A technique used by Emily Dickinson in “I’ve heard an Organ talk, sometimes —” can send grammarians through the roof. Mixing past (heard) and present (sometimes); a singular event may reenact its influence on me over time.

I’ve heard an Organ talk, sometimes –
In a Cathedral Aisle,
And understood no word it said –
Yet held my breath, the while –

And risen up – and gone away,
A more Berdardine Girl –
Yet – knew not what was done to me
In that old Chapel Aisle.

Anyone who has been deeply influenced by music will relate easily to someone “In a Cathedral Aisle,” who is spellbound by its wordless, profound eloquence. Stunned into a meditative state, “Yet held my breath, the while —”, there is one-way communication, requiring only my receptivity.

Intellectuals and pragmatists not prone to mystery, especially suspicious of mystical theology, may ask, “What does the “talking organ” say?” The poem doesn’t deny that something was said. Only that I “understood no word it said —”.

Obliged to get up out of my seat after a concert, “And risen up — and gone away,” causes me to feel that I am enacting a little death scene. Or, to be more precise, anything Jesus can do I can do, too. “To rise and go away” is to leave my old self behind while my new, risen self, has a more meaningful, Bernardine purpose. 

A short discussion of Saint Bernard, who may have inspired “A more Bernardine Girl —”, questia.com, describes the hero of the poem.

In early 12th century, Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint, was born of noble family, remained an abbot all his life, despite many efforts to elevate him to higher ecclesiastical office. A holy life, and unusual eloquence made Bernard renowned, and he became the most powerful religious influence in France and, in time, in all Western Europe. He was the adviser of many popes, tireless in journeys to make peace, and he undertook many arduous charitable missions; he stopped a wave of pogroms in the Rhineland (1146) and he repeatedly saved luckless peasants from the powerful. His style, strong and eloquent, full of biblical allusions, was intensely personal and direct. 

It isn’t necessary to know. “Yet — knew not what was done to me”. Time will tell. My own “.. old Chapel Aisle” experience was a literature class when I was 27 years old. I heard. Sometimes it talks.

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way

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