Emily’s relationship with time is endlessly fascinating to read, and is one of the main reasons I love her poems and her ability to describe movement and time with highly economical language is unmatched.
The first three lines describe a sunset: first the sky is “pink”, then once the sun has dipped below the horizon the woods are darkened as the “brown” trees gradually “undress” into the shadow of night. And I believe she is imagining a sunset because her line “Behind my native town” makes me assume the sun is setting to the west of town.
The next four lines are playful in their imagery as we can almost see the woodland creatures popping their heads out of their “cranny” to get a look, but quickly dart back into cover leaving only the “cranny” (the narrow opening) visible. This image relates to “my native town” in that she is comparing the forest to the people of the town as night comes and the look out their window one last time before retiring back inside for bed.
She ends the poem on the cosmic scale as the earth makes it’s rotation “on its axis” in increments of “twelve” as a clock does. This “twelve” is important because a clock is not a natural phenomenon, but is something made by humans and thus the way we interact with the world is as much natural as it is mechanical. The woodland creatures may rely on the sun and the moon, but humans can get by just fine with a clock too.
Yet she is not saying one is better than the other, she celebrates all of it and she paints a very charming scene of a quaint New England town nesting down for a pleasant night’s sleep.