The spider as an artist Has never been employed Though his surpassing merit Is freely certified By every broom and Bridget Thought a Christian land. Neglected son of genius, I take thee by the hand. (Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson, printed 2016)
A narrow fellow in the grass Occasionally rides; You may have met him, - did you not? His notice sudden is. The grass divides as with a comb, A spotted shaft is seen; And then it closes at your feet And opens further on. He likes a boggy acre, A floor too cool for corn, Yet when a child, and barefoot, I more than once, at morn, Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash Unbraiding in the sun, - When, stooping to secure it, It wrinkled, and was gone. Several of nature's people I know, and they know me; I feel for them a transport Of cordiality; But never met this fellow, Attended or alone, Without a tighter breathing, And zero at the bone. (Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson, printed 2016)
I believe she is talking about a snake. Don’t you?
I finished the Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson yesterday. This is small book, but it has about 175 poems in it. I still say that Emily Dickinson is not my favorite poet. Many of her works feel smashed together with sentences twisted to make the rhymes. But, then I read (or, rather, listened to) a small portion of her biography and realized that she never intended for most of her poems to be published. She could smash and twist words and sentences because she wan’t going to let anyone read her scribbles. She probably did not do much editing or rewriting either.
Emily Dickinson was a recluse and lived most of her life voluntarily shut in her room. Though she was never ungracious to visitors, she preferred solitude instead. You can tell from several of her poems, like these three, that she had quite a vivid imagination.
However, it is definitely worth your time to become aquatinted with Emily Dickinson’s poetry, especially if you would like to be a writer or poet. Though you may find some of her poems harder to understand, look for little one or two line phrases that catch your fancy. I think that is what I enjoyed most – looking for those little phrases that stood out to me, caught my eye, and made my imagination go, “Wow, how neat!”
The subjects Emily Dickinson wrote about were nature, life, death, eternity, and love. If you think about, are there any other subjects? Perhaps that is why she is loved by so many readers. She has a line or two for everyone. I’ve shared some of my favorites here on the blog (you can click the Emily Dickinson tag to find them). But I encourage you to read Dickinson’s poems and decide which ones are your own favorites.
It sifts from leaden sieves, It powders all the wood, It fills with alabaster wool The wrinkles of the road. It makes an even face Of mountain and of plain, - Unbroken forehead from the east Unto the east again. It reaches to the fence, It wraps it, rail by rail, Till it is lost in fleeces; It flings a crystal veil On stump and stack and stem, - The summer's empty room, Acres of seams where harvests were, Recordless, but for them. It ruffles wrists of poets, As ankles of a queen, - Then stills its artisans like ghosts, Denying they have been. (from Selected Poems by Emily Dickinson, printed 2016)
She doesn’t really say, but I think Emily Dickinson is writing about fog. The poem seems to drift into the consciousness like a fog – wafting, rolling, billowing. My favorite part is how it engulfs the fence, “wraps it, rail by rail”. What do you think she is writing about in this poem?
I years had been from home, And now, before the door, I dared not open, lest a face I never saw before Stare vacant into mine And ask my business there. My business, - just a life I left, Was such still swelling there? I fumbled at my nerve, I scanned the windows near; The silence like an ocean rolled, And broke against my ear. I laughed a wooden laugh That I could fear a door, Who danger and the dead had faced, But never quaked before. I fitted to the latch My hand, with trembling care, Lest back the awful door should spring, And leave me standing there. I moved my fingers off As cautiously as glass, And held my ears, and like a thief Fled gasping from the house. (from Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson, printed 2016)
I had a similar experience a few years ago when I travelled back to the home of my youth. Our little house still lay down a long, dirt drive. It was surrounded by trees – a woods that I used explore almost daily. But I couldn’t bring myself to drive all the way up to the house, so I turned around and left, with only a glimpse of the past. I think that we connect such good memories with the homes we lived in as children that we always want to go back. But is the house that we want to return to? Or could it be that we want to return to the youthful innocence and happiness that we knew there? I think Emily Dickinson expressed this desire when she said, “My business, – just a life I left, Was such still swelling there?”
My first exposure to Emily Dickinson was in a college course on nature writers, and I did not like her poems at all. However, I decided to buy this tiny book and give her a second chance. These small books are a Barnes & Noble special; they are about the size of a wallet. I’m glad I decided to give Dickinson a second chance because I have enjoyed many of the poems in this book. It just goes to show, first impressions can be deceiving.
The wind tapped like a tired man, And like a host, "Come in," I boldly answered; entered then My residence within. A rapid, footless guest, To offer whom a chair Were as impossible as hand A sofa to the air. No bone had he to bind him, His speech was like the push Of numerous humming-birds at once From a superior bush. His countenance a billow, His fingers, if he pass, Let go a music, as of tunes Blown tremulous in glass. He visited, still flitting; Then, like a timid man, Again he tapped - 'twas flurriedly - And I became alone. (from Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson, printed 2016)
I started early, took my dog, And visited the sea; The mermaid in the basement Came out to look at me, And frigates in the upper floor Extended hempen hands. Presuming me to be a mouse Aground, upon the sands. But no man moved me till the tide Went past my simple shoe, And past my apron and my belt, And past my bodice too, And made as he would eat me up As wholly as a dew Upon a dandelion's sleeve - And then I started too. And he - he followed close behind; I felt his silver heel Upon my ankle, - then my shoes Would overflow with pearl. Until we met the solid town, No man he seemed to know; And bowing with a mighty look At me, the sea withdrew. (from Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson, printed 2016)
Sometimes I have a hard time understanding Emily Dickinson’s poems. For me, many of them seem to be a smattering of words and rhymes without much meaning. I’m sure if I tried to analyze them deeply, I could figure it out, but I tend to be lazy when reading poetry. If the meaning seems unclear, I pass by and find one that is clearer.
However, with this poem, I can see the picture clearly. Can you see it? A lady on a walk by the shore. She looks out, imagining mermaids and ships. Then the waves crash in. They overtake her, covering her shoes, making their way up her skirts all the way to her belt, threatening to overtake her and drag her back with them to the deep. Then, they stop. As though with a bow, the waves recede back to the depths without the lady. This is truly a beautiful picture painted by Emily Dickinson.
I stepped from plank to plank So slow and cautiously; 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. (from Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson, printed 2016)
There is no frigate like a book To take us to 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! (from Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson, printed 2016)