Apparently with no surprise

by Emily Dickinson

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What is the emotional quality and meaning of the poem "Apparently with no Surprise"?

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Nature has no wish to intentionally harm anything. Nature favors no one and nothing.  Whatever happens is of the natural world’s order of things. When the change of seasons comes in certain parts of the world, things stop growing and return to the earth to wait until it is time for the flowers, bushes, plants, or grasses to begin the cycle again. "Apparently with no Surprise" by Emily Dickinson related this natural process.

The poem's scene is of a frosty, sunshiny morning.  A beautiful, frail flower dies from the cold, freezing temperature.  There is no surprise in the scene because it is reenacted in the beginning of winter every year. There is no remorse on the part of the sun.  It is has other work to do. Nature depends on the sun to count off the time in days. 

The killing of the flower is unintentionally harsh because nature does not intend to hurt, only to follow its natural plan.  God does not interfere with the frost. It is doing what it was supposed to do in his scheme of life; therefore, God approves.

The poem is only eight lines with an erratic rhyme scheme: ABCBDECF.  The author uses a metaphor of an assassin that employs the frost to kill the flowers.  The words beheads, assassin, and unmoved supply the image of the assassin with the purpose of killing anything that still lives by lopping of its head with the cold.

The Frost beheads it at its play—

In accidental power-

The blonde Assassin passes on-

The use of words that have dark connotations –assassin interpreted as killer, unexpected, terror--is tempered by the word blonde which lessens the violence of the scene, bringing an almost humorous and light-hearted feeling toward the assassin.

The author's use of personification adds interest to the poem.  The frost becomes a blonde assassin capable of cutting off the head of an innocent flower. Interestingly, the sun’s purpose in nature is to proceed along no matter what happens and count the hours and days in life.

The attitude of the author is mixed.  She portrays the flower as happily blooming and living.  Then the frost comes in and kills the plant.  Her tone changes to one of acceptance with an almost bitter understanding of the process of nature.  The sun goes on about its work.  It will not make the day warmer to help the flowers.  It serves only to act as nature’s clock . 

As Dickinson aged, her attitude changed to a more introspective outlook toward life and nature. She learned that nature had destructive powers; and that God did not give his endorsement, but neither did he intercede. Increasingly, she wrote of the indifferent and fatal power of Nature which she found impossible to reconcile with a spiritual view. Death loomed larger than ever in her life. "The frost of death" became expected. 

The poem could parallel the life and death of man. Sometimes, a contented man dies unexpectedly.  This is also a part of life. The death is surprising, yet neither nature nor God will interfere because the outcome does not alter his plan of life. The futility of trying to explain or understand the “whys” of life and death has been discussed since Cain killed Abel. Not until God is ready to explain will man understand.

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This poem evokes a feeling of peaceful acceptance in me. I, like Dickinson, am a naturalist and see that nature and God both "approve" of the end of the life cycle for all living things. Even the Flower itself accepts its own demise, the end of its happy play.

The poet's calling the Frost a "blonde Assassin," a personification, does not make this bringer of Flower's death "evil." The Frost's "accidental power" is part of nature and nature's God.

The Flower is also personified in several figurative words: it would be able to feel "surprise" (but doesn't); it is "happy"; it is "playing." The contrast between the Flower's happiness and its being "beheaded" is at the heart of the poem, but so is the poet's and God's approval of this order of things. 

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