One of the most humbling experiences for me is to read the Valentines Day prose poem by Emily Dickinson penned (probably) when she was only 20. The back story, as relayed by biographers, has her discovering that her poem has been published in the college newspaper. In all likelihood, Dickinson’s recipient for the poem was the young editor of the paper, George Gould.

I say, “humbling,” because for all its silliness, it is a triumph of flirtation, entertainment, fiction and, if  evidenced only by its non-repetitive lengthiness – sincerity.

I would give anything to have not lost a poem I wrote when I was 16, that was as long as this one but done for an English class, not a boyfriend. It surprised both me and my English teacher. My parents were stunned. But, none of us held on to it. It would be a “trip” to see now if I think it’s as “good” as it seemed to be at the time.

Dickinson, on the other hand, seems to have written tongue-in-cheek a missive that off-handedly records her ease with popular topics like Valentines Day.  A love note that counterpoints the profound and challenging poetry on which we rely.  Here’s the Valentine –

Awake ye muses nine, sing me a strain divine,
Unwind the solemn twine, and tie my Valentine!
–         –
Oh the Earth was made for lovers, for damsel, and hopeless swain,
For sighing, and gentle whispering, and unity made of twain.
All things do go a courting, in earth, or sea, or air,
God hath made nothing single but thee in His world so fair!
The bride, and then the bridegroom, the two, and then the one,
Adam, and Eve, his consort, the moon, and then the sun;
The life doth prove the precept, who obey shall happy be,
Who will not serve the sovereign, be hanged on fatal tree.
The high do seek the lowly, the great do seek the small,
None cannot find who seeketh, on this terrestrial ball;
The bee doth court the flower, the flower his suit receives,
And they make merry wedding, whose guests are hundred leaves;
The wind doth woo the branches, the branches they are won,
And the father fond demandeth the maiden for his son.
The storm doth walk the seashore humming a mournful tune,
The wave with eye so pensive, looketh to see the moon,
Their spirits meet together, they make their solemn vows,
No more he singeth mournful, her sadness she doth lose.
The worm doth woo the mortal, death claims a living bride,
Night unto day is married, morn unto eventide;
Earth is a merry damsel, and heaven a knight so true,
And Earth is quite coquettish, and beseemeth in vain to sue.
Now to the application, to the reading of the roll,
To bringing thee to justice, and marshalling thy soul:
Thou art a human solo, a being cold, and lone,
Wilt have no kind companion, thou reap’st what thou hast sown.
Hast never silent hours, and minutes all too long,
And a deal of sad reflection, and wailing instead of song?
There’s Sarah, and Eliza, and Emeline so fair,
And Harriet, and Susan, and she with curling hair!
Thine eyes are sadly blinded, but yet thou mayest see
Six true, and comely maidens sitting upon the tree;
Approach that tree with caution, then up it boldly climb,
And seize the one thou lovest, nor care for space, or time!
Then bear her to the greenwood, and build for her a bower,
And give her what she asketh, jewel, or bird, or flower —
And bring the fife, and trumpet, and beat upon the drum —
And bid the world Goodmorrow, and go to glory home!

Emily Dickinson’s multiple images for the times that are a-changing, and the thoughts that accompany them, in, “The murmuring of Bees, has ceased”, challenges me to stop and notice language and the transformations they attempt to express. And, what role my thoughts play in my changing definition of myself.

The reading I do, the poems I scrutinize, even positive quotes I need or want to hear on any given day depend on many things: Whether I’m happy about the responsibilities I face. Or, if someone near and deare is happy. Perhaps I’m having money problems. On the other hand, if I just got a new job the words that will feed my soul will be quite different. A new baby in the family? Some other extraordinary happening? Or, maybe change happens gradually, like the seasons, my age, even my idea of God.

The murmuring of Bees, has ceased
But murmuring of some
Posterior, prophetic,
Has simultaneous come.
The lower metres of the Year
When Nature’s laugh is done
The Revelations of the Book
Whose Genesis was June.
Appropriate Creatures to her change
The Typic Mother sends
As Accent fades to interval
With separating Friends
Till what we speculate, has been
And thoughts we will not show
More intimate with us become
Than Persons, that we know.

As I write this, the summer of 2010 is complete. “The murmuring of the Bees, has ceased”. Yet, other indicators of the truth of my physical existence remain. In fact, they never conclude: “But murmuring of some/Posterior, prophetic,/Has simultaneous come.”

Perhaps, in part, the poem suggests examining my thoughts and words for which ones are like the murmur of this year’s bees. And which ones valued as more enduring. Memorizing a poem to offer it back to myself as a positive quote does not mean parroting happy talk. Quite the contrary. Like a friend willing to simply listen to a rant, the poem reflects me back to myself; or, encourages me to be myself.

Isn’t it fascinating that “The lower metres of the Year”, assumes my understanding (conscious or unconscious thought) that all year there are other signs, other whispers, re-emerging, or constant – voices spoken with an undertone similar to summer’s with its unobtrusiveness, as when “.. Nature’s laugh is done”.

The poem almost belabors the conditions that describe summer, imitating my reluctance to put summer in the past tense in a “book/year.” Again, there is a metaphor for “Genesis-summer,” but this time it’s a soft introduction of summer’s inevitable, though perhaps unwanted disclosure, even betrayal, “The Revelations of the Book/Whose Genesis was June.” The revelation is autumn. With fall, “As Accent (that) fades to interval”, the word play introduces a notion of dreary things to come; and, intimates whispered gossip’s power, “With separating Friends”.

Finally, the lines, “Till what we speculate, has been/And thoughts we will not show” provide me with a treatise, of sorts, for my idea that certain poems transcend and embrace myself.

I’ve been alerted recently by reading Jed Deppman’s Trying To Think With Emily Dickinson, that the poet took thought/thinking as a subject in itself. Perhaps that is one reason my own thoughts, “More intimate with us become/Than Persons, that we know” must be my most definitive aspect.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

Nobody left a pile of money on my doorstep today. No long lost love has called. I am simply in a mood to see my everyday conditions and circumstances, comings and goings, as more gleeful than usual. Emily Dickinson’s “In many and reportless places” reflects on this mysterious happiness that occurs like a visitation from some kind of benevolent angel.

In many and reportless places
We feel a Joy –
Reportless, also, but sincere as Nature
Or Deity –

It comes, without a consternation –
Dissolves – the same –
But leaves a sumptuous Destitution –
Without a Name –

Profane it by a search – we cannot –
It has no home –
Nor we who having once inhaled it –
Thereafter roam.

Coincidentally, perhaps, I am looking forward to a get together this evening with friends and neighbors to have fun, dance, and simply socialize and talk.  However, I think I would feel this way whether or not there were activities going on.

Today I woke aware of being among the, “We (who) feel a Joy – / Reportless, also, but sincere as Nature / Or Deity –. It is indeed “Nature” that has acted on me, without plan, without motive, without even consciousness. The delicious privacy of this kind of inner transaction provides for a sense of connectedness.

Unlike those “bad moods” that act to create an unexplainable wedge sometimes.  Yesterday was, by contrast, more like an infestation! For no apparent reason, I looked for an argument. I found myself trying to upstage someone in a conversation from which I had absolutely nothing to benefit. Today has a different feel altogether. I don’t particularly feel like discussing serious matters, I am enjoying a state of mind, “It comes, without a consternation -”.

Experience, like that of the speaker’s in the poem, tells me it will sooner or later, “Dissolve – the same -” as it arrived – inexplicably. The present tense used in the poem fascinates me in the poignancy it lends to the wistful, rueful nostalgia that takes over when it, “But leaves a sumptuous Destitution – / Without a Name -”.

It is in this tenor of life that I realize there is a considerable amount of love in everyday affairs. The poem adds another layer of experience by reminding me of the impossibility of guaranteeing myself the best attitude for every situation: “Profane it by a search – we cannot – / It has no home -”. If I wish to accept the lesson it offers, I notice that the poem deems it “profane,” the opposite of “Nature,” the antithesis of “Deity,” to try to pin down, or make happen, this graceful spirit.

On my own I would not see the comparison the poem seems to establish between not having to search-for-affection and “home.” The little irony of there being no origin, “no home” for this provisional mood, and its effect of making me feel “at home” in my own skin and surroundings is one of the charms of the poem.

I wonder how many people go through life without appreciating the love that pops up in unpredictable ways all the time. To become aware of the connectedness I feel in simple ways, as well as the important ones, is to have a richness of experience that cannot be bought. “Nor we who having once inhaled it – /Thereafter roam.”

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

Like many children, when little I was entertained by garrulous motormouths. At some point in late adolescence I started to appreciate those who could concentrate on a topic so as to enjoy a lengthy conversation.  Not long after, I learned self-confidence when I discovered a knack for leading group discussions and that I enjoyed public speaking and performing. Emily Dickinson sets up conversational references in “I fear a Man of frugal speech -” perhaps to comment on the developmental effect of our interaction with others.

I fear a Man of frugal speech –
I fear a Silent Man –
Haranguer – I can overtake –
Or Babbler – entertain –

But He who weigheth – While the Rest –
Expend their furthest pound –
Of this Man – I am wary –
I fear that He is Grand –

My tendency is to rattle on to fill the gaps of silence in the conversation, as described in line one, between me and someone who uses speech very sparingly, frugally.   In the second example, since there’s no conversation possible with “… a Silent Man – ”, I think of a party or group meeting. There’s the inevitable one who sits listening. The only conversation in this instance is the one I have with myself, so I feel compelled to try to “make ’em talk!” Or, heaven forbid there drop a moment of quiet in an otherwise lively exchange of ideas. Then, I’ve more than once jumped at the chance to have my say.

I read the third example as outright funny. “Haranguer – I can overtake -”. What a spectacle it is when I take the bait and get into a contest of insights, opinions and interpretations with someone who confuses their entitlement to beliefs with their right to exist. Fourth, it is probably a sign of a dampened conscience that my mind goes into to cruise control when I’m around naturally loquacious individuals who epitomize the gift of gab: “Or Babbler – entertain – ”.

In stark contrast to circumstances where another’s silence or “frugal speech” prompts thoughtless chatter on my part, in the fifth line, “But He who weigheth – While the Rest – ”, the poem indicates a progression. Perhaps “the rest” is about those of us who talk or say little because reflective or philosophical thinking is forgotten in the anticipations and apprehensions of discussion.

The word fear is used three times in the poem; twice in the first stanza and once in the second. Fear of what I will say when reacting to someone’s silence by blurting the first words that occur to me. Fear of how much smarter they might be than me. Akin to the fear of the unknown, these conversational lapses remind me that nothing is foreordained. Surely fear in the sense of respect, too, for one who keeps his own counsel when others, “Expend their furthest pound -”, put all they can into convincing others, or showcasing their own cleverness.

In young children it is endearing when bravado and bragging enter into their language and behavior. As Erikson’s “stages of psychosocial development” describe it, 2 to 3-year-olds will either enjoy autonomy or feel shame and doubt; ages 4 to 6 will exhibit self-motivation or guilt; diligence or inferiority will typify childhood from 7 to 11. Autonomy, self-motivation and diligence in these ages is easy to recognize in little babblers and haranguers.

Whether I interpret wary and fear in the final, “Of this Man – I am wary -/ I fear that He is Grand -”, as dread or esteem depends on whether I have found any grandeur in my own life and being – my motivations and responsibilities. And, whether I have the power to experience sympathetic understanding in all kinds of conversations.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

Say it isn’t so, we say, when a deep sea oil drill disaster destroys land, water, fish, wildlife and tiny organisms on a Biblical scale.  Emily Dickinson’s “A doubt if it be Us” points out that my very definition of myself and “you” can be changed by catastrophe. Hostility to, and refusal to accept, is built in, the poem declares.

A doubt if it be Us
Assists the staggering Mind
In an extremer Anguish
Until it footing find.

An Unreality is lent,
A merciful Mirage
That makes the living possible
While it suspends the lives

How can it be, that hurricanes reorder an entire human system: homes, businesses, relationships and hearts. We would rather “..doubt if it be Us”, than accept what’s happened. This much tragedy happens somewhere else. Doesn’t it? The furthest extreme of this experience is a response to trauma such as loss of speech, amnesia, even death from a heart attack.

In this poem about shock, doubt, itself, is portrayed as our ally. For it, “Assists the staggering Mind”. Doubt is usually regarded as somewhat benign and simply a way to describe uncertainty or indecision. In religion, hesitation or dubiousness about tenets of faith are respected as signs of thinking things through.  Doubt as suspicion or confusion about things-that-go-bump-in-the night are accepted as part of being aware. Doubtful queries and questions about everything from political campaigns to why your teenager was out past her curfew, a sign of being engaged.

But, in that unknown landscape of my nervous system, somewhere between shutting down completely in death and everyday doubts, the staggering mind receives help from a sustaining type of doubt. But only “In an extremer Anguish / (and no more than) Until it footing find.”

Since I don’t “do” such horrific changes to my known world easily, or well, “An Unreality is lent, / A merciful Mirage” takes over to keep me from comprehending what’s changing. Everything. Mercifully, “That makes the living possible”.

Curiously, the last line describes the impact of these psychic mechanisms – “While it suspends the lives” – and, withholds resolution of the matter. This particular day is the 74th day of no conclusion in the Gulf of Mexico. A continuation of suspended lives after the BP Oil disaster.

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.

Spring will soon give way to scorching summer days. Perhaps then, the intention behind Emily Dickinson’s extraordinary use of white, “Dare you see a Soul in the White Heat?” will be unambiguous.

Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat?
Then crouch within the door –
Red – is the Fire’s common tint –
But when the vivid Ore

Has vanquished Flame’s conditions –
It quivers from the Forge
Without a color, but the Light
Of unanointed Blaze –

Least Village has its Blacksmith
Whose Anvil’s even ring
Stands symbol for the finer Forge
That soundless tugs – within –

Refining these impatient Ores
With Hammer, and with Blaze
Until the Designated Light
Repudiate the Forge –

“Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat? / Then crouch within the door -”.  It is a dare, as well as a warning. If I stop to look at fire’s ultimate temperatures, I cannot resist the white hot heart. Yet, if I don’t have proper respect for what a blacksmith mixes, using experienced skill, I can only gawk. Or, worse, get too close with amateur clumsiness.

When the cause, ..Fire’s common tint – / .. the vivid Ore” leads to its effect, the results promise transformation from liquid metal to precise instrument.  That is, if the blacksmith has learned how to make it happen, through learning, courage and intact belief.

Life may bring about what seems to me unbearable personal issues and abhorrent circumstances, “Flame’s conditions -”.

If so, then, rage “..quivers from the Forge”.

If I feel crushed and engulfed, I may become emotionally depressed, in other words, “Without a color, but the Light / Of unanointed Blaze -”

As in a play, right at the apex of the poem’s dramatic tension, we take a break. The poem’s picture, “Least Village has its Blacksmith / Whose Anvil’s even ring”, reminds me of a common site that is as customary as it is generally understood to be dangerous.

While I relax, it’s as if the poem takes me to a chatty place I can access through memories of various graphic illustrations of a blacksmith. Who hasn’t been enchanted by smithies in Victorian art? Western movies dramatized blacksmith shops repeatedly.

There’s a romantic quality to seeing a man’s tender skin in close proximity to a working anvil. Because horseshoes and other necessary implements painstakingly fabricated as the result of manipulating white-hot iron, “(s)tands symbol for the finer Forge”.

That which doesn’t kill me makes me.

Here’s the real dare. Do I have the courage, the guts, the moxie, the pluck to see my own soul – “That soundless tugs – within – ”?

The poem’s challenge in the final stanza is to take the time, love and self-reflection for “Refining these impatient Ores / With Hammer, and with Blaze”. My “ores” and yours won’t be the same. In fact, “my hammer and blaze” look somewhat different from my parents or my even my children’s. The tools of understanding, interest, talent, and weaknesses or sins, even circumstance and motivation obviously differ from person to person.

Still, the principle is the same. Eventually, the poem promises, you and I both will arrive at the Great “Until..”. I will have that sense of self benefited by  “… the Designated Light”.  Then, the old struggles will recede and die away, “Repudiate(d by) the Forge -” of personal conflicts.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way