For Emily, Now That I Have Found Her

2001-04-15

I recently finished working my way through the poems of Emily Dickinson, in the masterful Complete Poems edition from Harvard University Press (this reading followed closely on the heels of finishing Whitman's poems, which I liked quite a bit; and I've now moved on to reading all of Langston Hughes). I finally found Dickinson mainly because my friend John Enright likes her a great deal -- he also likes the poems of philosopher Walter Kaufmann, but more on that some other time!

I followed my usual poetry-reading approach: run through all the poems once while noting which poems I liked enough to re-visit, then read the "short list" (in Emily's case, 96 poems out of 1775) to come up with an even shorter list of favorites. The final tally was 43 poems, plus another 53 of secondary rank (it's too bad not all the poems are online, else I'd link to them -- perhaps I'll put together a FanSpace devoted to her one of these days).

Emily is a character. As all good poets do, she has great ears (I wonder if there could be such a thing as ear training for poets, as there is for musicians...). Her unorthodox orthography (all those capitalized words and dashes in the middle of lines) throws people off, but I find if I ignore that, I can read her quite happily. She returns to the same subjects again and again, but most of those statements have a unique slant on the topic, as it were. Often one will read many poems of hers that are somewhat complacent or conventional or even banal, but then she'll throw you for a loop with something truly out of the ordinary. And given my slow pace of poem-writing, the fact that in 1862 alone she is estimated to have written 366 poems leaves me slack-jawed. Finally, as noted at monadnock.net, I was delighted to find a seeming connection to Mount Monadnock in poem 975.

Some lines of hers stick out in my mind as especially powerful: "I'm nobody! Who are you?" (288), "the finer forge that soundless tugs within" (365), "creator, shall I bloom?" (442), "what would the dower be, had I the art to stun myself with bolts of melody!" (505), "they say that 'time assuages' -- time never did assuage" (686), "to bestow a world and withhold a star" (875), "we met as sparks, diverging flints send various, scattered ways" (957), "to be a flower is profound responsibility" (1058), "republic of delight ... where each is citizen" (1107), "tell all the truth but tell it slant" (1129), "touch lightly nature's sweet guitar" (1389), "the thought is quiet as a flake" (1581), "what liberty a loosened spirit brings" (1587), "what are stars but asterisks to point a human life?" (1638), and more.

Here's my short list of favorites for reference, I'll have to try finding them online one of these days (or type them in myself): 126, 254, 288, 324, 365, 371, 419, 428, 442, 444, 454, 476, 487, 503, 505, 632, 636, 677, 683, 686, 757, 822, 832, 875, 909, 930, 958, 975, 978, 1028, 1058, 1129, 1176, 1212, 1263, 1351, 1354, 1389, 1455, 1581, 1587, 1638.

And the second string: 76, 80, 111, 136, 270, 271, 276, 299, 348, 441, 496, 500, 563, 641, 646, 652, 680, 720, 728, 746, 750, 774, 783, 789, 796, 819, 855, 944, 945, 997, 1053, 1070, 1100, 1107, 1214, 1287, 1301, 1392, 1444, 1466, 1469, 1483, 1484, 1532, 1568, 1628, 1637, 1640, 1652, 1665, 1714, 1764, 1775.

Now about Walt Whitman and Walter Kaufmann: I think I need to write up my thoughts about them, too....


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