Though I have certainly heard the name many times over the years, it is only recently that I have finally picked up and read the poems of Emily Dickinson. I found the experience well worth it. I have selected three poems that particularly spoke to me in order to illustrate how much I appreciated this beautiful art.
To fill a gap
Insert the thing that caused it –
Block it up
With other – and ‘twill yawn the more –
You cannot solder an Abyss
I thought of grief when I read this, though it can apply to many things. When someone dies, they leave a gap, and that gap cannot be simply filled. You cannot replace a loved one with another loved one. You cannot even replace a pet with another pet. All beings, all experiences, are unique to themselves. While you can move past a loss, you never really get over it. Some wounds cannot be bandaged or stitched up. They will remain, and scar. That is life and that is quite natural. Maybe we need to remember that more, to truly experience the bad in life as well as the good.
Pain – has an Element of Blank –
It cannot recollect
When it begun – or if there were
A time when it was not –
It has no future – but itself –
Its infinite contain
Its past – enlightened to perceive
New Periods – of Pain.
I have a chronic medical condition which causes constant pain, so I read this and immediately understood just how true it was. When you experience pain on a daily basis, you find that it becomes impossible to remember the time before, the time when you were still well. It can feel timeless, an eternal present of discomfort with no beginning and no discernible end.
I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the sea
I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch –
This gave me that precarious gait
Some call Experience.
Isn’t this life in all its uncertainties? It is is like walking at night when it’s really dark, and you have a torch to light your way but it only lights a step or so in front of you. Everything further on is pitch black and you have no real idea what lies in store. So you have to be very careful. I do think there is some hope in this poem though, especially in the line ‘the Stars about my Head I felt’. It speaks of being aware of the magnitude of existence, of the universe, and that your thoughts, your imagination, can take you out to those very Stars. I think that’s why Dickinson capitalizes Stars and Head,
This wouldn’t be complete without some mention of the unique punctuation in Dickinson’s poems. I did some reading about this and came across so many different theories that I decided to stick to my own initial feeling. The dashes give the poetry a very stream of consciousness feel to me. It seems that the poems are structured as the thoughts come to her, as if this seems to her the best way that they should remain, a reflection of what she is trying to convey as she thinks it, a reflection of her if you like. The capitalization of seemingly random nouns would tend to reflect that the poet wants emphasis on these words, so we should pause and think about the Plank, the Stars, Experience.
Well I have become a fan. Now to find a copy of her complete poems …