Search This Blog

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.