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

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The most important commencements, new beginnings, in my life have been the result of sorting out emotional, psychological equations.  And, listening to that “little voice inside,” when my behavior seems at odds with others.  Emily Dickinson’s “No Notice gave She, but a Change -” tells me that when my inner equilibrium is established I will know I am on solid ground.

No Notice gave She, but a Change –
No Message, but a Sigh –
For Whom, the Time did not suffice
That She should specify.

She was not warm, though Summer shone
Nor scrupulous of cold
Though Rime by Rime, the steady Frost
Upon Her Bosom piled –

Of shrinking ways – she did not fright
Though all the Village looked –
But held Her gravity aloft –
And met the gaze – direct –

And when adjusted like a Seed
In careful fitted Ground
Unto the Everlasting Spring
And hindered but a Mound

Her Warm return, if so she chose –
And We – imploring drew –
Removed our invitation by
As Some She never knew

The past couple of weeks, Amherst has been alive with friends and families for graduation ceremonies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, Hampshire College and other schools, including those in Northampton.  It’s possible Dickinson may have written this poem during commencement season.  Rather than endorsing diplomas, or any other outward sign of self-reliance, this poet of considerable deftness, prowess and expertise, sends “No Message, but a Sigh – ”.  I like to read the first line of this poem as, No graduation notice gave she, but a pivotal change, nonetheless.

I wouldn’t want to say Dickinson is thumbing her nose at accreditation when, “For Whom, the Time did not suffice/That She should specify(.)” makes it clear to me that she is proffering study as a lifelong pursuit. Perhaps the lack of specificity in time and place for education is only part of the “difference” for some.

I wonder if Dickinson’s poem is a discussion of private destiny. If so, what can I learn from it?  In the second stanza, “She was not warm, though Summer shone”, again, suggests private conditions of immeasurable, frigid intensity, contrasted with an outer (lazy?) environment warmed by the sun. So wrapped up in what I’m doing I’m neither aware of the difference, “Nor scrupulous of cold”.  Certainly, the cause for such polarity between an inner terrain and its factual counterpart are not to be questioned: “Though Rime by Rime, the steady Frost/Upon Her Bosom piled – ”.

For all those friends and family who look at me and say I’m letting my life dwindle to my hand-picked pursuits, “Of shrinking ways – she did not fright/Though all the Village looked – ” all I can say is, I know what I’m doing.  There’s no clearer proof if the rightness to me of my decision about what to do with my life than the look in my eyes: “And met the gaze – direct – ”. If the eyes are the window to the soul, disturbance as well as poise and security will be apparent. Am I grounded in personal integrity? Look at my eyes. “And when adjusted like a Seed/In careful fitted Ground”.

The only thing hindering me, is the grave’s “… Mound.” I’m intrigued by the poem’s idea that death can only hinder, not stop, the work I do. If I’m contributing to “the Everlasting Spring” of truth, beauty, perhaps love, it will be taken up by posterity, and become, well… everlasting.  I think of how loved ones in my life who have died still contribute to my sense of well-being and continuity with all things eternal.

It’s a matter of choice, however.  I don’t have to stay home and write, read and tend flowers for hours and days on end. A lawyer doesn’t have to give away his time to a client unable to pay for needed services. A doctor could order unnecessary procedures.

The personal pronoun “we” reminds me that I hear myself even as I contradict those same voices appealing to, “Her Warm return, if so she chose – /And We – imploring drew – ”.  Some would give me different priorities and values.  Part of what is so valuable about a sense of destiny is that it is a choice. Even if it means the risk of being forgotten “As Some She never knew”.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

It is a source of endless fascination for me to examine my own and others’ individuality when acting from within marriage or other committed relationship.

Emily Dickinson’s interest in these dynamics may be described when “She rose to His Requirement — dropt” employs the skeptical voice of the unmarried.

She rose to His Requirement — dropt
The Playthings of Her Life
To take the honorable Work
Of Woman, and of Wife —

If ought She missed in Her new Day,
Of Amplitude, or Awe —
Or first Prospective — Or the Gold
In using, wear away,

It lay unmentioned — as the Sea
Develop Pearl, and Weed,
But only to Himself — be known
The Fathoms they abide —

In my first marriage, I was reasonably happy for many years with its terms. Though, I remember looking in the mirror the first few days after the wedding expecting to look different.

Not so. Though, in looking, I sought to discover whether “I” would survive the urge to merge. The stakes are high. The difference is that between a weed and a pearl.

Of myself I might have said, “If ought She missed in Her new Day, / Of Amplitude, or Awe —”, the fault lay entirely with “her.” There were so many “.. first Prospective(s), I leaped from one to the other for over a decade without much thought about the end-game.

The poem makes “marriage” and “work” synonymous, a fairly common idea in the 21st century. Still, who isn’t drawn to the idea of rising to the challenge posed by sacrifice? Added to that enticement, our culture’s “.. the honorable Work / Of Woman, and of Wife —”, and most women’s egos are drawn to act accordingly, if given the chance.

So, having “dropt / The Playthings of Her Life”, what then?  If “… the Gold (love)/in using, wear away”, the couple may use the convention of marriage to hide the misfortune, (the weed.)  The wearing away of love may, or may not, lay, “unmentioned – as the Sea/Develop Pearl, and Weed,”. The poem’s intrigue is in the issue every paparazzi butters his bread with: willing sacrifice versus sacrificial loss.

The universality of a truth that not only lies with women, for as “.. only to Himself ”, both partners bear truth’s burdens. Whatever is left unsaid, will be “The Fathoms they abide —”.

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way

I’ve never lacked for big ideas. The challenge is how to convey what I consider important to others. 

A similar personal drama of valued message of ideas and opinions versus their worth to other people takes place in “I play at Riches — to appease”, by Emily Dickinson.

I play at Riches – to appease
The Clamoring for Gold –
It kept me from a Thief, I think,
For often, overbold

With Want, and Opportunity –
I could have done a Sin
And been Myself that easy Thing
An independent Man –

But often as my lot displays
Too hungry to be borne
I deem Myself what I would be –
And novel Comforting

My Poverty and I derive –
We question if the Man –
Who own – Esteem the Opulence –
As We – Who never Can –

Should ever these exploring Hands
Chance Sovreign on a Mine –
Or in the long – uneven term
To win, become their turn –

How fitter they will be – for Want –
Enlightening so well –
I know not which, Desire, or Grant –
Be wholly beautiful –

I want to load people up with my plans for a book, a drama, any number of “shows-for-the-road,” “The Clamoring for Gold — ”. But, are they worth something? I know it is important for me to pay attention to other’s feedback. My tendency, “For often, overbold / With Want, and Opportunity — ” is to overlook details and withdraw into a cocoon instead of listening to criticism.  Resignation and self-pity takes hold, “But often as my lot displays”. Nevertheless, it can bring me back to something akin to truth. “Too hungry to be borne”, I am thrust into a pragmatic self-analysis by examining my ideas to see how well they really hold up in an argument.

I’ve started more than one project to find my plans are larger than my ability to cope with them. “I could have done a Sin” when sloppy thinking led to fantasies of “.. Myself that easy Thing / An independent Man — ”

If I defend the ideas that are important to me without being petty or adversarial, then “My Poverty and I derive” a benefit from releasing envy. My curiosity about the difference between me and “the Man — / Who own — ..” can be useful. Who is to say? “I know not which, Desire, or Grant(ing)” my ambition, “Be wholly beautiful —”.

If my beliefs truly hold up I can “Esteem the Opulence — ” of myself as I am, as well as of public recognition. 

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way 


Stunned by the pitfalls of misdirected compassion and my own limitations on a new project, today I am threatened with being caught up in petty personal causes. I feel if I don’t get outside myself enough to appeal to the concerns of new people in my life where I’ve obligated myself, I will fail.

The poem that finds and reveals the hidden, frightened, and challenged, excited person I am this morning is, “Struck, was I, nor yet by Lightning —”, by Emily Dickinson.

Struck, was I, nor yet by Lightning –
Lightning – lets away
Power to perceive His Process
With Vitality.

Maimed – was I – yet not by Venture –
Stone of stolid Boy –
Nor a Sportsman’s Peradventure –
Who mine Enemy?

Robbed – was I – intact to Bandit –
All my Mansion torn –
Sun – withdrawn to Recognition –
Furthest shining – done –

Yet was not the foe – of any –
Not the smallest Bird
In the nearest Orchard dwelling –
Be of Me – afraid.

Most – I love the Cause that slew Me –
Often as I die
Its beloved Recognition
Holds a Sun on Me –

Best – at Setting – as is Nature’s –
Neither witnessed Rise
Till the infinite Aurora
In the other’s eyes –

Doing a hit-and run, “Struck, was I, ……”, “Maimed — was I — …”, “Robbed — was I”, the words accomplish their aim at me by what is eliminated.

No, it’s not “by Lightning”, “not by Venture —”, nor “Bandit”. I’m glad to know all this. But what is it? “Who mine Enemy?”

Although there are those I would prefer not to have to deal with, I “Yet was not the foe — of any —”.

Perhaps in the poem, “the Cause that slew Me —” is poetry itself. Or, more universally, the answer to, “Who mine Enemy?”, well, that would be me. The line has a mysterious, deflating effect on the high emotion building up. “Most — I love the Cause that slew Me —”

The acknowledgment of myself as the question and the answer to my problem, “It’s beloved Recognition”, offers a way out of darkness. “.. Recognition / Holds a Sun on Me —”.

Until the day when “infinite Aurora”, a brilliant radiance defines my inner and outer self, forever, and “In the other’s eyes —”, I shall have to make do. Until then, I can decide to set to work. Not shy away from people or challenges. 

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way

I’ve come to believe everyone makes assumptions only barely resembling truth. I’ve listened to poets discuss Emily Dickinson’s psyche for hours upon hours; ignoring poetry. I caught myself in an assumption about a football coach by being surprised when one showed poetic sensitivity.

“I was not wanting to miss anything. It’s real. It’s something you can’t — can’t fake it. It’s a moment in time.

“A moment in time and then ‘poof.’ It’s over,” said Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin, in an NFL interview the week before the Super Bowl.

Dickinson’s “Unfulfilled to Observation —” cautions against assuming knowledge based on commonplace, conventional understanding.

Unfulfilled to Observation –
Incomplete – to Eye –
But to Faith – a Revolution
In Locality –

Unto Us – the Suns extinguish –
To our Opposite –
New Horizons – they embellish –
Fronting Us – with Night.

I may think your way of life “Unfulfilled to Observation —”, for nothing about it interests me. Anyone who is suspicious of a poet’s, or anyone else’s, choices because they appear “Incomplete — to Eye —”, do not have the right to gossip or otherwise interfere with the next person’s response.

It’s so hard not to judge. A boy grows up to be entirely different from what I expected. A parent who was easy-going but aloof, may become a friend. Working on a career without the support or encouragement of loved ones may take place right under their noses. “But to Faith — a Revolution / In Locality”. The locale may stay the same, but everything else can change.

Everyone around seems to agree on the same judgment, conclusion or assessment, “Unto Us — the Suns extinguish —”. For some reason what gets everyone else going, just leaves me cold.

No matter how much the authorities “New Horizons — they embellish —”,  it all just speaks “To our Opposite —” way of thinking. 

The lucky among us may become aware of our blind judgments, assumptions and otherwise self-limiting ideas. The same confrontation “With (my own) Night.”, may also front the deeper understanding that is possible if I open my mind. The poem welcomes the black hole between one person and many. Or, perhaps between me and myself. I’m still amazed at how much effort goes into covering them.

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What comes Your Way 

Emily Dickinson’s “Color — Caste — Denomination — ”, like the great equalizer, death, discards all my best and worst as mere symptoms of my fallible, error-prone status as human.

Color – Caste – Denomination –
These – are Time’s Affair –
Death’s diviner Classifying
Does not know they are –

As in sleep – All Hue forgotten –
Tenets – put behind –
Death’s large – Democratic fingers
Rub away the Brand –

If Circassian – He is careless –
If He put away
Chrysalis of Blonde – or Umber –
Equal Butterfly –

They emerge from His Obscuring –
What Death – knows so well –
Our minuter intuitions –
Deem unplausible –

“These — are Time’s Affair” is an easy concept, somewhat nostalgic in nature. They are words that role off the tongue. Just as conditions of race, social standing, or religious ideology skirt out of memory as soon as we are dead. Or, perhaps even in sleep.

Important only when our consciousness is controlled by time, “Color — a black president, Caste — corporate titans vs. poverty’s luckless, and Denomination — Catholics, Mormons and Muslims, all define current events. These concepts are essential to understanding temporal civilization and earthly history, but lousy at classifying people.

The poem suggests to me, by its own simplicity, that it need not be so hard to avoid defining myself and others by such episodic concerns.

If I really want to get it straight, the poem counsels, when looking for what really matters in this life, I should use death as my guide. For death does not know about distinctions: “Does not know they are — / As in sleep — All Hue forgotten —”.

All the principles that guide my treatment of myself and others; all my beliefs about what to expect; all the doctrines I’ve inherited about God and honor: are no more, no less than “Tenets — ” that are flawed when “put behind — ”.

As the “purest” type of white person, “Circassian women were said to be the most beautiful on earth, prized by Turkish sultans. The use of this kind of human description is funny when followed by the idea of “careless,” almost scientific, experiment. Butterfly cocoons of different species, may be indistinguishable.  Put two chrysalis (that sheltered stage of growth that obscures color) away on a shelf.  They may emerge from that obscure state to surprise the experimenter by their color.

If I am focused on the differences, (“Our minuter intuitions —”), the poem has a wry, sardonic retort. For by prizing such transient descriptions I am more sheltered from the truth than the larvae.  For I cannot  perceive what “Death — knows so well —”.  Red, or yellow, black and white, “Blond — or Umber — / Equal Butterfly — ”.

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way