‘It sifts from Leaden Sieves’ is a classic Emily Dickinson poem in which readers are exposed to her skill with imagery. After finishing this poem, one can’t help but walk away feeling as though they, too, have observed the winter sights that her speaker depicts. The snow feels incredibly real and appealing.
Explore It sifts from Leaden Sieves
Throughout the stanzas of ‘If sifts from Leaden Sieves,’ the poet depicts snow as something that falls, as flour does through a sieve, onto the earth gently. It’s a beautiful and noteworthy sight that the speaker spends a great deal of time depicting. She focuses on how it covers mountains and fields, making everything look uniform while also wrapping itself around fence posts and rails.
In ‘It sifts from Leaden Sieves,’ the primary theme is nature. The speaker spends the entire poem focuses on snow, although she does not ever name it. Throughout the depictions and uses of figurative language, readers have to come to a conclusion on their own that this is Dickinson’s topic. She describes it in a variety of ways, from a flour metaphor to the image of “alabaster wool” and “fleece.” By the end, this peaceful poem comes to its conclusion as snow covers everything in sight. Although in some poems this might be something negative, in ‘It sifts from Leaden Sieves,’ it is a remarkable, well-loved sight.
Structure and Form
‘It sifts from Leaden Sieves’ by Emily Dickinson is a five-stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines. These lines follow a rhyme scheme of ABCB, changing end sounds from stanza to stanza. This is a very common pattern within Dickinson’s poetry and can be found in some of her best-known works. The metrical pattern is slightly different from that which Dickinson normally uses. Instead of alternating lines of iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter, the first two lines and the final line of the stanzas are in trimeter with the third line in tetrameter.
Dickinson makes use of several literary devices in ‘It sifts from Leaden Sieves.’ These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and anaphora. The latter is a type of repetition that’s concerned with the use and reuse of the same words at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “It” in stanza one and three. This helps increase the overall feeling of a specific poetic structure in the poem.
Enjambment is a common formal device, one that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines three and four of the first stanza as well as lines one and two of the fifth stanza.
Alliteration is another kind of repetition. It focuses on the consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “Fence,” and “Fleeces” in stanza three and “Stump,” “Stack,” and “Stern” in stanza four.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
It sifts from Leaden Sieves –
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road –
In the first stanza of ‘It sifts from Leaden Sieves,’ the speaker begins with the line that later came to be used as the title of the poem. This is almost always the case with Dickinson’s poetry due to the fact that she left her poems untitled. The “It” in the first line refers to the snow that Dickinson’s speaker is watching fall from the sky. The “leaden sieves” are a reference to the dark grey clouds in the sky. The snow “sifts” down from them. The use of this word as an intransitive verb evokes the feeling of flour being sifted through a “sieve.”
In the next lines, she uses more metaphors to desire the snow as “alabaster wool.” The wool fills in all the “Wrinkles of the Road.” Readers will immediately notice Dickinson’s unusual use of capitalization in the lines of this piece. Scholars are divided over what exactly her criteria were for capitalizing words, but it’s likely that it’s those she found most evocative.
It makes an even Face
Of Mountain, and of Plain –
Unbroken Forehead from the East
Unto the East again –
In the second stanza, the poet describes the snow as flattening out everything, meaning that the mountain and plain become one white layer. The snow covers the land the speaker, and presumably, some readers, are familiar with. The use of the word “face” in the first line and “forehead” in the second helps continue a metaphor depicting the evenness of the entire area.
It reaches to the Fence –
It wraps it Rail by Rail
Till it is lost in Fleeces –
It deals Celestial Vail
In the third stanza of ‘It sifts from Leaden Sieves,’ the speaker describes how the snow consumes the “Fence,” wrapping it “Rail by Rail” until it is lost. The word “Fleeces” relates back to the word “wool” in the first stanza. Although the snow is seemingly taking over everything in the speaker’s sight, it’s a peaceful and beautiful image, one that’s meant to evoke a feeling of joy and wistfulness in the reader.
Stanzas Four and Five
To Stump, and Stack – and Stem –
A Summer’s empty Room –
Acres of Joints, where Harvests were,
Recordless, but for them –
It Ruffles Wrists of Posts
As Ankles of a Queen –
Then stills it’s Artisans – like Ghosts –
Denying they have been –
The poem concludes with a similar mood as the previous lines have evoked. The speaker continues to discuss the beautiful way in which snow covers everything one was familiar with, making the entire landscape look different. The final lines describe it as piling up around the “Wrists of Posts” as if they are the “Ankles of a Queen.” The snow’s layers feel like elegant lace clothing. This is only emphasized by the use of the word “Artisan.” She concludes the poem with the line “Denying they have been,” a lovely way of depicting the newly vanished posts, fences, and trees around her.
Readers who enjoyed ‘It sifts from Leaden Sieves’ should also consider reading some of Dickinson’s other poems. For example, ‘Hope is the thing with feathers,’ ‘I felt a Funeral in my Brain,’ and ‘The Heart asks Pleasure—first.’ The latter is a touching poem that speaks on death and its inevitability. The poet depicts it as something appealing rather than terrifying. In ‘I Felt a Funeral in my Brain,’ Dickinson taps into her own struggles with mental health in a piece that uses metaphors and other types of figurative language. ‘Hope is a thing with feathers’ is one of her best-known works. In it, she compares a bird to the experience of hope.