What is literally meant by "the clove of seasons" in the first paragraph of "The Scarlet Ibis"?

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scarletpimpernel's profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The most likely literal interpretation of "the clove of seasons" is that it is an in-between section of the year.  In "The Scarlet Ibis," it is not quite autumn, but the narrator states that summer is gone. So, the "clove" is a small section in between the seasons.  Figuratively, the phrase is significant for several reasons.  A clove is a small red flower, so Hurst's use of it at the beginning adds to his story's red motif.  Additionally, cloves are not ready to be picked until they are at least five years old, which links to Doodle's blooming "late" for a child.  Another significance to the phrase is the narrator's use of such precise diction.  The reader knows from the beginning that an older, mature person is telling the story and that he flashes back to the language of a young boy when he begins Doodle's history.

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samcestmoi | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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The full sentence in which we find this phrase is the very first of the story:  “It was in the clove of seasons, summer was dead but autumn had not yet been born, that the ibis lit in the bleeding tree.”  I think here that the word “clove” is an improper backformation from the adjective “cloven,” and is therefore referring to the indentation between two halves of a thing, the sort of nothing-space that yet links these two parts.  It is perhaps easier to envision in the term “cloven hoof” – a hoof like that of a deer, with two separated protrusions connected to the body of the hoof.  A cleft in a stone would be another good visual representation.  So in this description, we are in the “cleft” of the seasons, that transitional period between summer and fall when the former is over and the latter has not yet got a good grip.  This interpretation is substantiated in the descriptions we find later in the first paragraph:  summer flowers shedding their leaves, leaving swaths of brown amid the late-blooming plants; an empty oriole nest marking its abandoned summer home.  “The last graveyard flowers were blooming,” the narrator notes, soon to wither themselves and leave only the deadness of the land in their place.

Given, of course, that this use of the world “clove” is unconventional and in fact…well…wrong, from a grammatical standpoint, we could also interpret the word clove as in a “clove of garlic,” one section that makes up the entirety of a bulb.  In this case, we could say that we are in a section of the seasons set off from the rest, a pocket containing the waning of summer and waxing of autumn, without the fullness of either.  This is a assuming a less poetic, more conventional use of the word, and provides a more grammatically appropriate explanation, though with less obvious descriptive evidence.


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