What is Emily Dickinson referring to in the poem "Their Barricades Against the Sky"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Emily Dickinson wrote a number of nature poems where she described the beauty of nature and how it inspired and caught her imagination. This, interestingly, appears to be a nature poem with a difference, as she deliberately uses an extended metaphor of war to describe the red of a sunset. Note the use of such words as "Barricade," "martial Trees," "Flag" and "Armies." Dickinson appears to be describing a military scene, were it not for the reference to "martial Trees." However, the second stanza makes it clear that she is writing about nature, as it is "Russet" that puts a stop to "Nature's March." As in every war, there is a victim, but note how the final stanza describes the casualty:

Recurrent to the After Mind
That Massacre of Air—
The Wound that was not Wound nor Scar
But Holidays of War

Given the reference to "Russet," the inclusion of "That Massacre of Air" is a metaphor that describes the deep red colour of the sunset as a gaping wound in the flesh of the sky, even though the poem concludes that this "Wound" was not actually a wound but represented a break from the fighting. This poem therefore describes the beauty of nature in a very unique and different way.


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