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.


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

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

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

There are so many Emily Dickinson poems inspired by romantic “Valentine” preoccupations. I decided for this Valentine season to start, as they say, at the beginning. “Awake ye muses nine, sing me a strain divine,” launches every comprehensive collection of Dickinson poems. The very first poem I find if I start reading at the beginning recalls those delicious feelings of teenage puppy love while it also tries to sound very grownup. Another teenage trait.

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!

The first time we have a teenage crush on someone, an infatuation, we don’t know we have started the long road to learning to balance feelings that provide for lasting attachments, “…strain divine”, with an equally strong urge to be possessive: “tie my Valentine!” The painful problem especially of “tweens” is of wanting a friend to pay attention only to “me” alone.

The heavenly transformation from this self-absorbed condition is captured in poem after poem of Dickinson’s work. Dickinson’s sense of awe toward love relationships was just getting started when she wrote this Valentine poem. The spiritual mystery of romance as a catalyst for selfless action and spiritual self-denial, produced many poems that served as gateways to the poet’s highly evolved spiritual understanding.

I have an aunt, the youngest of Daddy’s sisters, who turns 91 this month. She had a long and happy marriage to “her Johnny” before he died. In a few short years after Johnny died, Aunt Claire, who was in her late 70s at the time, met an 80-year-old deacon in the church they both attended. She described to me the feelings she had when he first invited her to a church social. “I was all giddy inside,” she said. “I felt like a teenager. Isn’t that silly?”

“No, of course not, I said.”

I might have added, “and seize the one thou lovest, nor care for space, or time!”

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

Going from one stage of my life to another may force me to prove that what I am doing is worthwhile. Implied “others” in Emily Dickinson’s, “No Notice gave She, but a Change”, may represent the challenge when feeling at cross-purposes with family and friends.

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
Opon 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 –

No one need act directly or resist my efforts. And, I need not be explicit; “No Message, but a sigh —”. Perhaps too much time is required. Or, not enough time is possible, “.. the Time did not suffice / That she should specify.”

There is nothing passive, however, about the relationship when a simple phone call feels like a challenge if family or friends are taken by surprise when I make unexpected choices. “Of shrinking ways — she did not fright / Though all the Village looked —”.

I may feel I have to defend myself, “But held Her gravity aloft — / And met the gaze — direct —”.  I have to teach myself that usually others’ motives are the same as mine. We all want to be “.. adjusted like a seed / In careful fitted Ground”.

The poem uses the specter of eternal change to dramatize earthly ones. “Unto the Everlasting Spring/And hindered but a Mound”.

Like a lover who has broken off one time too many, will they seek “Her Warm return, if so she chose — / And We — imploring drew —”, only to find they “Removed our invitation / As Some She never knew —”?

Unless I can see the experience of counter-forces as inevitable when changes occur, periodically, how am I to own my own choices? 

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