Tag Archives: book

Not in this World to see his face –

Not in this World to see his face --Not in this World to see his face —
Sounds long — until I read the place
Where this — is said to be
But just the Primer — to a life —
Unopened — rare — Upon the Shelf —
Clasped yet — to Him — and Me —

And yet — My Primer suits me so
I would not choose — a Book to know
Than that — be sweeter wise —
Might some one else — so learned — be —
And leave me — just my A — B — C —
Himself — could have the Skies –

Do you have a Nook? Get the Daily Dickinson Nook Screensaver collection!

A precious — mouldering pleasure — ’tis –

A precious -- mouldering pleasure -- 'tis --A precious — mouldering pleasure — ’tis —
To meet an Antique Book —
In just the Dress his Century wore —
A privilege — I think —

His venerable Hand to take —
And warming in our own —
A passage back — or two — to make —
To Times when he — was young —

His quaint opinions — to inspect —
His thought to ascertain
On Themes concern our mutual mind —
The Literature of Man —

What interested Scholars — most —
What Competitions ran —
When Plato — was a Certainty —
And Sophocles — a Man —

When Sappho — was a living Girl —
And Beatrice wore
The Gown that Dante — deified —
Facts Centuries before

He traverses — familiar —
As One should come to Town —
And tell you all your Dreams — were true —
He lived — where Dreams were born —

His presence is Enchantment —
You beg him not to go —
Old Volume shake their Vellum Heads
And tantalize — just so –

Do you have a Nook? Get the Daily Dickinson Nook Screensaver collection!

‘Twas the old — road — through pain –

'Twas the old -- road -- through pain --‘Twas the old — road — through pain —
That unfrequented — one —
With many a turn — and thorn —
That stops — at Heaven —

This — was the Town — she passed —
There — where she — rested — last —
Then — stepped more fast —
The little tracks — close prest —
Then — not so swift —
Slow — slow — as feet did weary — grow —
Then — stopped — no other track!

Wait! Look! Her little Book —
The leaf — at love — turned back —
Her very Hat —
And this worn shoe just fits the track —
Herself — though — fled!

Another bed — a short one —
Women make — tonight —
In Chambers bright —
Too out of sight — though —
For our hoarse Good Night —
To touch her Head!

Do you have a Nook? Get the Daily Dickinson Nook Screensaver collection!

“the scariest poet since Emily Dickinson”

The Poetry Foundation podcast, Poetry Off the Shelf, has recently re-broadcast a piece about Rae Armantrout, “More Than Meets the I,” whom Ange Milenko calls “the scariest poet since Emily Dickinson.”

Readers who are drawn in by Dickinson’s gnomic, witty, sharp verse would be well-advised to try Armantrout. Like Dickinson, she takes on big topics–the nature of the self, the meaning of love and pity, the way language works or doesn’t–in brief, clever poems that pack much into a short space. Her poems are short, but by no means easy; they’re puzzling, sometimes inscrutable, and haunting.

The thrust of Milenko’s piece is that Armantrout stands apart from most contemporary American poets by her use (or, more often than not, non-use) of “I.” She’s not a confessional poet; we don’t learn anything significant about her private life from her poems, much the way Dickinson’s private life is veiled (and made that much more open to overwrought speculation for its invisibility). Instead, she offers a cool and detached “I,” an observer and commentator but not a participant.

It’s this detachment that makes her scary, in the way Dickinson can be scary. Armantrout doesn’t offer just pithy observations; she offers riddles about important things told in a seemingly off-handed manner. But she doesn’t offer answers to those riddles.

You can read more Armantrout at the Poetry Foundation site, or dip into some of her books:

Because that’s not why I write

Acacia Theatre Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, will perform the world-premier production of Chris Cagan’s “Emily,” a play that tells the story of Emily Dickinson’s life, backwards. The play starts on Easter Sunday, 1860, when Dickinson was 29, and works back to 1848, when she was 17, tracing the origins of her disenchantment with religion and her growing seclusion from the outside world.

“The play begins with the end result – Emily’s seclusion – and works backward to a time when she was more social,” said Director Dr. David W. Eggebrecht. “It’s an interesting perspective, knowing what’s going to happen. It gives you insights into why she became the reclusive poet that she became. The traumas that occurred in her life accentuated her eccentricities and led her to become much more introspective.”

The playwright’s website has an excerpt from the play (in Microsoft Word format), a tense family dinner scene. Dickinson’s poetry is woven throughout, the play adding context to the verse while the poetry illuminates the domestic drama.

Readings of “Emily” have been performed at the Pacific Theatre in Vancouver and at the Drama Bookshop in New York City. Acacia’s performance will be its first full staging.

Performances will be given at 8 p.m. on Feb. 27, 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, 3 p.m. on March 1, 8 p.m. on March 5, 8 p.m. on March 6, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on March 7 and 3 p.m. on March 8.

My friend must be a bird

The most unsociable of poets meets the latest in social media! In addition to visiting Daily Dickinson, you can get updates from this project on Facebook, Twitter, through a Google Gadget you can add to your own pages, through RSS, and in your e-mail:

Sweet Skepticism of the Heart

On January 12, 2009, the words of Emily Dickinson will return to the London Underground. Not, though, as part of the Poems on the Underground series, which has featured Much madness is divinest sense, I taste a liquor never brewed, and There came a Wind like a Bugle in the past.

Instead, two lines from Dickinson will be part of the British Humanist Association’s Atheist Bus campaign:

That it will never come again
Is what makes life so sweet.

Believing what we don’t believe
Does not exhilarate.

That if it be, it be at best
An ablative estate —
This instigates an appetite
Precisely opposite.

The campaign on the Underground will also feature Douglas Adams, Albert Einstein, and Katherine Hepburn. The choice–of Dickinson in general, and these words in particular–is thought-provoking.

Dickinson was certainly a skeptic. Though she lived in a world charged with religious and spiritual fervor–the last waves of the Second Great Awakening, Calvinist pietism, Emersonian Transcendentalism–she paddled against the general stream. Though she attended the Mount Holyoke Seminary, Dickinson never “converted” like so many of her peers. “Christ is calling everyone here,” she wrote in an 1850 letter, “all my companions have answered, even my darling Vinnie believes she loves, and trusts him, and I am standing alone in rebellion.”

But an atheist? I’m not entirely convinced. Dickinson’s approach to religion was certainly ironic, skeptical, sometimes sacrilegious, often playful. In her poems about death in particular, she strikes some pretty hard blows against religious beliefs. Safe in their alabaster chambers, for example, notes the eternal sleep of the “meek members of the resurrection” while “[g]rand go the years in the crescent above them”; Death, for Dickinson, is a particular Eternity, with no sounding trumpet on Judgment Day.

But God–or a god of some sort–is strongly present in many of her poems. In some cases, it seems to be a Calvinist God–remote, unknowable, harsh. In other cases, as in her poems about the loss of loved ones, there seems to be a consoling God:

They perished in the seamless grass, –
No eye could find the place;
But God on his repealless list
Can summon every face.

More often, “God” seems to be a metaphor for something–universal order, the grandeur of nature, time–larger than the individual. There’s much vastness in these short poems, and much wonder. Dickinson certainly rejects the trappings of church and piety, and is at the very least unorthodox, heretical, and strongly critical of religion. But she is very much of her time and place all the same, and not easily made to fit into contemporary atheist or humanist garb. If anything, she reminds me most of the Nontheist Friends, a particularly slippery sort of Quaker.

That the Atheist Bus campaign picked this particular Dickinson poem, and these specific lines, is interesting. It’s certainly an aphoristic statement, and it echoes the “stop worrying and enjoy your life” catchphrase of the campaign. But the second two lines–“Believing what we don’t believe / Does not exhilarate”–seems more consistent with Dickinson’s poetry, and, to be honest, much less trite; I could almost picture “That it will never come again / Is what makes life so sweet” printed on the pedestal of a “Precious Moments” figurine. There are better, more searing quotes available–her poem on the inefficacy of prayer, for example, or her playful mocking of a Heavenly afterlife:

I ‘m glad I don’t believe it,
For it would stop my breath,
And I ‘d like to look a little more
At such a curious earth!
I am glad they did believe it
Whom I have never found
Since the mighty autumn afternoon
I left them in the ground.

We need to be careful when marshaling the dead to our contemporary causes, particularly the subtle dead like Dickinson. Her concerns were not necessarily ours, and her approach to doubt and faith much more nuanced than what we hear now on either side of the debate. I don’t know that she’d be bothered to be on the Atheist Bus posters–she’d probably find it more than a little funny–but her smile would be more than a touch wry.