Today I was directed by Arts & Letters Daily (www.aldaily.com) to an account of cultural conditions in the days of Emily Dickinson which ties them to Barack Obama’s politics, and emerging trends in science and religion. “We need literary prophets and social critics – but also intellectual mystics, agnostic gnostics, and neuro-Buddhists. Try Aldous Huxley… more»“.

One poem I like to read as both a visitation of and as evidence of the very seismic shifts discussed in that article is Dickinson’s “Dying! Dying in the night!”  For me, the poem diffuses tension on a personal level with the use of humor and insight into the importance of communication.  

Dying! Dying in the night!
Wont somebody bring the light
So I c see which way to go
Into the everlasting snow?

And “Jesus”! Where is Jesus gone?
They said that Jesus – always came –
Perhaps he doesn’t know the House –
This way, Jesus, Let him pass !

Somebody run to the great gate
And see if Dollie’s coming! Wait!
I hear her feet opon the stair!
Death wont hurt – now Dollie’s here!

I read of the pressures building up around the world for somebody, anybody “Wont somebody bring the light” to America and the world in economic darkness and religious extremism, etc. The need for reassurance is rampant worldwide, at just the time when strengthening traditional conflicts find there are even mightier threats being hatched. Are we all marching “Into the everlasting snow?”

Jeffrey Kripal, in today’s The Chronicle of Higher Education, says, “This, of course, is a cultural war that is still very much with us in the present debates around religion and science, belief and atheism, creationism and evolution. Add to that volatile mix the violent terrorism of radical Islam, the likely role of modern technology and carbon-burning fuels in global warming and the environmental crisis, and the ability of institutions and governments to monitor our thoughts and words in extraordinarily precise and effective ways, and you have all the ingredients for … what?”

What, indeed. 

The poem’s challenge to religion also reflects desperate conditions. “And “Jesus! Where is Jesus gone? / They said that Jesus — always came — Perhaps he doesn’t know the House — ”.

Dollie, the affectionate nickname for a friend, feels to me like a synonym for love.  Abandoning the steely-eyed pragmatism that infects most poems, the final verse returns to the “pre-poetic” condition of belief, or faith. Aligning itself with my desire for reassurance when external realities threaten, I am permitted my own ideas of how to face the unknown. 

What’s next? Real or symbolic, “Death won’t hurt — now Dollie’s here!”

 

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way

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