Emily Dickinson. The Complete Poems

manuscript of “Wild Nights – Wild Nights!” (c. 1861)

What can I say about Emily Dickinson’s poetry? Emily says it best.
To pile like Thunder to its close
Then crumble grand away
While Everything created hid
This—would be Poetry—

Or Love—the two coeval come—
We both and neither prove—
Experience either and consume—
For None see God and live—

The things I expected to find in E.D. were the questioning of religion, and the gender ambiguity, and the verbal transgression, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Of Course—I prayed—
And did God Care?
He cared as much as on the Air
A Bird—had stamped her foot—
And cried “Give Me”—
My Reason—Life—
I had not had—but for Yourself—
‘Twere better Charity
To leave me in the Atom’s Tomb—
Merry, and Nought, and gay, and numb—
Than this smart Misery.

And I got sucked in by the “bumble-bees and other nations” (#1746) she loved. I love bees, too, and birds and flowers and things. But Emily was interested in worms, too.

Our little Kinsmen—after Rain
In plenty may be seen,
A Pink and Pulpy multitude
The tepid Ground upon….

It’s also hard not to be sucked in by the pain/suffering/death stuff she relished…

# 280
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading—treading—till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through—

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum—
Kept beating—beating—till I thought
My Mind was going numb….

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
The Space—began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here—

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down—
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing—then—


And it was a discovery to me that she was so interested in war (she wrote the majority of her poems during the Civil War), first with a kind of bloody God-wills-it kind of patriotism, and then with increasing ambivalence (not to mention art):

My Triumph lasted till the Drums
Had left the Dead alone
And then I dropped my Victory
And chastened stole along
To where the finished Faces
Conclusion turned on me
And then I hated Glory
And wished myself were They….

And finally, there are the abundant, marvelous “Huh?” moments…

The waters chased him as he fled,
Not daring look behind—
A billow whispered in his Ear,
“Come home with me, my friend—
My parlor is of shriven glass,
My pantry has a fish
For every palate in the Year”—
To this revolting bliss
The object floating at his side
Made no distinct reply.

Read May 2010