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22 September 2020

New Blogger format problem

Well, readers, Google has switched its Blogger over to a new format. I can't find anything about it that is improved, but that might be codgerism. Most all the changes are on the back end and not visible to readers. 

However, there is one thing and that is sad for me and the blog: I cannot place the pictures so that the text wraps around them. I love placing the pictures amid the text. Nonetheless, until something changes or I learn the trick (hoping there is a trick), I'll just put the pictures at the end. 

If any of you know a work-around (hack?) or a bonafide procedure, please let me know!

Thank you for your patience and any help -



21 September 2020

I could not prove the Years had feet –

I could not prove the Years had feet – 
Yet confident they run
Am I, from symptoms that are past
And Series that are done –

I find my feet have further Goals –
I smile opon the Aims
That felt so ample – Yesterday –
Today's – have vaster claims –

I do not doubt the self I was
Was competent to me –
But something awkward in the fit –
Proves that – outgrown – I see –
                                   Fr674 (1863)  J563

This reflection on time and personal growth is written in hymn form. You could sing it to the tune of 'Amazing Grace' (or 'The Yellow Rose of Texas', for that matter). The end rhymes are regular and unremarkable. In fact the 'me' and 'I see' rhymes in the last stanza feel a bit forced. The sentiment is unremarkable. Nevertheless, I like this poem. It is comfortable 

and warm, delivering a truth in an easy, contemplative tone. It lacks the twists and startlements that Dickinson is known and loved for, and the conceit of the years running by on feet is somewhat problematic, but I still like the poem.

The problem with the feet is that in the first stanza it is the Years that have the feet, and in the second stanza the feet belong to the speaker. But I shan't quibble. I like that it is the feet that have ambitious goals. And perhaps she is comparing the Years' feet to her own: the former marches on leaving symptoms and Series (events and chains of events) in its wake, knowable things that can be identified and discussed in past, present, and future vantages. Her own feet, however, look strictly to the future, heading out with Goals more vast than those that came before.

The poem ends with an inward turn: Yesterday's self was worthy and sufficient in its time, but it no longer fits. There's something 'awkward' about it, and although the speaker could not prove that the Years had feet, she finds that awkwardness proof that she has outgrown the former self with the simpler Goals.

17 September 2020

A Tongue – to tell Him I am true!

 A Tongue – to tell Him I am true!
Its fee – to be of Gold –
Had Nature – in Her monstrous House
A single Ragged Child –

To earn a Mine – would run
That Interdicted Way,
And tell Him – Charge thee speak it plain –
That so far – Truth is True?

And answer What I do –
Beginning with the Day
That Night – begun –
Nay – Midnight – 'twas –
Since Midnight – happened – say –

If once more – Pardon – Boy –
The Magnitude thou may
Enlarge my Message – If too vast
Another Lad – help thee –

Thy Pay – in Diamonds – be –
And His – in solid Gold –
Say Rubies – if He hesitate –
My Message – must be told –

Say – last I said – was This –
That when the Hills – come down –
And hold no higher than the Plain –
My Bond – have just begun –

And when the Heavens – disband –
And Deity conclude –
Then – look for me. Be sure you say –
Least Figure – on the Road –

                         Fr 673 (1863)  J400

This love poem tumbles out in a rush, mirroring the speaker's urgency in sending a message to her beloved. The first line reminds me of a town crier in the market square calling for a trusty boy for an important mission. It also reminds me of the hyperbole of Shakespeare's desperate King Richard III who famously shouted, "A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!" The kingdom-for-horse trade is something like the goldmine-for message. The breathless speaker is willing to  squander not only gold, but diamonds and rubies to let her lover know that she will be faithful forever.

She seemingly cannot tell him herself, for the road to him is an 'Interdicted Way': strictly forbidden. Perhaps this is a secret affair and the speaker and lover cannot be seen together. And then there is the timing. Something happened, or at least began, at Midnight. And now, seemingly quite soon after, perhaps even the same day, the speaker is swearing eternal love –not delivered personally nor by a letter, but told by a private messenger.  
Dickinson might have had
Oliver Twist in mind

        The midnight mystery reminds me of  "A Wife – at daybreak – I shall be –"  where the speaker says, "At Midnight – I am but a Maid – / How short it takes to make a Bride" (Fr185). The rest of that poem hints at Death as the bridegroom, or perhaps Jesus come to escort the Soul, but although the sense of wonder and anticipation is similar, I read nothing in the current poem of seductive Death, or some joyful union with a Deity. In fact, part of the speaker's pledge to the beloved is that she will still be waiting for him after heaven disbands and the Deity is ended. Wow.
        The poem begins in excitement and then builds steam. She pauses for a moment in the fourth stanza in an aside to the anticipated Boy. She thinks of and asks Pardon for the Magnitude of what she is trying to say. She thinks it might be too much for one person, so lets him know he can get another Lad to help out. Now the first Boy gets diamonds and his helper 'solid gold' (but 'Rubies – if He hesitate').
And what is the message? In the second stanza she charges the messenger to 'speak it plain', but it seems anything but plain: 'so far – Truth is True?' The question mark probably results from the sentence construction beginning with 'Had Nature'. At any rate, the speaker is true and, at least so far, Truth is True. It's rather gnomic. 
        Next, in answer to a supposed question about what the speaker has been doing since that fateful midnight, the Ragged Child messenger is to begin with what she has done since 'That Night – begun', specifically at Midnight. 

But after all that about being true and Truth, and the supporting detail, the speaker instructs the messenger(s) to give her pledge of faithfulness. It is quite beautiful: when over geologic time the hills have eroded to plains, her commitment will just be beginning. When cosmic time itself runs out, if he looks for her he will see her, the 'Least Figure – on the Road.'  This last bit is in keeping with Dickinson's fondness for portraying herself as little, in poems and in letters (e.g., her self description to her Preceptor Thomas Higginson, "I am small, like the wren").

The poem is written in common hymn meter, using the short meter variant: instead of alternating iambic trimeter and iambic tetrameter, only the third line of each stanza is in tetrameter. Think of the hymn, 'Blessed be the tie that binds'. The third stanza breaks up the tetrameter line into two lines I think for dramatic purposes: 'Nay – Midnight – 'twas –' gets its own line and, indeed, it is a  dramatic line. You can picture the speaker stopping, thinking, and then giving the declaration.
The first stanza is an exception in that it is not in the short meter variant. The first line,  "A Tongue – to tell Him I am true!", needs all those syllables to kick the poem off – and it gets some extra energy from the 't' alliterations: Tongue, to tell, true. All those 't's and one syllable words – plus the exclamation point – just shout, 'Big News'!

The tone and subject remind me very much of 'Going to Him! Happy Letter!' written in 1862. It's also a 'Tell Him' message, but without the Ragged Boy. 

08 September 2020

Take your Heaven further on —

Take your Heaven further on —
This — to Heaven divine Has gone —
Had You earlier blundered in
Possibly, e'en You had seen
An Eternity — put on —
Now — to ring a Door beyond
Is the utmost of Your Hand —
To the Skies — apologize —
Nearer to Your Courtesies
Than this Sufferer polite —
Dressed to meet You —
See — in White!

Fr672 (1863)  J388

Judith Farr (The Passion of Emily Dickinson, p.34-35) glosses that "the speaker regards herself as a sufferer who has put on Eternity and whose 'white' signifies renunciation and retirement from society." Along comes a caller looking for love's heaven and the speaker, 'like some modern Beatrice', informs him that he is too late; she is already there and unavailable for his 'profane purpose'.
Dickinson scholar David Preest takes this interpretation a bit farther and more specifically, suggesting that the poem is directed to Samuel Bowles. When the speaker scornfully tells him to 'ring a door beyond', she means him to go next door to the Evergreens where Austin and Sue Dickinson lived. Samuel Bowles was the distinguished owner/editor of the Springfield Republican and a lifelong friend of Austin (Emily's brother) and his wife, Sue (who shared a lifelong up-and-down often passionate friendship with Emily). Bowles was one of Dickinson's most significant friends; he is thought by many to have been a love interest despite his marriage.
Preest links this poem, as does Farr, to an 1863 letter from Bowles to Austin where Bowles snarks, "To the Queen Recluse my especial sympathy – that she has 'overcome the world' (a reference to I John 5:4-5). With such a comment in mind, it is satisfying to imagine Emily thumping out this poem to him.

Yet, plausible as these readings are, I see a corpse rather than a renunciate in the poem. I picture some poor fool blundering in too late at a death watch for a woman who clearly expected him to be present when she put on Eternity.
Having missed the critical moment, however, there is nothing left for him but to beat at the doors of heaven, the 'utmost' his tardy, mortal hand can reach. While he's at it, he should apologize to the Skies since they are closer to him and his 'Courtesies' than the dear departed.

The first line sets the scornful tone. The speaker dismissively tells the subject to move along, take his heaven later: the one he hoped for has died. That 'Take' is significant. The subject is not one to search or spend countless hours in prayer and supplication. He's a taker. Having missed this chance for heaven, he will have to grasp at another. Dickinson pointedly distinguishes between his heaven, a sort of prize, and that of the 'Sufferer polite' who has gone to 'Heaven divine'.
Her scorn deepens. Even with a timely arrival, he would have 'blundered in' like some boorish and uncouth swain. The following 'Possibly, e'en You had seen' the Sufferer don the heavenly mantle of Eternity implies the subject lacks the spiritual discernment expected at such a moment. Her comments about ringing 'a Door beyond' and apologizing to the skies are mocking.

To Farr and Preest the last lines suggest the speaker to be Dickinson herself – the poet, the Sufferer polite, dressed to meet him. The 'White!' emphasizes she is meeting him in purity and renunciation. He is too late for the more of-this-world Emily or even the Emily in transition. And now he should gather up his uncouth yearnings and leave.

I read the ending as the conclusion of the speaker's chastisement of the tardy boor. The dead woman had been waiting for him, maybe for weeks or even months. But now he shows up and the speaker tells him, "See, she's dressed to meet you. In White." That's an accusation. At best he failed to honor the solemnity of the death bed by taking his place amid the witness and company of friends and family. At worst, he himself contributed to the Sufferer's pain, perhaps even her death.

Fading Away, Henry Peach Robinson, 1858
Although Dickinson was adopting white dress by the time of this poem, that in itself doesn't make a strong case that she is the Sufferer. White was a common if not traditional color for deathbed and burial gowns.

Dickinson uses trochaic tetrameter meter throughout the poem giving it an emphatic almost theatrical quality. The unstressed syllable at the end of the lines is dropped, emphasizing the end rhymes. This is particularly noticeable in the first two lines with 'on' and 'gone'. You can almost see the speaker standing over the dead woman's bed, gesturing. The last line has been divided for emphasis – and again I see the theatrics. It's a big reveal – and a major guilt trip.

30 August 2020

The sweetest Heresy received

 The sweetest Heresy received
That Man and Woman know –
Each Other's Convert –
Though the Faith accommodate but Two –

The Churches are so frequent –
The Ritual – so small –
The Grace so unavoidable –
To fail – is Infidel –
                                                            Fr671 (1863)  J387

I've read a few takes on this poem and really there are but two. The first is that Dickinson is playfully portraying a good marriage. Two people convert to each other and are so in love that nothing seems left for Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Heresy, maybe, but sweet.
        Their services and rituals together are so simple and easy that Grace between them in unavoidable. It would be a real act of denial to fail in the simple gestures of marriage. With 'Infidel', Dickinson cleverly implies that failing in such accommodations is not only another bit of heresy but one akin to infidelity.
Probably an illustration form an Austen book

Ah, but reading number two is much more fun. We're talking about marital bliss. The poem becomes clever rather than anodyne. The frequent 'Churches' suggest an alternative form of worship; the 'Ritual' is 'small' – nothing difficult or disagreeable here. Best of all, the resulting 'Grace' is 'unavoidable'. Marital bliss indeed. Only an 'infidel', a denier, would fail to achieve this Grace when the churches are so frequent and the ritual so small.

The poem is generally unremarkable. There is an odd line break in the first stanza: the third line is truncated, meter-wise, in favor of giving the last line a couple of extra feet. It makes poetic sense, however, delivering a sort of punch line.

I have to admit to enjoying "The Churches are so frequent" – as a bit of delicious naughtiness. And I like the way "To fail– is Infidel –" sounds.

22 August 2020

One Crucifixion is recorded – only –

One Crucifixion is recorded – only –
How many be
Is not affirmed of Mathematics –
Or History –

One Calvary – exhibited to Stranger –
As many be
As persons – or Peninsulas –
Gethsemane –

Is but a Province – in the Being's Centre – 

Judea –
For Journey – or Crusade's Achieving –
Too near –

Our Lord – indeed – made Compound Witness –      
And yet —
There's newer — nearer Crucifixion
Than That —

                                                            Fr 670 (1863)  J553

The emotionally gripping New Testament accounts of Jesus' hours of anguished prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, his interrogation and torture, and finally his crucifixion on Mount Calvary are foundational to Christianity which holds that it was his sacrifice that enables Christian salvation. In this poem Dickinson universalizes that suffering as central to the human condition.  

It's a bold claim – she isn't limning the banality of 'everyone suffers' but that of feeling forsaken by God, being betrayed by a friend, and experiencing excruciating pain. While her legalistic language distances and creates irony, Dickinson plants "Gethsemane" firmly and visibly in the center and heart of the poem, plunging the reader into that garden where Jesus is described as agonizing in prayer and where his disciple Judas betrayed him for a small purse of silver coins. The New Testament story is worth including here: (Matthew 26: 36-50; NRSV;

Jesus Prays in Gethsemane
36 Then Jesus went with [three of his disciples] to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[e] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus
47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve [disciples], arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.

Let's go back to Dickinson's poem where she begins by setting a legalistic tone. Only 'One Crucifixion is recorded', she claims, then notes that there might be more that are 'not affirmed' by historians' reckonings. Likewise, there is only 'One Calvary' (the site outside the walls of Jerusalem where the crucifixion took place) that is 'exhibited' to Strangers such as tourists or pilgrims although there may be as many such sites as there are 'persons' or, oddly, 'Peninsulas'.

I find the line 'As persons – or Peninsulas –" pleasing with its alliteration, iambic tetrameter, and oddness. It certainly stands out from the dryer legal-ish language. But what does it mean? Perhaps Dickinson is establishing a range. Every person might have their Calvary – or maybe only as many as there are peninsulas (which could be hundreds of thousands if the smallest are counted, or only dozens if only the largest).
            Following 'Peninsulas', the second stanza ends a one-word line: 'Gethsemane' (like 'Peninsulas', a word with two iambic feet). 'Gethsemane' continues the aurally pleasing rhythm and graceful sound, but its dark evocations take us viscerally back to that one garden and that one night. The deep irony in the poem springs from Dickinson's use of legal diction in reference to what has become known as the Passion of Christ ('passion' here refers back to its Latin origen of 'suffering').
            Readers then cross one of the most significant white-space gulfs in Dickinson's oevre. 'Gethsemane' isn't merely finishing off stanza two as a restatement of 'Calvary', but is also, indeed primarily, the subject of the sentence that begins the third stanza. It is that white space between stanzas, 'Gethsemane' perched on its edge, that induces a hesitation. The lovely syllables roll out, enhanced by the preceding 'Peninsulas', conjuring the Passion as it hangs for a moment in our thoughts and imaginings and memories. But as we continue on into the third stanza, we find that Gethsamane is 'but a Province – in the Being's Centre –'.

Here is a rather breathtaking thought: supplication to a Deity is central to our being, as the realization that we may be betrayed by those closest to us. In our personal Gethsemanes we are naked of power except for the power of acceptance, to be able to say, "Your will be done." But that isn't the whole of our Being's Centre. Dickinson specifies that Gethsemane is 'but a Province'. It is not the entirety of the Centre. Further, Judea (the province in the Holy Land where events transpired) is not even worth a pilgrimage let alone a Crusade. It lies within. It is 'Too near'. A 'newer – nearer Crucifixion / Than That –  ' can be found.

While the sacrifice and suffering of the human Jesus is central to Christianity, Dickinson argues that crucifixions abound, that existential anguish is central to the human experience. We do not need to project everything onto Jesus or to visit the sites of his sufferings. While Jesus, 'Our Lord', gave abundant 'Witness' to the truths contained in suffering and transcending suffering, we may discover them for ourselves by looking within.

I'm very moved by this poem. It lingers in me. I am not confident that I have given the 'right' interpretation of this poem. In fact, I surely have not. But what I have written is how the poem opens for me at this time. I welcome reader comments (as always) and discussion.

21 July 2020

An ignorance a Sunset

An ignorance a Sunset
Confer upon the Eye –
Of Territory – Color –
Circumference – Decay

Its Amber Revelation
Exhilarate – Debase –
Omnipotence’ inspection
Of Our inferior face –

And when the solemn features
Confirm – in Victory –
We start – as if detected
In Immortality –
Fr669 (1863)  J552

In many poems Dickinson describes sunset colors and clouds in dazzling precision; in others she creates evocative and sometimes playful metaphors out of sunset scenes. They inspire her almost rapturous delight as well as her musings. This poem's sunset is different, however, for in addition to the dimming of the landscape, its shapes and colors, it also reveals, inspects, and confirms. It's clearly not an ordinary setting of the sun.

The first stanza starts out with everyday sense: our eyes have more trouble making things out at sundown. But then Dickinson ends the stanza with '—Decay'. It's an unexpected and jarring word – and also ambiguous. Why and how Decay? What decays? 
        One way of reading this first stanza is that while Territory and Color become difficult to make out, Circumference decays. 'Circumference' is a key word in many Dickinson poems and Dickinson uses it to mean various things, from the globe of the planet to "the all-encompassing circle of existence" (ED Lexicon). In this poem, I think it takes the latter meaning but in a personal sense and with it Dickinson pivots from sunset to thoughts of death.
photo by AnnaWaraksa (
        In the second stanza we find the sun standing for God's ("Omnipotence') face inspecting us as we submit, as we must, to our approaching death. What the inspection yields is an 'Amber Revelation'. Both words of the term resonate: 'Amber' as both the twilight color of the sun as well as the fossilized tree resin in which small insects might be trapped and preserved. 'Revelation' serves both as an unveiling, a discovery – and also as a reminder of the Christian Biblical book of Revelations that depicts Judgment Day.
        And it is in fact the day of our judgment. The Amber Revelation is not so much that we find we are dying, our circumference beginning its decay, but what is revealed when Omnipotence – God – inspects us. What the sun's mighty and divine face finds will either Exhilarate or Debase us. 
        Dickinson ends the poem on the Exhilaration side. When the divine Sun, far from conferring ignorance, confirms salvation, we are not only exhilarated but startled to discover our immortality.

That 'as if detected' adds a bit of ambiguity to the poem. It casts us back to the beginning again. Has the poet been caught in a reverie? As she watches the sun set does she imagine it is watching her, too? With divine intent? I imagine her shiver with a start – that she has had a brush, an encounter, with the Divine.

04 July 2020

There is a Shame of Nobleness –

There is a Shame of Nobleness –
Confronting Sudden Pelf –
A finer Shame of Exstasy –
Convicted of Itself –

A best Disgrace – a Brave Man feels –
Acknowledged – of the Brave —
One More – "Ye Blessed" – to be told –
But that's – Behind the Grave –
                                                            Fr668 (1863)  J551

In this nice and clever poem, Dickinson ironically depicts a progression of Shames – and 'shame' here is a feeling of embarrassment, shyness, or modesty (per ED Lexicon)

First up is the "Shame of Nobleness – / Confronting Sudden Pelf." An old-fashioned word, 'pelf' represents wealth and riches, or even praise and recognition (ED Lexicon again), with the understanding that they are ill-gotten or undeserved. The shame a noble nature would feel upon reception of riches and praise would be a modest conviction that such blessings are undeserved.
            Next is the "Shame of Exstasy – / Convicted of itself." This would be the 'finer' perhaps more intense embarrassment or shyness experienced after transcendent or transporting experiences. I picture a poet, mystic, or music lover lost in some higher realm and then shaking their heads when returning to the quotidian self as if wondering how such ecstasy could be afforded such a one as themselves.
Civil War Medal of Honor recipient
William Harvey Carney
            In a nod, perhaps, to the soldiers battling the Confederacy during the Civil War, Dickinson labels as 'best' the 'Disgrace' (Shame) that a Brave Man might feel being acknowledged as such by others he considers brave. While some might feel pride and a swelling ego at receiving something like the Medal of Honor, Dickinson implies that modesty is far more to be admired. The contrast between courage and bravery on the battlefield or elsewhere and shy modesty is profound and that might be why it is the best of the shames.

There is one final opportunity for admirable Shame or Disgrace but that comes only after death. The "Ye Blessed" is Dickinson's shorthand for a passage from the New Testament's Matthew 25: 34-36, where in end times, those who tended the poor and lowly are separated from those who did not and invited to the kingdom of heaven:

"34 Then shall the King [Jesus] say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 For I was hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me."

Dickinson's reference to this passage culminates the poem's celebration of modesty. It is not, typically, those puffed up by wealth and fame, those who flaunt their spiritual or artistic transports, or those who swagger and boast of their exploits who take in strangers and visit prisoners. Neither do they find themselves, ultimately, on the right hand side of the Judgment throne.

Dickinson writes here in straightforward hymn or ballad form with the second and fourth lines ending in perfect rhymes. This is rather exceptional for Dickinson, but this is a short poem and expresses rather straightforward and accepted opinions.