Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I feel so stupid. I haven’t been able to reconcile why Emily Dickinson wrote poetry and didn’t want to have it published. I’d gotten it was a spiritual discipline. It helped her focus and listen to her inner spiritual yearnings. But why the paradoxical structures: the starting of a poem in one direction and ending on it’s opposite or the absolute trailing off at the end of a poem. Or then there is the constant opaqueness. These devices capture people and bring them into a poem. Why do this if you aren’t going to publish? I know. I know. She could have done this just for herself. (She may have been conflicted about publishing/not publishing her entire life—I want to do a check on her later poems and see if this is still an issue). But what I realized today is so obvious it made me almost fall down.

I’d been memorizing and playing with some minimal choreography of Emily Dickinson’s poem #293. (Franklin edition). I’d only gotten up to the third verse and I was straining to hear what she was saying when I suddenly realized that she’s building these structures for her to catch god, for her to catch a piece of divinity. They are structures with roots and boots and sides, but always with something left out - almost like triangulation. The something left out is almost palpable and is often pointed to. She’d create the structures where she’d stand securely and then strain for the ephemeral nature of divinity. The straining for something unknown makes her drop what she knows, drop ordinary personal constructs. In this winnowing process the structures kept her rooted and not flying off into the ozone. If she stood there long enough and listened long enough, sometimes something would appear: Something magical something divine something which because of her structures and her emphatic presence in her poems connected with the magical parts of herself. Her poems were devices that helped her capture pieces of her own divinity: her transcendental mission.

And the poem:

A single Screw of Flesh
Is all that pins the Soul
That stand for Deity, to mine,
Opon my side of the Vail –

Once witnessed of the Gauze –
It’s name is put away
As far from mine, as if no plight
Had printed yesterday,

In tender – solemn Alphabet,
My eyes just turned to see –
When it was smuggled by my sight
Into Eternity –

More Hands – to hold –These are but Two –
One more new-mailed Nerve
Just granted for the Peril’s sake –
Some striding –Giant – Love –

So greater than the Gods can show,
They slink before the Clay,
That not for all their Heaven can boast
Will let it’s Keepsake – go


Yesterday as I looked at a meaning I had discovered in the poem, I thought this is obvious. Why had I had such a struggle? Once the cocoon falls off it seems silly the amount of strain I had to go through to get there. Then I realized that one reason I had such a hard time understanding the poems was they were written in a 6 -beat, 8- beat line rhythms scheme which echoed hymns of Emily Dickinson’s times, and the rhythms were contraindicated for the words she used. She was using her more modern and personal syntax and lexicon in an old fashioned structure which created enormous tension and fracturing. I settle into the rhythms, but unlike the hymns they don’t take me home. They throw me out on the sand in bewilderment and I have to dive back in for another take. Going back and back a layering happens which finally gets dense enough so that I can “understand” it. But, this understanding is not a simple linear understanding, intellectual understanding. My psyche has made these trips and each trip has added a more “fullness” to my feeling of the destination land. Emily Dickinson: How you build something out of nothing.


1 comment:

andrea said...

I love the idea/image of triangulation... At work of course it means something so definite and mathematical. And here, it can mean something the CAN be definite, but most likely isn't.