Colorado’s Rocky Mountains rise up in my imagination as the most majestic I’ve personally seen. The first time I saw the Smoky Mountains in America’s Southeast, it was like I had crawled, like a child, into the safe lap of a beloved aunt.

Living in New England as I do now, I have to rely on my memories. Though Emily Dickinson had only the Berkshire Mountains and the Pelham ridge (the highest mountain in Massachusetts is less than 3500 feet), she knew the influence on me from these gifts of Nature. In “The Mountain sat upon the Plain,” I find the answer to what it is about a mountain that reaches tender places of thought and feeling.

The Mountain sat upon the Plain
In his tremendous Chair.
His observation omnifold,
His inquest, everywhere –

The Seasons played around his knees
Like Children round a Sire –
Grandfather of the Days is he
Of Dawn, the Ancestor

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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 persuades us with the allure of beauty and its devastating seductions in “Nobody knows this little Rose – ”. Exquisite grace, in a little Rose, or other form of beauty, takes part of its appeal from its intrinsic vulnerability.

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!

When reading this poem, I first visualize a pretty little rose going unnoticed, except by me.  This vision is accompanied by a tugging emotion.

As “It might a pilgrim be” may indicate a purpose other than the one I attribute it, so also could the “Little Rose”‘s beauty be something intended just for me. (In the 11th line a capitalized “title” replaces the all-inclusive little Rose in the first line.) Similarly, important choices about identity, career and family must entertain alternatives.

In the background of my thoughts I’m compelled to wonder how many other charming examples of wooing-nature, either in my own character or my environment, suffer the fate of being barely missed when I “…take it from the ways” that are available to me when I act on my own volition.

When I follow a particular path in my life, perhaps I fulfill my destiny, “And lift it up to thee.” Typically, however, someone — a parent, friend or employer has other ideas. In fact, I may be removing myself from another purpose where someone needs me to be, as in, “Only a Bee will miss it – / Only a Butterfly, / Hastening from far journey – / On its breast to lie -”.

Feel the drama. Praise, and pay tribute to, the discovery of purpose. Mourn the dismissed alternative. Let your heartstrings be pulled. “Ah Little Rose – how easy” to be, after all.

But, of course, the contest, the tension derives from the evenly matched deftness with which we may choose something else, some other way, “to be.” “For such as thee to die!” Some alternative must always be set aside. And, we cannot hope for complete anonymity in our choices. Even if, “Only a Bird will wonder – / Only a Breeze will sigh – ”.

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

I suppose the best prayers ~ personal hopes and expectations ~ are emblematic of our ideal self, always a little bit imaginary.

Emily Dickinson’s “’Tis true – They shut me in the Cold -“ acknowledges first the baggage and grudges, of childhood, as well as the cognitive procedure to achieve a life free of them.  Spoken as a prayer, the poem’s aim is toward becoming a more honorable person.

‘Tis true – They shut me in the Cold –
But then — Themselves were warm
And could not know the feeling ’twas –
Forget it – Lord – of Them –

Let not my Witness hinder Them
In Heavenly esteem –
No Paradise could be – Conferred
Through Their beloved Blame –

The Harm They did – was short – And since
Myself – who bore it – do –
Forgive Them – Even as Myself –
Or else – forgive not me –

My experience says that childhood years and feelings about unhappy memories may hinder true maturity. Children and parents are certainly not always in harmony.  Expressing these stressful contrasts, “..me in the Cold -” while “.. – Themselves were warm” perfectly describes a child’s complaint. Sometimes complaints are warranted, sometimes not, of course. Then, the adult perspective, they “..could not know..”

This poem/prayer describes a certainty, “Forget it – Lord – of Them – ”, an authority over self that only results from complete acceptance.  Showing, too, that growing up may require the realization that proving fault in a parent not only does not improve our own status with ourself: “Let not my Witness hinder Them”.  Let alone with anyone else: “No Paradise could be – Conferred/Through Their beloved Blame -”.  Forgiveness magically works both ways, ”- Even as Myself -” enjoyed forgiveness in the process.

This personal voice echos all authentic religious teaching, that since the person who suffered has forgiven those who caused the pain, then surely God will, too. “… since/Myself – who bore it – do -/Forgive Them…”.

Whether regarding parents or someone else I feel has harmed me I have habitually been content to strive to be more forgiving. This poem confronts me with the absolute. “Or else – forgive not me -”.

One humorous way to recall my notion of “enough forgiveness” is also aimed at suggesting I relax, too, and goes something like this: Everything will be alright in the end. If everything is not alright, it’s not the end.

This poem is much more divisive, if you will, between lackadaisical attitudes and genuine, complete forgiveness, demanding that which sets me free for my tomorrows.

Digest 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

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