Poem-A-Day: Emily Dickinson (again)

If there has been one constant refrain in our most recent history, it’s that we must not lose hope. In the face of outstanding stupidity, intolerable cruelty, and just garden-variety meanness, our endurance is what will allow us to outsmart the extraordinary nonsense and significant peril that has become the waters we swim in. If I had my choice, I would fly above that muddy river. I am growing wings.

Here is one more poem by that unmistakable goddess of poetry, Emily Dickinson, and in the video linked below you can see a child signing it while a celebrity reads it aloud.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers (314)
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“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —
.
And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm —
.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land —
And on the strangest Sea —
Yet — never — in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of me.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/video/77372/hope-is-the-thing-with-feathers

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For some really interesting speculation on whether this image does in fact depict Dear Emily, go to https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/sep/05/emily-dickinson-new-photograph.

You can click here for an official biographical statement about Emily Dickinson. In short, she’s widely considered one of America’s top five historical poets, alongside William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and Langston Hughes. Her poetry confounds some, much as her life must have, but as far as I’m concerned she’s awesome and way ahead of the minds who attempted to dismiss her. She is, perhaps, a shining example of a woman who did not conform to what society expected of her.

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Poem-A-Day 2019: Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson’s poetry always felt to me — even when I was in grade school — like the fleeting thought-tendrils of a woman on the edge of some yawning chasm. As if these fragmented-feeling verses were some diaphanous grappling hook she hoped but didn’t expect someone would catch and reel her into their intellectual embrace.

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Wild nights — Wild nights!  (#269)
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Wild nights — Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!
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Futile — the winds —
To a Heart in port —
Done with the Compass —
Done with the Chart!
.
Rowing in Eden —
Ah — the Sea!
Might I but moor — tonight —
In thee!
.
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Emily Dickinson, in full Emily Elizabeth Dickinson, (born December 10, 1830, Amherst, Massachusetts, U.S.—died May 15, 1886, Amherst), American lyric poet who lived in seclusion and commanded a singular brilliance of style and integrity of vision. With Walt Whitman, Dickinson is widely considered to be one of the two leading 19th-century American poets.
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Only 10 of Emily Dickinson’s nearly 1,800 poems are known to have been published in her lifetime. Devoted to private pursuits, she sent hundreds of poems to friends and correspondents while apparently keeping the greater number to herself. She habitually worked in verse forms suggestive of hymns and ballads, with lines of three or four stresses. Her unusual off-rhymes have been seen as both experimental and influenced by the 18th-century hymnist Isaac Watts. She freely ignored the usual rules of versification and even of grammar, and in the intellectual content of her work she likewise proved exceptionally bold and original. Her verse is distinguished by its epigrammatic compression, haunting personal voice, enigmatic brilliance, and lack of high polish.
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This biographical information is quoted from the Encyclopaedia Britannica. I admit I might not entirely agree with the phrase “lack of high polish.” For more on Dickinson’s life and literary development, click here.

Featured Poet: Emily Dickinson

This isn’t technically a Women Writers Wednesday review, but I have to give a shout-out today, on a Wednesday, on Earth Day, to Emily Dickinson. She has been known to many as one of the greatest American poets, or as “The Belle of Amherst,” or as “that crazy lady in the white dress locked in her house all her life.” (True story, I knew someone who referred to her like that, not out of abject disrespect so much as out of frustrated curiosity.)

No matter what you call her, she was and remains a force majeure of American letters. The more I read of her work throughout my life, the better I can appreciate the depth of her intellectual and poetic gifts.

Today I came across one of her poems I had not seen before. Since it’s Earth Day, I wanted to feature a poem about nature, and this seemed like a good one to include. It’s number as 668 in the source I encountered (PoemHunter.com).

 

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668

 

“Nature” is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse— the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Thunder—the Cricket—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.

 

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What can I tell you about Emily Dickinson that you don’t probably already know? How about this: one of my favorite National Poetry Month posters ever is from 2005 — incidentally, the month my daughter was born — and was designed by Chip Kidd. It features Emily Dickinson’s dress on a black background and a marvelous quote from her letters. “Nature is a haunted house — but Art — is a house that tries to be haunted.”

 

Emily Dickinson NPM 2005

 

Featured Poet: Janice D. Soderling

You know what I love best about tonight’s poem? It reminds me of Emily Dickinson, someone whose work I admire not just because of its complexity, but also because the woman who wrote it led such an intellectually rich but societally challenged life.

What does this poem make you think of? For me, it calls to mind “A narrow fellow in the grass” and “Eden is that old-fashioned House.” It’s rhyming done well, modern and brief, serene yet slightly punchy. Does this sound like a contradiction? It does to me, but still, it’s how I feel about it. And in my head, in my gut, it makes sense.

 

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Quiet Things

Let the poem be a still thing. –W.S. Graham

Like the fall of one bright feather
from the eagle’s taloned clutch.
Down it drifts in pretty weather,
troubling no ear overmuch.

Or like the rushing stream gone dry.
Or like the netted butterfly.
Or like the slither of small snakes.
Or like a heart that slowly breaks.

 

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Janice D. Soderling has published poetry, fiction and translations at Mezzo Cammin, Rattle, The Rotary Dial, Light, Think, Alabama Literary Review, Hobart, Per Contra, Glimmer Train, Evansville Review and way over a hundred other print and online journals. She is assistant fiction editor at Able Muse. Janice hails from the United States but lives in Sweden.

Featured Poet: Emily Dickinson

So, it was my plan to feature only poets I know personally this whole month, which was going to be fun and all, but as I was grading a stack of tests this week, I realized that in one class where I’d offered the students the chance to write about a Florence + the Machine song versus an Emily Dickinson poem, only one person chose dear Emily. Now, granted, that song was awesome and did in fact dovetail nicely with the unit we had been studying, and the poem was more challenging and required more thoughtful analysis — but it was awesome and dovetailed nicely, too.

Anyway, I’ve decided to feature this poem tonight because it’s one of my favorites by Emily Dickinson. I don’t think I need to put a bio for her, do I?

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My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun (754 or 764)

 

My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun —
In Corners — till a Day
The Owner passed — identified —
And carried Me away —

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods —
And now We hunt the Doe —
And every time I speak for Him
The Mountains straight reply —

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow —
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through —

And when at Night — Our good Day done —
I guard My Master’s Head —
‘Tis better than the Eider-Duck’s
Deep Pillow — to have shared —

To foe of His — I’m deadly foe —
None stir the second time —
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye —
Or an emphatic Thumb —

Though I than He — may longer live
He longer must — than I —
For I have but the power to kill,
Without — the power to die —