Saturday, May 14, 2011

Emily Dickinson: Dec 10, 1830--May 15, 1886, In Memoriam

Emily Dickinson lived only fifty-six years, and much of that time as a recluse. However, the almost 1800 poems that she wrote will keep her memory alive as long as someone still reads poetry.

Dickinson never used titles for her poems, which creates a problem for her editors. One solution has been to use the first line as a title. There is now a second solution, now that all of her poems have been collected into one volume--The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson--which is edited by Thomas H. Johnson. He has tried to order the poems chronologically and has numbered them. So, I will use the numbering system devised by Johnson. Readers trying to locate the poems in other collections should search on the first line of the poem.

Dickinson wrote a large number of poems that dealt with death, so I again thought it appropriate to post one of them today. This is one of her most anthologized poems.

No. 465

I heard a Fly buzz--when I died--
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air--
Between the Heaves of the Storm--

The Eyes around--had wrong them dry--
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset--when the King
Be witnessed--in the Room--

I willed my Keepsakes--Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable--and then it was
There interposed a Fly--

With Blue--uncertain stumbling Buzz--
Between the light--and me--
And then the Windows failed--and then
I could not see to see--

-- Emily Dickinson --

The last line has always intrigued me--"I could not see to see--" Why not simply "I could not see"?


  1. Fred,

    You mention that Dickinson lived most of her life as a recluse. That almost seems to contradict her ability to become a great writer. I'd always thought the popular advice to writers was to go out and experience life, so they'd have something to write about. What is your opinion about this?

  2. Cheryl,

    What poems I've read of hers strike me as being very personal. It's subject matter seems to be the result of introspection, and that which isn't refers to what she can observe from her house and yard or from a book.

    As Dickinson once wrote,

    There is no Frigate like a Book
    To take us Lands away
    Nor any Coursers like a Page
    Of prancing Poetry --
    This Traverse may the poorest take
    Without oppress of Toll --
    How frugal is the Chariot
    That bears the Human soul.

    Does that advice pertain to poets as well as to fiction writers or prose essayists? I suppose it might depend upon what is being written about.

    What do you think?

  3. Fred,

    Yes, I can see that if a writer's work is more internal, they really don't have to have a lot of outside experiences to aid in their writing. I would think it might be limiting if full length novels, rather than poems, were being written. Although, if it were fantasy or science fiction, I guess a writer could make up entire worlds out of their imagination. Writing believable characters and realistic dialogue might be difficult, without a lot of observation of other people.

  4. Cheryl,

    I would love to read a novel or a short story written by Emily Dickinson. Her poetry is unique, and I guess her fiction might be equally so, considering her isolation the last decade or so of her life. It would have to be a very unusual and introspective work, I would think.