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

Advertisements

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!

I don’t see how anybody can read, “Morning is due to all – ”, by Emily Dickinson without at least a thought about whether or not to count oneself among the (difficult to identify, but) privileged few.

The all inclusive morning is right and proper for anyone and everyone.

A night “club,” like the Mediterranean’s 10,000 capacity “Privilege Ibiza,” slightly more exclusive. Definitely more so than democratic morning.

Morning is due to all –
To some – the Night –
To an imperial few –
The Auroral Light

I find an embedded dare, or challenge, in this small poem aimed at rousing me from self-satisfaction. Feelings of security, false or otherwise, may easily become part of my every-day attitude if there are no threats on the horizon to my well-being, such as a job loss or other personal tragedy. My practice of grabbing the morning light with hour-long walks before my day starts at about 7:30 a.m. fills me with Nature’s best fragrances, bird sounds and fresh attitudes among the few I meet. I like to think these self-appointed beginnings are respectable metaphors for life’s original stages. And, available to all.

We are all “created equal,” “Morning is due to all – ”. My own Western-religious and democratic political foundations for this idea means I tend to accept Dickinson’s expropriation of “morning” for equality.

The poem starts out by including everyone, then begins to narrow, slightly, the subject of its concern. “To some – the Night -” doesn’t say who has been deleted. Only that a team has formed from within the league of morning people. I tend to associate this franchise, “Night,” with those of us who can’t figure out what we want to be when we grow up. Depending on my core issues, and whether they are inborn or caused by circumstances, I may take up this quandary with ease, but probably with angst. For it is a lonely task. One for which we are led only by our souls.

If so, from within that society of the self-aware, it is “To an imperial few -” that “The Auroral Light” has created a dawning of cherished purpose, destiny. I like to think Dickinson’s “auroral light” is a claim on the original use of the term.  The Latin and poetic tradition for auroral light, which is “dawn, goddess of the dawn,” according to my dictionary, has little or nothing to do with spectroscopes or infrared light.

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.

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

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

I’m drawn into Emily Dickinson’s “You Cannot take itself – ” by the assumption in the first two lines that a conversation has been taking place all along.  Perhaps about problems that come and go, but that cannot do lasting destruction on one’s essential self.  As though the speaker is simply continuing the dialogue between “us.”

By the very act of making me feel a part of a conversation, I see the first hint of the motivation behind this short verse.

You cannot take itself
From any Human soul –
That indestructible estate
Enable him to dwell –
Impregnable as Light
That every man behold
But take away as difficult
As undiscovered Gold –

The poem “assumes” I, the reader, know what I can do. while speaking to what I cannot.  Foreknowledge of the meaning of the imprecise “itself” anticipates the indefinite but universal quality of “Light”.

I put this poem in that category some call “teaching poems.”  It has a comforting tone. Not the soothing language we might speak with a child. But an adult conversation that precedes and extends beyond the perimeters of the poem.  While often the phrase, “This, too, will pass,” is said somewhat dismissively, the poem is respectful and solemn about that great question, “who am I?”, which is implied throughout the poem.

As one who has struggled most of my life with contradictory desires and inconsistent abilities, I am sensitive to this poem’s focus on an identity crisis.  But, of course, life offers up its own threats with external forces against our sense of self. Like many others I am not a stranger to these, in the form of death, loss and disaster.

First, (the poem counsels), as divergent as desire and motivation may be, this is not the same as removing the soul from within the self.  The first two lines assert that self and its soul are inseparable. Even though trauma, tragedy and turmoil may make me feel carved up, bisected and quartered.  The soul and the self are “That indestructible estate”.

Beginning with the fourth line, “Enable him to dwell – ” the poem moves me out of the realm of confusion and fear about the integrity of my inner being. From there the fundamental question of whether my “ear” can be destroyed when the need arises to listen to my inner self, finds reassurance in the comparison of the soul to light. Light, a universally cherished element of illumination. Either physical brightness or emotional luminescence.

Fear not, the poem seems to say, your soul cannot be destroyed by conflicting desires, nor by upheaval or anguish, any more than light itself can be erased. For, the soul is the essence of being; what “Enable him to dwell – ”.

The soul, too, is as “Impregnable as Light”. Someone might as well try to steal a precious metal that has not even been found; “But take away as difficult / As undiscovered Gold – ”.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way