It sifts from Leaden Sieves –
It powders all the Wood –
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road –
It scatters like the Birds –
Condenses like a Flock –
Like Juggler’s Figures situates
Upon a baseless Arc –
It traverses yet halts –
Disperses as it stays –
Then curls itself in Capricorn –
Denying that it was –
Symphony No. 1 didn’t come easily to Tchaikovsky. He wrote to his younger brother
At eleven o’clock, I either give a lesson until one [o’clock], or tackle the symphony (which, by the way, is going sluggishly) … I always return home by twelve [midnight]; write letters or the symphony, and read in bed for a long time… My nerves are extremely fraught again, for the following reasons: 1) my lack of success in composing the symphony; 2) Rubinstein and Tarnovskii… spend all day trying to torment me… 3) being unable to shake off the thought that I might soon die without even managing to complete the symphony.
A Spotify playlist containing two versions of Symphony No. 1 may be found here.
Credits: The version of poem 291 quoted here is Version E (1883) from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Reading Edition, R. W. Franklin, ed. (1999). Version A (1862) may be found here. In Dickinson, Selected Poems and Commentaries, Helen Vendler writes, of the difference between the two versions, “When Dickinson decides to cut, it usually means that on rereading she notices that her imagination has digressed, in its love of play, from its basic aim.” (p. 108). The quotation from Tchaikovsky’s letter to his brother may be found here.