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25 October 2012

Perhaps I asked too large—

Perhaps I asked too large—
I take—no less than skies—
For Earths, grow thick as
Berries, in my native town—

My Basket holds—just—Firmaments—
Those—dangle easy—on my arm,
But smaller bundles—Cram.

F358 (1862)  352

It’s poems like this that makes one want to stand up and cheer for Dickinson. Her life was in many ways imaginary: she didn’t go out on the ocean or even travel to the beach. Unless she’s writing about robins and flowers and village people she is writing from imagination. In 1862 she was withdrawing more and more from the world, rarely leaving her own property. Her room became her private fantasy world where she sat at a very tiny desk and wrote what she saw, felt, and imagined.
            This poem has a heroic feel: the poet, writing from some vasty cosmic vantage point, moseys about with a basket of starry skies. In fact, skies are the minimum unit she’s interested in: “I take—no less than skies,” she informs us. After all, earth is common—they’re like berries on a bush back where she comes from.
Dickinson would have loved these images
of earth from space. It's just like a jewel.
            And where is that? Why in the brain. In several of the last batch of poems I’ve commented on the detached and observing “I” that is the speaker. This “I” stands outside body and soul and although part of the self, is detached. This large world of the brain is seen in a later poem “The brain is wider than the sky,” where in addition to the wideness of the brain it is also “deeper than the sea” and as weighty as God. That’s a big claim for the brain, but it bears thinking over.
            There is a note of sarcasm in the poem, I think, introduced in the first line: “Perhaps I asked too large.” The poet isn’t really suggesting that she was being too grand; she’s really quite pleased about it.
The implication is that lesser beings carry “smaller bundles” than Firmaments. That may be fine for them, but for a deep thinker and creative type like the poet, such bundles “Cram.” All those cares about shopping lists and the kids’ doctors’ appointments, and what the next concert in town will be are all just petty concerns that cram your head and get in the way.
            I just like the image of bonneted Dickinson out and about in her woods with a basket of stars over her arm. 


  1. Once one experiences the boundless skylike nature of our minds unclouded by thought the body in ordinary consciousness can feel immensely dense. I get a sense Em is describing that disparity, beautifully rendered in the word Cram. As usual I read her poems as mystic blueprints, esoteric instructions in how to perceive this miracle of unbounded vision taking place inside a fenced frame or My Basket.

    Thanks for your insightful commentaries and providing a forum for readers' own interpretations. I have embarked on reading Em from 1 to 1789 and keep you close as my guide.

    1. Thank you. Re-reading the poem I realize I should have paid more attention to that last word, "cram". It stands out both for diction contrast and for the irony. I'm glad you elaborated on it.

  2. I just recently purchased Emily Dickson's entire collection of poems and have enjoyed reading your blog alongside it. It's fun and interesting to read your interpretation of the poems, especially since I don't have classmates to do with anymore. I truly love this poem and the magnitude of her vantage point. Whenever I'm doubting myself, I will surely remind myself to "take no less than skies!"