In ‘The Trees like Tassels — hit — and swung,’ Dickinson uses figurative language as well as a range of other literary devices in order to describe the beauty and complexity of a summer’s day. She engages most prominently with the theme of nature.
Explore The Trees like Tassels — hit — and swung
The poem uses personification and anthropomorphism in order to describe the blooming, thriving, and growing life that one can see on a summer day. She speaks on the sun, its ability to shine when it chooses to, birds, bugs, a snake, and excitedly blooming flowers.
‘The Trees like Tassels — hit — and swung’ by Emily Dickinson is a seven stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow, in part, a rhyme scheme of ABCB. But, there are several occasions where the first and fourth lines are half-rhymes rather than full rhymes. For instance, “hid” and “Cloud” in stanza four and “view” and “grow” in stanza five.
Dickinson makes use of a very specific metrical pattern in the stanzas. The first and third lines of each use iambic tetrameter while the second and fourth conform to iambic trimeter. The alternating numbers of syllables per line and the rhyme scheme make these ballad stanzas or hymn stanzas.
Dickinson makes use of several literary devices in ‘The Trees like Tassels — hit— and swung’. These include but are not limited to enjambment, simile, and personification. The latter is seen in tandem with anthropomorphism in Dickinson’s description of the sun, the flowers, and the other elements that make up the summer’s day.
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 instance, the transition between lines two, three, and four of the first stanza as well as lines two and three of the second stanza.
A simile is a comparison between two unlike things that uses the words “like” or “as”. A poet uses this kind of figurative language to say that one thing is similar to another, not like metaphor, that it “is” another. For example, the first line of the poem that compares swaying trees to curtain tassels.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
The Trees like Tassels — hit — and swung —
There seemed to rise a Tune
From Miniature Creatures
Accompanying the Sun —
In the first four lines of ‘The Trees like Tassels — hit — and swung —‘ the speaker begins by describing how, in the wind, the trees sway like “tassels”. This refers to the drawstrings that are used to open and close curtains. They’re moving just as freely and beautifully.
The poet uses personification, a technique that’s common in her poems, to describe the natural scene. There are “Miniature Creatures,” presumably bugs and birds, that create and “Tune” that rises out of woods. This is accompanied by the “Sun” which brings everything to life.
Stanzas Two and Three
Far Psalteries of Summer —
Enamoring the Ear
They never yet did satisfy —
Remotest — when most fair
The Sun shone whole at intervals —
Then Half — then utter hid —
As if Himself were optional
And had Estates of Cloud
The second stanza of ‘The Trees like Tassels — hit— and swung’ continues to describe the musicality of the scene. (This is mirrored through the ballad stanza form.) The poet describes the “Psalteries of Summer”. This refers to a medieval musical instrument that is similar to a dulcimer. The sounds please the ear but are never entirely satisfying. Anyone watching and listening to the scene will always leave wanting more.
The sun comes back into the poem in the third stanza. Dickinson describes it as rising but being obscured by clouds. It hides when it chooses to bind its “Estates of Clouds,” only coming out when it seems like the right time. The use of dashes in these lines helps represent the intervals the sun chooses to show itself.
Stanzas Four and Five
Sufficient to enfold Him
Eternally from view —
Except it were a whim of His
To let the Orchards grow —
A Bird sat careless on the fence —
One gossipped in the Lane
On silver matters charmed a Snake
Just winding round a Stone —
When the sun chooses to it comes out and shines on all the world in the next stanza of ‘The Trees like Tassels — hit— and swung’. He does so on a “whim”. This is a great example of the way that anthropomorphism can quickly imbue a non-human element with human features. The poet creates a personality for the sun through these brief descriptions. It feels heady and powerful. The sun is able to choose when it does or does not shine.
The fifth stanza describes the wealth of life and action on the ground. There are birds and even a “Snake”. The latter spoke in a “silver” tone as it moved around a stone looking for a place in the sun. These words “charmed’ and “gossiped” are other good examples of personification.
Stanzas Six and Seven
Bright Flowers slit a Calyx
And soared upon a Stem
Like Hindered Flags — Sweet hoisted —
With Spices — in the Hem —
‘Twas more — I cannot mention —
How mean — to those that see —
Of Nature’s — Summer Day!
In response to the sun, the flowers grow, soaring up towards the sky in the next stanza of ‘The Trees like Tassels — hit— and swung’. They are described through a simile to “Hindered Flags” that are hoisted up towards the sky with great energy and excitement. The lines quickly jump back to the flowers again, describing their petals and blooms as filled with fragrance.
Despite everything that she has mentioned so far, there is much more that she’s never going to be able to get to. “’Twas more” she says that she didn’t ouch on. The world is like a Vandyke painting, a reference to Sir Anthony Vancouver Dyke, best known for his masterful portraits. The gorgeous “Summer Day!” is impossible to fully capture.