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!

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

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

I’ve been looking at quite a few websites devoted to Halloween recently. A recurring theme is of being trapped, locked inside a haunted house or other creepy place.  On some level we must all be claustrophobic. Emily Dickinson uses that spooky dread to call attention to a private “trap” that is a feature of the human species in, “A single Screw of Flesh”.

A single Screw of Flesh
Is all that pins the Soul
That stands for Deity, to mine,
Opon my side the Vail –

Once witnessed of the Gauze –
Its name is put away
As far from mine, as if no plight
Had printed yesterday,

In tender – solemn Alphabet,
My eyes just turned to see –
When it was smuggled by my sight
Into Eternity –

More Hands – to hold – These are but Two –
One more new-mailed Nerve
Just granted, for the Peril’s sake –
Some striding – Giant – Love –

So greater than the Gods can show,
They slink before the Clay,
That not for all their Heaven can boast
Will let its Keepsake – go

In the first stanza there’s a dichotomy set up between “…Flesh (and) … the Soul”; body and spirit. There is ample room for me to speculate that Dickinson has no need for metaphysics, if I prefer to think of this as the me that others know versus the me I know myself to be.

I might mention here that some editors have changed “vail” to “veil” in this poem, where vail in, “Opon my side the Vail – ”, is judged as a figure of speech for a lady’s hat. But, there’s an old English usage of vail that fits perfectly if we want the word to carry the metaphor for contradicting energies. That is because vail, meaning “take off one’s hat or otherwise show respect or submission to someone” leaves a more universal, i.e. males included, application. I think, too, it lines up with Dickinson’s suggestion of my spirit being obliged to submit to the confines of physicality. I have a picture of a proud competent spirit/servant showing respect, with eyes cast downward, that the body/employer will have the last word.

My experience is often of feeling my soul’s identity is obscured because, “Its name is put away” by the actions I pursue. The hungers, angers, dreams and ambitions that are “As far from mine, as if no plight / Had printed yesterday,” when writing one line took hours. Hours.

Did you ever see a better analysis of the effort taken to be known in all my best intentions, as opposed to what others – family, friends, lovers, bosses – interpret? “In tender – solemn Alphabet,” – so much care, so much deliberateness in tackling a role, or a project. Only to do a one-eighty, “My eyes just turned to see – / When it was smuggled by my sight / Into Eternity – ” never to be the success I imagined.

But, no matter. There are always, “More Hands – to hold – These are but Two -”. Perhaps the point is not, after all, to succeed. Perhaps the chase to find a reconciliation of my flesh and my identity-as-I-know-it is, “Just granted, for the Peril’s sake – ”.  Why didn’t I think of it myself?  “Some striding – Giant – Love -…So greater than the Gods can show,” is an over-arching principle.

The struggle I find myself in at this point is to accept that there is a greater truth than spirit or body, soul or flesh – even if it is Love – that great, long striding Giant. And, that like a memento of an adventurous trip, spirit will be a souvenir put away in deference to the authority of the fixed number of years I’m given.  And, “slink before the Clay, /That not for all their Heaven can boast / Will let its Keepsake – go”.

Go?

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

Inevitably, I will have a gazillion little distractions and Perfectly Good Reasons to delay a sit-down with a blank screen.

The old cliche’ of an alcoholic award-winning novelist or the newspaper reporter with a bottle of scotch in his desk drawer derive from the sometimes burdensome isolation of a writer. I wonder if it is this that Emily Dickinson recalls in “There is another Loneliness”.

There is another Loneliness
That many die without –
Not want of friend occasions it
Or circumstances of Lot

But nature, sometimes, sometimes thought
And whoso it befall
Is richer than could be revealed
By mortal numeral –

There is satisfaction in writing when I’ve completed a blog post or other writing project that is deliciously different from other pleasures. And, plenty of people have other private satisfactions.  And, I’m sure they have equally be-deviling habits to stand in their way without ever an attempt to make a dime with their time at a keyboard. “There is another Loneliness / That many die without – ”.

It’s not the kind of loneliness that has anything to do with a lack of friends. “Not want of friend occasions it”.  Nor can it be blamed on the rich or poor circumstances of my life. It doesn’t even have anything to do with having a job, a mate, or, much else. “Or circumstances of Lot”.

This next line slows me down after the somewhat mysterious words of the first stanza. And, then hands me over to a slow, contemplative – almost rock back and forth – tempo. “But nature, sometimes, sometimes thought”.  That line.  It sits out there all by itself.  Through repetition of “sometimes, sometimes” it emphasizes the rarity of the experience of writing greatness.  Thought, in the world of Dickinson poetry needs no object to be a verb. Thought, like nature, just is.  Upon completion of my writing, I may feel a oneness with nature.  Fine.  That is one thing. “But nature, sometimes, sometimes thought” through me! What an amazing way to say how it feels to create something out of words. A rare privilege, indeed.

The final thought of this poem is to recognize the prosperous condition of our spirits when we overcome the isolation, the fear to publish, and tell the wolves of self-doubt to find another victim. “And whoso it befall / Is richer than could be revealed / By mortal numeral – ”.  Immortal numeral for immortal words.  Don’t I wish.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way