Colorado’s Rocky Mountains rise up in my imagination as the most majestic I’ve personally seen. The first time I saw the Smoky Mountains in America’s Southeast, it was like I had crawled, like a child, into the safe lap of a beloved aunt.

Living in New England as I do now, I have to rely on my memories. Though Emily Dickinson had only the Berkshire Mountains and the Pelham ridge (the highest mountain in Massachusetts is less than 3500 feet), she knew the influence on me from these gifts of Nature. In “The Mountain sat upon the Plain,” I find the answer to what it is about a mountain that reaches tender places of thought and feeling.

The Mountain sat upon the Plain
In his tremendous Chair.
His observation omnifold,
His inquest, everywhere -

The Seasons played around his knees
Like Children round a Sire -
Grandfather of the Days is he
Of Dawn, the Ancestor

One of the most humbling experiences for me is to read the Valentines Day prose poem by Emily Dickinson penned (probably) when she was only 20. The back story, as relayed by biographers, has her discovering that her poem has been published in the college newspaper. In all likelihood, Dickinson’s recipient for the poem was the young editor of the paper, George Gould.

I say, “humbling,” because for all its silliness, it is a triumph of flirtation, entertainment, fiction and, if  evidenced only by its non-repetitive lengthiness – sincerity.

I would give anything to have not lost a poem I wrote when I was 16, that was as long as this one but done for an English class, not a boyfriend. It surprised both me and my English teacher. My parents were stunned. But, none of us held on to it. It would be a “trip” to see now if I think it’s as “good” as it seemed to be at the time.

Dickinson, on the other hand, seems to have written tongue-in-cheek a missive that off-handedly records her ease with popular topics like Valentines Day.  A love note that counterpoints the profound and challenging poetry on which we rely.  Here’s the Valentine -

Awake ye muses nine, sing me a strain divine,
Unwind the solemn twine, and tie my Valentine!
–         -
Oh the Earth was made for lovers, for damsel, and hopeless swain,
For sighing, and gentle whispering, and unity made of twain.
All things do go a courting, in earth, or sea, or air,
God hath made nothing single but thee in His world so fair!
The bride, and then the bridegroom, the two, and then the one,
Adam, and Eve, his consort, the moon, and then the sun;
The life doth prove the precept, who obey shall happy be,
Who will not serve the sovereign, be hanged on fatal tree.
The high do seek the lowly, the great do seek the small,
None cannot find who seeketh, on this terrestrial ball;
The bee doth court the flower, the flower his suit receives,
And they make merry wedding, whose guests are hundred leaves;
The wind doth woo the branches, the branches they are won,
And the father fond demandeth the maiden for his son.
The storm doth walk the seashore humming a mournful tune,
The wave with eye so pensive, looketh to see the moon,
Their spirits meet together, they make their solemn vows,
No more he singeth mournful, her sadness she doth lose.
The worm doth woo the mortal, death claims a living bride,
Night unto day is married, morn unto eventide;
Earth is a merry damsel, and heaven a knight so true,
And Earth is quite coquettish, and beseemeth in vain to sue.
Now to the application, to the reading of the roll,
To bringing thee to justice, and marshalling thy soul:
Thou art a human solo, a being cold, and lone,
Wilt have no kind companion, thou reap’st what thou hast sown.
Hast never silent hours, and minutes all too long,
And a deal of sad reflection, and wailing instead of song?
There’s Sarah, and Eliza, and Emeline so fair,
And Harriet, and Susan, and she with curling hair!
Thine eyes are sadly blinded, but yet thou mayest see
Six true, and comely maidens sitting upon the tree;
Approach that tree with caution, then up it boldly climb,
And seize the one thou lovest, nor care for space, or time!
Then bear her to the greenwood, and build for her a bower,
And give her what she asketh, jewel, or bird, or flower –
And bring the fife, and trumpet, and beat upon the drum –
And bid the world Goodmorrow, and go to glory home!

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More love poems by Emily Dickinson

Someone should add music. “It ceased to hurt me, though so slow” is musical, easy to understand and sweet-sounding. It embodies familiar feelings of having survived loss. But, not without a melancholy reluctance to let go of hurt.

It ceased to hurt me, though so slow
I could not feel the Anguish go -
But only knew by looking back -
That something – had benumbed the Track -

Nor when it altered, I could say,
For I had worn it, every day,
As constant as the Childish frock -
I hung upon the Peg, at night.

But not the Grief – that nestled close
As needles – ladies softly press
To Cushions Cheeks -
To keep their place -

Nor what consoled it, I could trace -
Except, whereas ’twas Wilderness -
It’s better – almost Peace -

Dickinson borrows from the lexicon of railroads, “That something – had benumbed the Track – ” to add to the sense of motion. We are carried along in a life that refuses to stop despite a deprivation forced upon us.  Still, we can’t keep from looking back: “I could not feel the Anguish go – /But only knew by looking back – ” .

In another poem of Dickinson’s that is familiar to many fans of the poet, we are told that hope “..sings the tune without the words – and never stops – at all.” The silent force of hope acts on our minds and spirits without our being aware. Then, one day I realize my once deeply felt sorrow has undergone a change; “Nor when it altered, I could say, / For I had worn it, every day,”.

Don’t get me wrong, is the warning of the third stanza. Here, the poem instructs me to avoid the mistake of thinking that while the debilitating effects of great loss have been alleviated – grief itself is not cast out: “But not the Grief – that nestled close”.  As needlecraft is employed to decorate and comfort, so grief and its aftermath renders the tapestry of days, “To keep their place -”.

While I read this poem, I, too, am compelled to think about the past, and wonder “what consoled it,” . There is nothing “I could trace -” that would fulfill such a mighty undertaking!  All I know is, “whereas ’twas Wilderness – / It’s better – almost Peace -”.

If a modern band like, say, “The Who” were to record this song-poem, I feel certain they would scream in all the right places. And, give drive-time radio listeners and MP3 download zealots a high time.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

When first reading, “A Tongue – to tell Him I am true!” I felt disoriented by Emily Dickinson’s roundabout, meandering syntax. So, I decided to take on a sense of having been thrust into a mission that seems impossible to understand.  I found a story line acted out between the poem’s speaker and a still-unproven emissary. Play along with me, if you like, to create a complete sentence out of the poem’s first line by using the recognizable lead-in.

Whimsically, at first, I placed the familiar cliche from the movie, “Mission Impossible,” in front of the poem. This is your mission.  If you decide to accept it, you will need:

A Tongue – to tell Him I am true!
It’s fee – to be of Gold -
Had Nature – in Her monstrous House
A single Ragged Child -

To earn a Mine – would run
That Interdicted Way,
And tell Him – Charge thee speak it plain -
That so far – Truth is True?

And answer What I do -
Beginning with the Day
That Night – begun -
Nay – Midnight – ’twas -
Since Midnight – happened – say -

If once more – Pardon – Boy -
The Magnitude thou may
Enlarge my Message – If too vast
Another Lad – help thee -

Thy Pay – in Diamonds – be -
And His – in solid Gold -
Say Rubies – if He hesitate -
My Message – must be told -

Say – last I said – was This -
That when the Hills – come down -
And hold no higher than the Plain -
My Bond – have just begun -

And when the Heavens – disband -
And Deity conclude -
Then – look for me – Be sure you say -
Least Figure – on the Road -

The first line of the poem, now, has a subject (you), a main verb (will need), and a prepositional phrase …well, I’m not going to turn this into a grammar lesson, though I confess I always loved conjugating sentences.  Right away, I feel lured into accepting this mysterious appointment with the promise of more than a fair wage: “It’s fee – to be of Gold -”.  In this conjured mission, the only assurance of reliability, “… I am true!” is set opposite the vulnerable condition of precarious reliance on nature’s “monstrous House”, and, “A single Ragged Child -”.

If the “Him” referenced throughout the poem is an allusion to posterity, and “a Mine” is the rich source, or treasure house, of truth stored up in the poems for future generations, it stands to reason that, “To earn a Mine – (anyone worthy of it, willingly) would run/That Interdicted Way,”.  I think part of the difficulty in this poem is that there slips back and forth self-talk by the speaker, and, imaginary instructions transmitted to another. The first two lines of the second stanza appear as a personal reflection, while the other two are addressed to one who is charged with following through. If a poem is a storehouse for truth, regardless of how much “That Interdicted Way,” that opaque language, seems to resist meaning, then the hero of this mission impossible will be the reader intent on breaching poetic perimeters.  I find it comical then to read, “.. Charge Thee speak it plain – ”, speak it plain (!?), that which is embodied in the poetry itself.

Just like the movie, this “mission impossible” is not impossible at all if the poet’s representative is up to the challenge. Much of the implied dare is in the question about whether, “.. – Truth is True?”

As in the famous thriller, instinct and skill must guide when truth is not forthcoming.

The speaker seems to say that if you cannot find the truth, then look at the source of the message, “And answer What I do -”.  Almost as if we are told to, “consider the source.”

Perhaps this third stanza’s apparent reversal of night and day refers to enlightened self-interest which results from a period of emotional darkness, “Since Midnight – happened – ”. If so, it would fit in with this idea of poetry-for-the-ages being dependent on a single “ragged child” and “Another Lad – (to) help thee -”.

The fifth stanza reiterates “orders” in language fitting promises to a soldier of fortune for hire, “Thy Pay – in Diamonds – be – /And His – in solid Gold – /Say Rubies – if He hesitate – ”.  The speaker then seems to be whispering only to herself, “My Message – must be told – ”.

The final two stanzas are a decorative conclusion as we might see in a Hollywood film. The brave speaker walks out of the picture into the sunset.  The dominant, starring role is now forever placed into the hands of the reader (ragged child? other lad?), “Say – last I said – was This – /That when the Hills – come down… And Deity conclude – / Then – look for me… Least Figure – on the Road – ”.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

That “fine invention,” faith (as Emily Dickinson humorously tagged it in another poem) is discussed in her “Faith – is the Pierless Bridge” in a way that reminds me of a truly modern type of faith.

Faith – is the Pierless Bridge
Supporting what We see
Unto the Scene that We do not -
Too slender for the eye

It bears the Soul as bold
As it were rocked in Steel
With Arms of Steel at either side -
It joins – behind the Veil

To what, could We presume
The Bridge would cease to be
To Our far, vacillating Feet
A first Necessity.

Nowadays, the majority of my friends and family share a new type of faith. No, we haven’t started some oddball church, nor claim rights to a new religion. Our relatively new belief system “is the Pierless Bridge” of search engines like Yahoo, Google and others. Whether this new faith is justified is quite another matter. Before computers were a gleam in the eye of engineer types, Dickinson’s examination of the ignorance that yawns between fact and fiction led to some fascinating ideas about what goes into that chasm.

A real bridge must exist with piers to support it. No mystery. Dickinson’s poem goes outside the realm of religion when identifying faith as that of pier. For, she claims, we do, in fact, see: “Supporting what We see”. So, faith is both the bridge and the pier.  (If we are to take the capitalized “We” as more important, here, than the lowercase “see,” then, as with the internet, or real-life victors and conquerors in the form of heroes and mentors, it is the communal experience that gives weight to that which is visible – anticipating our Twitter and Facebook culture.)

Modern tendencies that do not to rely so much on religious faith to dinghy us “Unto the Scene that We do not -” may indicate a simple shift of our impulses.  Our frustration about knowing of, but not understanding, all manner of topics, not the least of which may be ourselves, has not dulled aspirations that are “Too slender for the eye”. We stream our faith, just as our beliefs have turned up digitally.

Faith is as modern as ever. Morphed, perhaps. “It bears the Soul as bold/As it were rocked in Steel”. When I was young I wondered and worried about the so-called native-in-Africa, or tiny community in some obscure corner of the world who could not have religion as I knew it. A church building being one of those man-made things, “With Arms of Steel at either side -” that temporarily defined faith for me.

If I remove the clause in the last stanza, I get a critique, of sorts, of my evolving faith: “It joins – behind the Veil / To what, … vacillating Feet / A first Necessity.” Our youth depends entirely on – necessitates – the perception that stability, reliability and enduring love is absolute. That is, if the vacillating, ambivalent feet of tiny humans are to develop effectively. Believing as a young person that my mother is flawless, or that my father defines the world, is exactly what I need. What I must see, if you will.

Like bridges from our youth to our adulthood, “…could We presume / The Bridge would cease to be / To Our far” mature life, then the disastrous effect on our tender welfare would exceed the demise of all things digital.

Imagine!

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

A gift for all the people in a group, committee, club or family is a non-starter if I expect to be loved or remembered for the gesture. If you like the idea that a gift to a friend will become a cherished keepsake, a small trinket that costs little or nothing is the best bet. Emily Dickinson, in “’Tis Customary as we part”, gets at the emotion of successful gift-giving.

‘Tis customary as we part
A trinket – to confer -
It helps to stimulate the faith
When Lovers be afar –

‘Tis various – as the various taste -
Clematis – journeying far -
Presents me with a single Curl
Of her Electric Hair -

This little poem, (unlike hundreds of Dickinson poems that describe, analyze and push the limits of language to dramatize loss), focuses on a practical implement that assumes significance only because the people we love are not always close to hand. Nothing amplifies feelings like parting, which the poem uses to universalize itself. I notice the contrast between the immeasurable quality of “we part” and the diminutive connotation of “A trinket – to confer -”. The point being that a token of affection may be infinitely more important than relics of memory alone as a way to keep affections alive.  A reminder in my pocket, drawer or frame has the potential to turn a frown caused by time and distance into a smile, “When Lovers be afar – ”. No token too small. A contrivance! Be that as it may, any little item can become a memorial if it is associated with a priceless memory.

Only the very rich can give automobiles, Tiffany jewelry or, say, a Rembrandt painting. Even these gifts are likely to be held in limited regard if they don’t symbolize palpable, shared love. If a gift will be one that “.. helps to stimulate the faith” it must strike at the heart of the bond between family or other loved ones.

The important element for any gift, if it is to hold its significance, is attentiveness to variety, the kind that fits the variety in tastes among individuals. “’Tis various – as the various taste – ”.

Clematis, or “travelers joy,” is in knowing, or relying on, the quality of loyalty of a loved one.  Joy is symbolically carried with me because I have certain trinkets, like trophies, as reminders to me of the emotional tie between us. Holiday gifts that we give for Christmas, Hanukkah and memorializations of other religions, along with birthdays, serve to “stimulate the faith” as we travel the calendar or “… journeying far”.

There are all kinds of presents. There are all kinds of relationships. The one thing that is constant is the stirring quality, perhaps even explosive element of  “.. a single Curl / Of her Electric Hair -”.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

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