‘The Lightning is a Yellow Fork’ carries the reader through an interesting extended metaphor with its sing-song-like sound. Due to Dickinson’s use of the ballad stanza, these short verses are quite musical in nature and even evocative of a nursery rhyme.
The speaker uses the first stanza to compare a “fork” of lightning to a real fork that falls from a divine table in the sky. It travels down to earth and inspires awe in all who see it. The second stanza defines the lightning as a product of God’s power. It is all that the “ignorant,” the humans on earth, can see of Heaven.
‘The Lightning is a Yellow Fork’ by Emily Dickinson is a two stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. This poem, like most of Dickinson’s, is written in ballad stanzas. This means that the lines follow a rhyme scheme of ABCB and have a sing-song-like rhythm to them. This is caused in part by the use of both iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter. These metrical patterns alternate from one line to the next.
Dickinson makes use of several literary devices in ‘The Lightning is a Yellow Fork’. These include but are not limited to a metaphor, alliteration, and enjambment. The first of these, a metaphor, is a comparison between two unlike things that do not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. For example, in the first stanza of this poem the speaker directly states that “Lightning is a Yellow Fork”. She adds to this metaphor in the following three lines.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For instance, “never” and “never” in lines one and two of the second stanza. Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between all four lines of the first stanza.
The Lightning is a yellow Fork
From Tables in the sky
By inadvertent fingers dropt
The awful Cutlery
In the first lines of ‘The Lightning is a Yellow Fork,’ the speaker begins by creating a metaphor that compares lighting to a “yellow Fork”. This alludes to the shape of a bolt of lightning but is also physically connected to cutlery as is seen in the next three lines.
The lightning falls from “Tables in the sky” just like a fork might fall off a table and onto the floor. It was “dropt” in this case inadvertently, or on accident. This line leads into the final line of the stanza that refers to the “Cutlery” as “awful” or awe-inspiring.
Of mansions never quite disclosed
And never quite concealed
The Apparatus of the Dark
To ignorance revealed.
In the second stanza, the speaker goes on to add details to this strange and complex extended metaphor. The lightning/fork fell from a “mansion” in the sky one that is “never quite disclosed” or “quite concealed” it is somewhere between seen and unseen. This suggests that the speaker, and everyone else, know it’s there but no one can actually see it. By this point, it becomes clear that the speaker is thinking about God in Heaven. The word “mansions” refers to this realm in the sky from which forks of a lightning drop onto the ground.
The lightning that flashes from the sky and towards the ground is the “Apparatus of the Dark”. It is the bit of God’s power that those of us on earth are allowed to experience. It’s the framework of Heaven. There is still much concealed in the “Dark”. In the final line of the poem, the speaker says that this brief flash of light is revealed to the ignorant. Human beings see lightning and know/believe that it is a sign of a higher power but are unable to see anything beyond that. It is, again, concealed and revealed at the same time.