately deals with the mother and how she treats her children. The next line states that she is feeble towards the waywardwest. Back in the time Emily Dickinson was alive, the idea of “west” was a mystery. It was a place that was full of wilderness that could lead to fortune or despair. However, since nature is personified through a mother, she is technically symbolized as this west, even though she is the feeblest. By saying she is feeble, she still maintains that gentle personae. And in the last line of the stanza, her admonition is mild since she is gentle. If her admonition were even less than mild, the archetype mother she is portraying to be would diminish and if it would be greater than mild, the result would be the same while also not meeting the quality of being gentle. Through the first stanza, the first line basically summarizes the rest, thus the reason for making it the title.
In the next stanza, a realm is mentioned in the first line. When Dickinson mentions forest and hill, she is giving an overall realm in which Mother Nature controls her children. Humans do not naturally live in the water thus making it not apply to this reference. Plus, in the next line, a human is introduced into the poem. Whenever most humans are observing nature in its various forms, they are ultimately traveling. In this context, the word travelling does not necessarily mean a person who is exploring unfamiliar lands. Mostly, it means a person observing an unfamiliar habitat. Nature is mentioned to not be impatient of anyone, written in the previous stanza. However, this human has the connotation of an outsider. In the last two lines of the second stanza, Dickinson describes animals avoiding the traveller. As mentioned before, a main characteristic of the poem is introducing a figure or an object that has a larger meaning when having relation with whatever is being introduced. This is a cleverer version of symbolism and personification. The first example is nature, which personifies a mother. In this particular stanza as a whole, the meaning is more hidden instead of generally stated such as before. The forest and hill only mean the parts of the world that humans have access to, but have not used. This relates to the previous stanza when Dickinson states “waywardwest”. Humans tend to have a habit of introducing themselves to a beautiful environment only to destroy in their process of needing to conquer. When she mentioned the squirrel and bird, she describes them as being restrained, rampant and impetuous. Mother Nature is basically restraining her children from someone that could possibly dangerous. She sees humans as her children, but she knows that many have a nature of destruction so pushing her other children to conceal themselves from the interlopers is her solution. As a whole, this symbolizes the divide in characteristics between nature and humanity, which is the main theme of the poem; nature is peaceful, while humans are obstructive.
In the third stanza, her conversation is mentioned as being fair. The said conversation is based on the noises of nature. In the previous stanza, the animals are said to have stopped making noise once the human approached. So, this line is referring to the previous stanza’s actions in her protecting her children; her actions are fair and just. Dickinson is basically on the side of the mother’s, which definitely clears her intensions for writing the poem in this particular fashion. After, she mentions a summer afternoon. This provides another mood towards the reader. She mentions this specific season to make the statement that all her children are animated and lively. Spring is the season of birth, which is incorrect in this context since nothing is being born. Winter is the season of silence and isolation while autumn is the season of death. Both are obviously unsuitable, thus giving more reason towards summer. Afternoon is of similar relation where it is the time of day where nature, including humanity, is most lively. Next, house and assembly is compared, symbolizing the world or planet earth. A mother usually controls a household thus personifying nature’s control over Earth. Also, in this stanza, the rhythm noticeably changes. Before, the rhyme scheme was alternating, while in this particular stanza, there is no rhyme. This makes the transition abrupt and as stated noticeable. It stands as a divide between the first half of the poem where the first three stanzas focus on the day and the last focus on the night. Not only does this provide the connotation of a cycle such as the seasons and life itself, but also it divides the focus of part of the theme. The mother’s qualities towards her children are organized towards the top while the qualities of her actions are mostly at the bottom.
In the fourth stanza, which is the beginning of the next half of the poem, it describes nature’s voice flowing between aisles. Aisles are normally in a church, which makes this mother seem like she is faithful to God. This further proves that nature is the perfect mother. The next line furthermore exemplifies this theory. Nature’s voice is being described as if praying. She is praying for her children, which are listed below to what humans would usually think as inferior. One of which is an “unworthy flower”. Flowers that are wilted or ugly are seen as even more inferior since this plant is perceived as the most beautiful of all creations. Dickinson stresses the juxtaposition in an ugly flower in order to create this inferior image.
In the second to last stanza, the first line mentions all of the children sleeping. This refers to night, when most of life goes to sleep. As said before, most of the world is her child. When the children sleep, the poem emphasizes that she has other duties she must commit to when she turns away. The next line draws the visual of a path that is lit by the stars so she is able to find her way back to her children. Again, this illustrates the connotation of the mother’s purity. The poem then brings the perception that there is a sun setting, however the sun is now a part of nature. She is described as bending from the sky, which the direction the sun leans when it sets.
In the final stanza, the same alternating rhyme scheme is introduced giving a smoother appeal to the reader. Nature is described as putting her golden finger on her lip. This personifies as the sun setting since night follows the sun and introduces the quiet qualities of night. When she “wills” silence, she does not force it. Since she is the perfect mother, forcing something would contradict her ideally gentle qualities.
Petrino, E. A. (1994). “Feet So Precious Charged”: Dickinson, Sigourney, and the
Child Elegy. Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, 13, 2nd ser., 317-338.
Soll, B., & Dorr, A. (1992). Cyclical Implications in Aaron Copland’s “Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson” College Music Symposium, 32, 99-128.