Resisting or deploring an independent and rebellious spirit would be like Ferdinando de Soto staying home. Counterintuitive.

In a handy use of hyperbole, Emily Dickinson’s “Soto! Explore thyself!” suggests the legendary explorer, discoverer and treasure hunter would find more undomesticated, uncultivated “Unknown” if he were to explore his own mind. Now that New Year’s Eve celebrations have given our party cravings full play …

Soto! Explore thyself!
Therein thyself shalt find
The “Undiscovered Continent” —
No Settler had the Mind.

There is neither good or bad judgment in the directive to turn to the wild goings on between our ears, “Explore thyself!”. It would be fruitless, after all, when filled with a desire to be free and do something different, not to go a bit wild. Two exclamation marks in the first line emphasize the poem’s imperative intent. Echoes of the gold-craving bravado among men who signed up for De Soto’s expeditions infect the poem’s challenge to look inward at “The ‘Undiscovered Continent’ —”.

As though to overcome the very inclination of the rebel in us, to whom the poem speaks, to do exactly the opposite of what someone suggests, the poem acts as elicitor of Soto’s spirit. Perhaps to side with my tendency on this New Year’s Day to reject whatever others say simply because they said it.

So, I’ll call all such urges, The New Year Spirit. Or, The Soto Spirit, to be more Dickinsonian. Just as New Year celebrations spread permission for doing things we normally would not do in a sober condition, the poem uses the memory of one who was as community minded and responsible as he was daring and unconventional.

Sometimes I find that “No Settler had the Mind” is liberating.  On other occasions it is more than I can handle.

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way


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