Tuesday, March 26, 2013

EMILY DICKINSON - December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886 - POETRY



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When one becomes familiar with the biographical sketches of literary artists, one becomes accustomed to a certain amount of tragedy. Many great artists suffer through difficult childhoods and trying circumstances. The art almost seems to blossom from the struggle. This is not the case with Emily Dickinson.



Born into a well established family, with access to a fine education and the other perks and benefits of society, circumstance was not the press that squeezed the creative juices from Emily Dickinson.



After receiving a fine education at Amherst Academy, Emily left the family home to enroll at the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. She didn't stay long and soon returned to her family home. The beginning of a withdrawal from the outside world, into a more isolated and reclusive world of her own making.



She became a local oddity in her own community, often dressing in white, and increasingly reluctant to participate in society, often refusing to greet guests at the family home. As she grew older, she even became reluctant to leave her own room. Her isolation was broken by the exchange of letters, which she used to maintain her friendships.



At some point in all our lives, we come across an individual choosing to live in a way that makes us wonder, "What are they thinking, are they crazy?" Perhaps we would have wondered that very thing if we had lived in Emily's community. But with Emily Dickinson, the speculation is not unrequited; we know very well what she was thinking; she let us know in her poetry and her writing.



Dickinson wrote almost 2,000 poems, less then a dozen were published in her lifetime. After she died in 1886, her younger sister Lavinia discovered the large collection of poetry. Even the work that was published while she was alive was heavily edited to fit the convention of the times. In 1890 her first collection of poems was published posthumously in a heavily edited form. It wasn't until 1955 that a complete and unedited edition of her poetry was released.



It is a luxury, for her many fans, to have access to poems and letters where we can often answer the question, "What was she thinking?" One needs little imagination to wonder what she was thinking when she sent the following letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson in April 1862.

MR. HIGGINSON, Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive ?

The mind is so near itself it cannot see distinctly, and I have none to ask.

Should you think it breathed, and had you the leisure to tell me, I should feel quick gratitude.

If I make the mistake, that you dared to tell me would give me sincerer honor toward you.

I inclose my name, asking you, if you please, sir, to tell me what is true ?

That you will not betray me it is needless to ask, since honor is its own pawn.







THIS IS MY LETTER TO THE WORLD



This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,
The simple news that Nature told, 
With tender majesty. 
Her message is committed 
To hands I cannot see; 
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me ! 





” WHY DO I LOVE ”, SIR ?




"Why do I love" You, Sir ?
Because
The Wind does not require the Grass
To answer—Wherefore when He pass
She cannot keep Her place.

Because He knows—and
Do not You
And We know not
Enough for Us
The Wisdom it be so

The Lightning—never asked an Eye
Wherefore it shut—when He was by
Because He knows it cannot speak
And reasons not contained
Of Talk
There be preferred by Daintier Folk

The Sunrise Sire compelleth Me
Because He's Sunrise and I see
Therefore Then
I love Thee






A BOOK



There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul !






A CHARM INVESTS A FACE




A charm invests a face
Imperfectly beheld.
The lady dare not lift her veil 
For fear it be dispelled.


But peers beyond her mesh,
And wishes, and denies, 
'Lest interview annul a want
That image satisfies.





A NARROW FELLOW IN THE GRASS


A charm invests a face
Imperfectly beheld.
The lady dare not lift her veil 
For fear it be dispelled.


But peers beyond her mesh,
And wishes, and denies, 
'Lest interview annul a want
That image satisfies.






A THUNDERSTORM



The wind begun to rock the grass
With threatening tunes and low, - 
He flung a menace at the earth,
A menace at the sky.


The leaves unhooked themselves from trees
And started all abroad;
The dust did scoop itself like hands
And throw away the road.


The wagons quickened on the streets,
The thunder hurried slow;
The lightning showed a yellow beak,
And then a livid claw.


The birds put up the bars to nests,
The cattle fled to barns;
There came one drop of giant rain,
And then, as if the hands


That held the dams had parted hold,
The waters wrecked the sky,
But overlooked my father's house,
Just quartering a tree.






A WOUNDED DEER LEAPS HIGHEST



A wounded deer leaps highest,
I've heard the hunter tell;
'Tis but the ecstasy of death,
And then the brake is still.


The smitten rock that gushes,
The trampled steel that springs:
A cheek is always redder
Just where the hectic stings!


Mirth is mail of anguish,
In which its cautious arm
Lest anybody spy the blood
And, "you're hurt" exclaim







BECAUSE I COULD NOT STOP FOR DEATH




Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.


We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labour, and my leisure too,
For his civility.


We passed the school where children played,
Their lessons scarcely done;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.


We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.


Since then 'tis centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.







I WENT TO HEAVEN



I went to heaven, - 
'Twas a small town,
Lit with a ruby,
Lathed with down.
Stiller than the fields
At the full dew,
Beautiful as pictures
No man drew.
People like the moth,
Of mechlin, frames,
Duties of gossamer,
And eider names.
Almost contented
I could be
'Mong such unique
Society.






I'M NOBODY ! WHO ARE YOU ?



I'm nobody ! Who are you ?
Are you nobody, too ?
Then there's a pair of us -don't tell !
They'd banish us, you know.


How dreary to be somebody !
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog !






SUCCESS IS COUNTED SWEETEST


Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.


Not one of all the purple host
Who took the flag today
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of victory


As he, defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Break agonized and clear !





THE MYSTERY OF PAIN



Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.


It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain.





THIS QUIET DUST WAS GENTLEMEN AND LADIES



This quiet dust was gentlemen and ladies
And lads and girls;
Was laughter and ability and sighing,
And frocks and curls;


This passive place a summer's nimble mansion,
Where bloom and bees
Fulfilled their oriental circuit,
Then ceased like these.




WHEN ROSES CEASE TO BLOOM, DEAR



When roses cease to bloom, dear
and violets are done,
When bumblebees in solemn flight
Have passed beyond the sun,


The hand that paused to gather
Upon this summer's day
Will idle lie, in Auburn.
Then take my flower, pray !





THE ONLY NEWS I KNOW



The only news I know
Is bulletins all day
From Immortality.


The only shows I see,
Tomorrow and Today,
Perchance Eternity.


The only One I meet
Is God, -the only street,
Existance; this traversed


If other news there be,
Or admirabler show - 
I'll tell it you.






THERE IS A WORD



There is a word
Which bears a sword
can pierce an armed man.


It hurls its barbed syllables, 
At once is mute again.
But where it fell
The saved will tell
On patriotic day,
Some epauletted brother
Gave his breath away.


Wherever runs the breathless sun,
Wherever roams the day,
There is its victory !
Behold the keenest marksman !
Time's sublimest target
Is a soul "forgot" ! 






THERE IS ANOTHER SKY


There is another sky,
Ever serene and fair,
And there is another sunshine,
Though it be darkness there;
Never mind faded forests, Austin,
Never mind silent fields -
Here is a little forest,
Whose leaf is ever green;
Here is a brighter garden,
Where not a frost has been;
In its unfading flowers
I hear the bright bee hum:
Prithee, my brother,
Into my garden come !




  (Manuscripts & Archives of Emily Dickinson, Yale University.)






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