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

The event that Americans commonly call the first Thanksgiving was celebrated to give thanks to God for helping the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony survive their first brutal winter in New England, according to Wikipedia.  Writing from her 19th Century Western Massachusetts home, Emily Dickinson recognizes personal archives playing in memory and emotions in “One Day is there of the Series”.  This completely different kind of Thanksgiving history is as familiar to me as the annual feast.

One Day is there of the Series
Termed “Thanksgiving Day”
Celebrated part at Table
Part in Memory –
Neither Ancestor nor Urchin
I review the Play –
Seems it to my Hooded thinking
Reflex Holiday –
Had There been no sharp subtraction
From the early Sum –
Not an Acre or a Caption
Where was once a Room –
Not a Mention, whose small Pebble
Wrinkled any Sea,
Unto such, were such Assembly
‘Twere “Thanksgiving Day” –

The poem’s first three lines recognizes a community’s shared experience, “One Day….Termed “Thanksgiving Day”, but hooks us on an emotional level with that little word, “part.” It is buried, like a private thought, in a phrase that is otherwise familar: “Celebrated part at Table”.

Isn’t it lovely to pay tribute to those private thoughts of past Thanksgivings as being as dominate in our minds as the spread on the table and the people with whom we share it? The poem intends to place that “Part in Memory -” right up there with the rest.  Individual thoughts of past Thanksgivings include “Neither Ancestor..” of the first Thanksgiving, nor the pets, children or “…Urchin” of today.

When I sit down with loved ones this year, “I review the Play -” of the very first time I baked a turkey in my own home; my children’s first Thanksgivings; my mother’s deft banquet-making; my deceased daughter’s last Thanksgiving when she was 16.

Thoughts and emotions about past Thanksgivings have their own law, leaving me to decide what to say out loud. “Seems it to my Hooded thinking/Reflex Holiday -”. Or, my hidden thinking has an involuntary and untaught way of observing private history. When feelings for someone absent help to define this Thanksgiving they are as real as ever. “Had There been no sharp subtraction/From the early Sum -”, had there not been a huge portion of cherished people razored off; and, though they own no local property and you won’t see their photo published here, “Not an Acre or a Caption”, they are part of the holiday, nonetheless.

Just as thoughts jam and mesh between then and now, the poem’s lines combine thoughts, “Where was once a Room – / Not a Mention,”. It once required a room of her own to give reasonable care and acknowledgment, but now the house is a reflection of schedules and plans where she is not mentioned. Where once so many friends and family admitted, “whose small Pebble/Wrinkled any Sea,” because every life was a “sea” and she was a “small pebble,” who left such a pleasant wavelet.

These thoughts and others, “Unto such, were such Assembly / ‘Twere “Thanksgiving Day” -”.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

When Emily Dickinson created “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – ” she gave readers a conundrum – how to reconcile somber death with an exuberant fly. Dilemmas and riddles abound in Dickinson’s work so that part is no surprise. Humor is the wonderful and crucial element.

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –

With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –

With the beginning stanza, I have a picture. Not calmness, but “like the Stillness in the Air -/ Between the Heaves of Storm – ”, a foreboding quiet. Everything in my life is suspended: conversation; loved ones, even thoughts of them; shopping; striving for excellence.  I am waiting; having said goodbye to all.

Suddenly, in starkest contrast, a buzzing fly, the uncontrollable and unpredictable third party, insinuates itself to mediate between me and immortality.

To reiterate the control that the vast unknown has on me and others, “Breaths were gathering firm”, the second stanza goes a step further than bleak resignation, to provide a villain. That other interloper, “King” Death, the one I can foresee, predict. Custom says death is the perfect and unpredictable, if inevitable, foil to life.

In this poem it is life’s unpredictability and exuberance, dramatized by the fly, that appears to do the impeding, or obstructing.  Hindering death’s progress.

Dickinson employs the very heart of humor here. For in the telling, the poem has it over King Death, if only for a moment. The poem dares to turn the tables on inevitability. A smile works its way onto my face.  For as I read I, too, momentarily play death at its own game.

Having attempted, as we do, to amass a modicum of sway, “I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away/ What portion of me be / Assignable”, it is sweet control, that I relish, through my paraphernalia, my stuff.  Here, again, “and then it was / There interposed a Fly – ”.  This time, the poem makes me laugh at myself. Control? ForgetAboutIt!

The final stanza’s “fly” is a fading image, now blending “With Blue – ..” while the crisp words of the first line are replaced with an echo of ebbing consciousness: “..uncertain stumbling Buzz – ”. Light, me, failing windows and the fly seem to move toward one another. But, “I could not see to see – ”.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

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

Emily Dickinson’s “Nobody knows this little Rose – ” works to remove distinctions between my mental and emotional responses; to merge feeling and intellect in an act of appreciation.

Nobody knows this little Rose –
It might a pilgrim be
Did I not take it from the ways
And lift it up to thee.
Only a Bee will miss it –
Only a Butterfly,
Hastening from far journey –
On its breast to lie –
Only a Bird will wonder –
Only a Breeze will sigh –
Ah Little Rose – how easy
For such as thee to die!

In my mind’s (mental) eye, the poem puts me into the story of one whose love (emotion) for another is expressed with feeling for nature’s gifts, in the form of the “little Rose – ”. In this initial reference the lower case “l” connotes any pretty flower. Nature, then, is the thing that stimulates an appreciation of its artistry. I am including myself and others as equivalent to the flower. For, we, along with the rose, “It might a pilgrim be”.

But, when “…I …take it from the ways” I participate with Nature as creator. Also, then the rose becomes part of a larger music, in the form of the poem’s rhythm. I, too, become a part of this Nature narrative, as the flower and myself are captured in poetry.

I’m told† this poem was included with a real rose to show love to a friend: “And lift it up to thee.” I am persuaded to take my place with “Only a Bee (who) will miss it – / Only a Butterfly,” by anticipating the loss of the flower once it has been given away. But, to trust my mind, rather than my feelings, as a means to express and to share an intellectual appreciation of beauty with a loved one.

There is more for me than a tender use of imagery in “Hastening from far journey – / On its breast to lie -”. It is a continuation of the poem’s conveyance that there is equal value between mind and emotion, as well as between Nature’s other signs of life and its human beings. I may “wonder” and “sigh” over what is lost; while not hesitating to act to enlarge my scope of expression. In the next-to-last line, the now titled, “Little Rose”, dies in order to become part of my larger story in expressing all I can to a loved one.

The poem invites me to experience concepts with great emotional feeling or to express emotions in an intellectual manner. Feeling and intellect are synthesized is in the poem.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

†R. W. Franklin. The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Variorum Edition. Pages 66-68. Franklin also provides information for this note: This is one of the poems by Dickinson that was actually published. It appeared in the Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican daily newspaper on August 2, 1858. Tradition has it that Dickinson’s sister-in-law, Susan, is responsible for sending it to the paper.

Few incidents prompt me to reach for a love poem-sorry about regrets-more than loss. Emily Dickinson’s “I’m sorry for the Dead – Today -” recognizes the crushing quality of lost opportunities and squandered relationships. The poem’s tone teaches, prescribes, the necessity for orienting away from death’s overwhelming potential for its survivors. Its lyrical, compassionate rendering avoids looking full-face into the tragedy, just as the grief-stricken must do.

I’m sorry for the Dead – Today –
It’s such congenial times
Old Neighbors have at fences –
It’s time o’ year for Hay,

And Broad – Sunburned Acquaintance
Discourse between the Toil –
And laugh, a homely species
That makes the Fences smile –

It seems so straight to lie away
From all of the noise of Fields –
The Busy Carts – the fragrant Cocks –
The Mower’s Metre – Steals

A Trouble lest they’re homesick –
Those Farmers – and their Wives –
Set separate from the Farming –
And all the Neighbors’ lives –

A Wonder if the Sepulchre
Don’t feel a lonesome way –
When Men – and Boys – and Carts – and June,
Go down the Fields to “Hay” –

Acceptance and avoidance are perfectly balanced in this poem. Look at Dickinson’s use of the same word, “Hay”, twice. An equilibrium is established with the alternating “Hay” in the first and last stanza; and, in the last line of each. The first, “It’s time o’ year for Hay,” denotes a celebration of life. The second, “Go down the Fields to ‘Hay’ – ” contextually invites acceptance of final conclusions.

As a poem written right smack in the middle of the American Civil War (1861 to 1865) there were thousands of deaths each day from both sides. There would have been tens of thousands of mourners going about their day with a weak hold on their emotions.  But emotions had to be carried to keep society and government intact. If everyone who was mourning soldiers were to become hysterical how much more could be lost.

The second stanza speaks for our attachment to meandering “Discourse between the Toil – ”. Aren’t we humans characterized by a yearning for unpredictable “…laugh, a homely species”. Easy-going conversations, or even a penchant for gossip “That makes the Fences smile -”.

Then, our poor minds wander, thinking in spite of ourselves: “It seems so straight to lie away/From all of the noise…” So that even the ones we gossiped about yesterday have become “Those Farmers – and their Wives – /Set separate from the Farming -/And all the Neighbors’ lives -”.

“Wonder” is an intentional attempt, I believe, to be low-key, measured, working toward calm, avoiding panic. Yet, not prettifying the truth of the burial chamber as epitome of “… a lonesome way – ”.

Then, a scene that would summon back memories of practically every family’s ordeal during the Civil War, and thousands in our day, “When Men – and Boys – and Carts – and June,” form a deadly, military parade. In this portrayal of Hay, death takes its place in the continuum of life, another type of harvest. “A homely species.”

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way