"A Route of Evanescence (1489)"

A Route of Evanescence                                fading away
With a revolving Wheel –
A Resonance of Emerald –                             reverberation
A Rush of Cochineal –
And every Blossom on the Bush
Adjusts its tumbled Head –                           the fallen flowers liven up
The mail from Tunis, probably,
An easy Morning's Ride –

"A Route of Evanescence" is an important Dickinson poem to read because it takes a simple, single event—a hummingbird flying near some flowers—and describes that event in extremely condensed and difficult language. The poem details how mesmerizing a hummingbird is during its flight.

The first four lines describe a hummingbird in flight. The first line presents a paradox — the route or path of the hummingbird is made of evanescence because the bird's speed denies its substantiality; bird and route have become identical. The hummingbird moves so fast that its path is evanescent, or very quick to disappear. "Evanescence," means disappearance or fading, so the speaker seems to be watching something that carves out a fading route, or path.  In the second line, the bird's whirring wings are a revolving wheel, a more definite image and therefore easier for us to apprehend, even though the bird is still seen as a blur. The speaker describes the hummingbird's wings as a wheel, a testament to just how quickly its wings flap. The third line employs synesthesia — the description of one sense in terms of another. Here the emerald of the bird's back and wings is a resonating sound, probably to give a sense of vibration. Rather than just describing what she's seeing as simply "green and red," the speaker uses more precise shades of these colors in order to make the images that much more vivid and specific.  Not only does "Emerald" immediately present a certain kind of green in the reader's mind, it also reminds us a certain royal quality, making whatever the speaker is seeing that much more awesome.  The use of the word "Resonance" highlights how this royal green color stays in her mind. The fourth line is close to synesthesia in representing the bird's ruby-colored throat as "a rush of cochineal," a fusion of kinesis and sight. "Cochineal" refers to a crimson-colored dye as well as the insect from which this color is derived. The use of this extremely difficult, specialized word gives the speaker some authority. With "Rush," the speaker continues to emphasize the speed of what she is looking at.

The fifth and sixth lines describe the bird's gathering nectar from the flowers from the blossom's own point of view. The speaker personifies the flowers, noting how they seem to move their heads when the hummingbird approaches. This may be because the hummingbird has approached so quickly that the wind from its wings caused the flowers to shake a little.

In the last two lines, the speaker comments on the whole experience. The speaker marvels that the bird is so physically amazing that it almost seems as if it came from Tunisia. When the speaker states “probably”, she is showing her awe for the Hummingbird. Tunis, in North Africa, is approximately 8,000 miles from New England.  The speaker states, “An easy morning Ride-.”   A morning's ride from there would be incredibly swift. The poet is implying by such an accomplishment that the bird is completely at home in nature and serenely confident of its power. She understands that this is a typical morning for the bird. But, while she stands in awe, this is just another ordinary day for the hummingbird. These last two lines probably allude to a passage in Shakespeare's The Tempest in which a message from Naples to Tunis (a mere 400 miles was huge in the ancient world) could not be expected "unless the sun were post." 

In this poem there are three different sets of alliteration occurring.  Obviously, the easy one to spot is using the letter "R" with Route, revolving, Resonance, Rush, and Ride.  Then there's Blossom and Bush, and in the seventh line, we find the word tum-b-led.  Finally, in the last two lines we have Mail and Morning's.

This poem illustrates “Dickinson’s celebrated ability to economise and to condense her diction and her imagery when she is writing at her best.” In short, the description of a flying  hummingbird is full of colour (“Emerald” and “Cochineal”) and also appeals to the auditory sense (“Resonance”). So speedy is the movement that the observer cannot follow it except for a “A Route of Evanescence”. Emily Dickinson is expressing, with the most beautiful of language, a moment of wonder that she could put to words; a moment that reveals the depth of her spirit and her love of the natural world.


Last modified: Tuesday, 25 July 2017, 2:01 AM