E Emily Dickinson

The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean by Emily Dickinson

‘The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean’ by Emily Dickinson is a creative poem about nature’s attitudes. The poet uses personification to depict the ups and downs of a particular storm. 

The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean Visual Representation

The lines of this piece are incredibly creative and should inspire the reader with their easy-to-imagine imagery. Dickinson uses fairly simple language, especially for her poems, to describe the snow, wind, and sky. ‘The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean’ has clear intentions and should be relatable to all readers. 

The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean
Emily Dickinson

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 —

A Narrow Wind complains all Day
How some one treated him
Nature, like Us, is sometimes caught
Without her Diadem.

Explore The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean

The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean by Emily Dickinson


Summary

‘The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean’ by Emily Dickinson is a thoughtful piece about the emotions in nature.

The speaker spends the first lines of the poem describing how the sky appears “low” and the clouds “mean.” This suggests the sky is overcast and that there’s a storm on the way. The lines also create a specific atmosphere, one that feels somewhat broody and dark. It’s lightened somewhat by the addition of snow in the next lines. The snowflakes, as if they’re human, do not know whether to come or go. 

The poem’s second stanza includes more examples of personification as the poet describes the wind complaining. It, like all-natural elements and like human beings, can get caught in a bad attitude. By depicting nature this way, readers are asked to see themselves in non-human elements. This is an extremely creative process, one that should trigger reader’s imaginations and make them ask what else could be seen through a human lens in the natural world. 

Literary Devices

Dickinson makes use of several literary devices in ‘The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean.’ These include but are not limited to: 

  • Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause into the middle of a line of text. This can be done through the use of punctuation or through a natural pause in the meter. For example, “Nature, like Us, is sometimes caught” and “The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean.” 
  • Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “Day” and “Diadem” in stanza two. 
  • Personification: occurs when the poet imbues something non-human with human characteristics. For example, calling the clouds “mean” in the first line of the poem and describing the wind as “complaining” in the first line of the second stanza. 


Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

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 —

In the first lines of ‘The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean,’ the speaker begins by using the line that later came to be used as the title. This was often the case with Dickinson’s poems due to the fact that she did not title them. 

The speaker is looking at the sky and describing what it looks like. It’s “low,” and the clouds are “mean.” This simple use of personification is easy to imagine. It appears that there’s a storm on the way, and the clouds are sitting close to the ground. It’s a snowstorm, the next lines reveal. But it’s not that simple. The weather is being fickle. It’s having a hard time deciding which way the wind is going to blow and how much snow is going to fall. The poet uses more personification to describe a snowflake that’s going but having a hard time debating whether or not it will “go.” 

Stanza Two

A Narrow Wind complains all Day

How some one treated him

Nature, like Us, is sometimes caught

Without her Diadem.

In the second stanza, readers come across more examples of personification with the “Narrow Wind” complaining. The speaker relates the sounds and movements of nature to the way that we, human beings, act. This should provoke the reader’s imagination and inspire them to consider what else nature does that’s human-like. 

The poet uses a simile in the last lines to directly compare nature to “us.” Sometimes, it’s not at its best. Sometimes, nature acts out or acts irrationally as human beings do. This is a simple statement, one that is concisely described and depicted in the previous lines. There is very little left up to interpretation here. 

FAQs

What is the meaning of ‘The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean?’ 

The meaning is that in nature if we look close enough, we can see elements of humanity reflected. By doing so, we can relate more directly to the natural world. 

How is personification used in ‘The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean?’

Personification is used several times within this piece. The snowflake is confused, the sky is mean, and the wind is complaining. These examples are crucial for the poet to convey her intended meaning. 

Who is the speaker in ‘The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean?’

The speaker is someone, a man or a woman, who has a close understanding of the natural world. They can look at the sky and weather and see in it human-like features. This suggests that they spend a lot of time considering nature and are quite empathetic. 

What are the themes of ‘The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean?’

The themes are nature and conflict. The speaker spends the lines of the poem discussing how nature displays human features. It is unsettled in this poem, dealing with confusion and misunderstanding in the same way that human beings do. 

What is the tone of ‘The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean?’

The tone is contemplative and appreciative. The speaker describes the natural world with reverence. They interpret the movements of the sky and the wind in a certain, creative way. This allows readers to see the world in a new light. 


Related Poetry

Readers who enjoyed ‘The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean’ should also consider reading other Emily Dickinson poems. For example: 

  • Fame is a bee’ – talks about the transient nature of “fame” by using the metaphor of a “bee”. 
  • Some keep the Sabbath going to Church’ – describes how the poet prays to God without bending to the compass of religious rituals.
  • There is another sky’ – a clever and metaphor-rich poem that depicts the poet’s writing as a “garden” with “unfading flowers”.

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The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean Visual Representation
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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