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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Of Emily Dickenson, her Poetry and 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 labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility…….
Since then ’t is centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.
So wrote Emily Dickinson, one of America’s greatest female poets.  I had first stumbled upon her poetry about five years back (There’s a certain slant of light/On winter afternoons/That oppresses/ like the weight/of cathedral tunes. These were the first lines I read and was hooked for life). But the more I read of her poetry the more it emerged that death was a leitmotif - a regular feature.
IT was not death, for I stood up,
And all the dead lie down;
It was not night, for all the bells
Put out their tongues, for noon.
It was not frost, for on my flesh
I felt siroccos crawl,—
Nor fire, for just my marble feet
Could keep a chancel cool.
And yet it tasted like them all;
The figures I have seen
Set orderly, for burial,
Reminded me of mine………
Wikipedia informs that ‘Dickinson was troubled from a young age by the "deepening menace" of death, especially the deaths of those who were close to her. When Sophia Holland, her second cousin and a close friend, grew ill and died in April 1844, Emily was traumatized. She became so melancholic that her parents sent her to stay with family in Boston to recover’.
SO proud she was to die
  It made us all ashamed
That what we cherished, so unknown
  To her desire seemed.
So satisfied to go
  Where none of us should be,
Immediately, that anguish stooped
  Almost to jealousy.

At another place she writes
I ’VE seen a dying eye
Run round and round a room
In search of something, as it seemed,
Then cloudier become;
And then, obscure with fog,
And then be soldered down,
Without disclosing what it be,
’T were blessed to have seen.
Emily seems to be not a wee bit scared of death. Isn’t this why she wrote
A LONG, long sleep, a famous sleep
  That makes no show for dawn
By stretch of limb or stir of lid,—
  An independent one.
Was ever idleness like this?
  Within a hut of stone
To bask the centuries away
  Nor once look up for noon?
Withdrawing more and more from the outside world by the summer of 1858 she spent her time in writing and reviewing the poems she had written. The forty fascicles she created from 1858 through 1865 eventually held nearly eight hundred poems. This treasure house of poetry was discovered only after her death.
I HEARD a fly buzz when I died;
  The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
  Between the heaves of storm……..
At another place she wrote
IF I shouldn’t be alive

When the robins come,

Give the one in red cravat

A memorial crumb.


If I could n’t thank you,
Being just asleep,

You will know I ’m trying

With my granite lip!

However, death assumes an unfriendly color at another place…
DEATH is like the insect
  Menacing the tree,
Competent to kill it,
  But decoyed may be…..
An article in the American Journal of Psychiatry (May 2001) shows that she suffered from a type of manic depression called SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder.
I CAN wade grief,
Whole pools of it,—
I ’m used to that.
But the least push of joy
Breaks up my feet,
And I tip—drunken.
 People  with manic depression go through periods of depression where they can do nothing and periods of mania in which they can do everything.
HEAVEN is what I cannot reach!
  The apple on the tree,
Provided it do hopeless hang,
  That “heaven” is, to me.
The color on the cruising cloud,
  The interdicted ground
Behind the hill, the house behind,—
  There Paradise is found!
 Emily Dickinson wrote more than half of her 1800 poems in the three years between 1862 and 1865 when she was manic. She had long periods when she couldn’t write because she was depressed. She wrote almost all of her works in the spring and summer months when sunlight made her feel good, and was unable to write in the winter when lack of sunlight sent her into depression.
Her lasting legacy is that what she wrote in the 1800’s will forever stand the test of time. Can anyone negate these lines?
Death is a lasting argument between
The spirit and the dust.
“Dissolve,” says Death. The Spirit, “Sir,
I have another trust…..”

Or these ?
DEATH sets a thing significant
The eye had hurried by…….
A book I have, a friend gave,
Whose pencil, here and there,
Had notched the place that pleased him,—
At rest his fingers are.
Now, when I read, I read not,
For interrupting tears
Obliterate the etchings
Too costly for repairs.
And these lines……
THE DYING need but little, dear,—
  A glass of water’s all,
A flower’s unobtrusive face
  To punctuate the wall,
A fan, perhaps, a friend’s regret,
  And certainly that one
No color in the rainbow
Perceives when you are gone
And then these…..
THE DISTANCE that the dead have gone

  Does not at first appear;

Their coming back seems possible

  For many an ardent year.


And then, that we have followed them
  We more than half suspect,

So intimate have we become

  With their dear retrospect.

IF I should die,
And you should live,
And time should gurgle on,
And morn should beam,
And noon should burn,
As it has usual done;
If birds should build as early,
And bees as bustling go,—
One might depart at option
From enterprise below!
’T is sweet to know that stocks will stand
When we with daisies lie,
That commerce will continue,
And trades as briskly fly.
It makes the parting tranquil
And keeps the soul serene…….
If there was a touch of madness in her sublime genius can one stop oneself from wishing more of us were truly absolutely mad? To get more of such lines….
THERE’S been a death in the opposite house

  As lately as to-day.

I know it by the numb look

  Such houses have always.


The neighbors rustle in and out,
  The doctor drives away…..


Somebody flings a mattress out,—

  The children hurry by;
They wonder if It died on that,—

  I used to when a boy…..


The minister goes stiffly in

  As if the house were his,

And he owned all the mourners now,
  And little boys besides……