How to do her justice in one post? It's not possible. But here are a few of the 1,700 + poems of Emily Dickinson. Her work is compact and apparently simple - almost nursery like. But no ditty writer she. Her poems can be full of conscious play and at other times they intone with majestic oratory, pondering issues of mortality, identity, purpose and love. She was ironically famous for being a recluse, as well as renowned for her New Englandness and her ill health. There are as many theories about who she was and who she loved as there are poems written by her. One of the most remarkable things to consider when reading her poems is that she considered it likely they would never be read. She said of the effect of reading:
If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry.
The poems are here on the web. Many of them are read aloud here. And here are my selections for today's Inflorescence. The final one breaks my heart every time I read it.
Musicians wrestle everywhere -
All day - among the crowded air
I hear the silver strife -
And - waking - long before the morn -
Such transport breaks upon the town
I think it that "New Life"!
It is not Bird - it has no nest -
Nor "Band" - in brass and scarlet - drest -
Nor Tamborin - nor Man -
I tis not Hymn from pulpit read -
The "Morning Stars" the Treble led
On Time's first Afternoon!
Some - say - it is "the Spheres" - at play!
Some say that bright Majority
Of vanished Dames - and Men!
Some - think it service in the place
Where we - with late - celestial face -
Please God - shall Ascertain!
I've dropped my Brain - My Soul is numb -
The Veins that used to run
Stop palsied - 'tis Paralysis
Done perfecter on stone
Vitality is Carved and cool
My nerve in Marble lies -
A Breathing Woman
Yesterday - Endowed with Paradise.
Not dumb - I had a sort that moved -
A sense that smote and stirred -
Instinct for Dance - a caper part -
An aptitude for Bird -
Who wrought Carrara in me
And chiselled all my tune
Were it a Witchcraft - were it Death -
I've still a chance to strain
To Being, somewhere - Motion - Breath -
Though Centuries beyond,
And every limit a Decade -
I'll shiver, satisfied.
Camille Paglia calls this Dickinson's manifesto of artistic vocation and independence.
The Soul selects her own Society -
Then - shuts the Door -
To her divine Majority -
Present no more -
Unmoved - she notes Chariots - pausing -
At her low Gate -
Unmoved - an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat -
I've known her - from an ample nation -
Choose One -
Then - close the Valves of her attention -
Like Stone -
I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you - Nobody - Too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise - you know!
How dreary - to be - Somebody!
How public - like a Frog -
To tell one's name - the livelong June -
To an admiring Bog!
(If you read this one like a cute rhyme try reading now as though written by a self-possessed woman who hated the idea of fame and made a conscious choice to avoid it, mocked, in fact, those who needed it). She did after all write:
Publication - is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man -
Poverty - be justifying
For so foul a thing
Possibly - but We - would rather
From Our Garret go
White - unto the White Creator -
Than invest - Our Snow -
I tried to think a lonelier Thing
Than any I had seen -
Some Polar Expiation - An Omen in the Bone
Of Death's tremendous nearness -
I probed Retrieveless things
My Duplicate - to borrow -
A Haggard comfort springs
From the belief that Somewhere -
Within the Clutch of Thought -
There dwells one other Creature
Of Heavenly Love - forgot -
I plucked at our Partition -
As One should pry the Walls -
Between Himself - and Horror's Twin -
Within Opposing Cells -
I almost strove to clasp his Hand,
Such Luxury - it grew -
That as Myself - could pity Him -
Perhaps he - pitied me -
Ample make this Bed -
Make this Bed with Ave -
In it wait till Judgment break
Excellent and Fair.
Be its Mattress straight -
Be its Pillow round - Let no Sunrise' yellow noise
Interrupt this Ground -
I never get over her.
She seems utterly impossible.
Like she CAN'T have even existed.
I also always think of Morgan now when I think of Emily.
The ideal of an artist really, isolating herself, contemplating her relationship to the world and single-mindedly creating something from it without adjusting it in light of the public's opinion.
Yeah, Morgan tearing up those little bits of paper and snowing all over Cornell.
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