Friday, December 10, 2010

Emily Dickinson: Dec. 10, 1830--May 15, 1886

I find Emily Dickinson's poetry to be fascinating, illusive, and allusive. Some of her poems just confuse and bewilder me while others are crystal clear, or so I believe. Some are very short and remind me of haiku, a favorite type of poetry of mine. Perhaps this is one reason I enjoy her poetry.

New feet within my garden go --
New fingers stir the sod --
A Troubadour upon the Elm
Betrays the solitude

New children play upon the green --
New Weary sleep below --
And still the pensive Spring returns --
And still the punctual snow!
-- ED --

Amidst all the changes, some good and some sad, the seasons still return. Shushiki's haiku suggests a similar view:

Dead my fine old hopes
And dry my dreaming but still . . .
Iris, blue each spring
-- Shushiki --
Little Treasury of Haiku

Or perhaps the power of some objects to bring faraway places to mind, even perhaps those one has visited only in one's imagination:

Many cross the Rhine
In this cup of mine.
Sip old Frankfort air
From my brown Cigar.
-- ED --

Perhaps something can only truly be appreciated after it's lost:

Water, is taught by thirst.
Land -- by the Oceans passed.
Transport -- by throe --
Peace -- by its battles told --
Love, by Memorial Mold --
Birds, by the Snow.
-- ED --

Her bare, spare language perfectly reflects in this poem the experience of pain--there is nothing but pain alone--nothing fancy or flowery or fine:

Pain -- has a Element of Blank --
It cannot recollect
When it begun -- or if there were
A time when it was not --

It has no Future -- but itself --
Its Infinite contain
Its Past -- enlightened to perceive
New Periods -- of Pain.
-- ED --

Or perhaps one offhand, careless comment could have consequences far beyond that which the speaker intended:

A Man may make a Remark --
In itself -- a quiet thing
That may furnish the Fuse unto a Spark
In dormant nature -- lain --

Let us deport -- with skill --
Let us discourse -- with care --
Powder exists in Charcoal --
Before it exists in Fire.
-- ED --

Sometimes I wonder if Emily Dickinson is a member of a that infinitesimally small group of true American mystics, for there appears to be an intense personal relationship between the narrator poet and the subject of her poetry, be it nature, another person, or the deity.

All of Dickinson's poems come from
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
edited by Thomas H. Johnson


  1. It is interesting that you cite Dickinson's birth and death dates. I rather imagine that she would have thought nothing problematic about either date. For her, life was the fascinating problem. Yes, in much her poetry she is intensely concerned with death, but I never get the feeling that it bothers her. Instead, it waits as the possibly pleasant summation of all that precedes it.

  2. R/T,

    Not sure what you mean by "problematic."

    Her poetry is intensely focused on death.

    I remember reading somewhere that a saint? mystic? philosopher? said that in order to keep our priorities straight while here we should always keep our impending death in mind.

    To be honest, that sounds a bit morbid to me.