Tag Archives: music

The Doomed — regard the Sunrise

The Doomed -- regard the SunriseThe Doomed — regard the Sunrise
With different Delight —
Because — when next it burns abroad
They doubt to witness it —

The Man — to die — tomorrow —
Harks for the Meadow Bird —
Because its Music stirs the Axe
That clamors for his head —

Joyful — to whom the Sunrise
Precedes Enamored — Day —
Joyful — for whom the Meadow Bird
Has ought but Elegy!

Put up my lute!

Put up my lute!Put up my lute!
What of — my Music!
Since the sole ear I cared to charm —
Passive — as Granite — laps My Music —
Sobbing — will suit — as well as psalm!

Would but the “Memnon” of the Desert —
Teach me the strain
That vanquished Him —
When He — surrendered to the Sunrise —
Maybe — that — would awaken — them!

Put up my lute!

Put up my lute!Put up my lute!
What of — my Music!
Since the sole ear I cared to charm —
Passive — as Granite — laps My Music —
Sobbing — will suit — as well as psalm!

Would but the “Memnon” of the Desert —
Teach me the strain
That vanquished Him —
When He — surrendered to the Sunrise —
Maybe — that — would awaken — them!

One Sister have I in our house

One Sister have I in our houseOne Sister have I in our house,
And one, a hedge away.
There’s only one recorded,
But both belong to me.

One came the road that I came —
And wore my last year’s gown —
The other, as a bird her nest,
Builded our hearts among.

She did not sing as we did —
It was a different tune —
Herself to her a music
As Bumble bee of June.

Today is far from Childhood —
But up and down the hills
I held her hand the tighter —
Which shortened all the miles —

And still her hum
The years among,
Deceives the Butterfly;
Still in her Eye
The Violets lie
Mouldered this many May.

I spilt the dew —
But took the morn —
I chose this single star
From out the wide night’s numbers —
Sue – forevermore!

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.

Absence – Tardiness – Communications – Breaking Silent Study hours

Daily Routines offers a look into the (often compulsive) schedules of “writers, artists, and other interesting people.” Subjects include Franz Kafka, Corbusier, Jasper Johns, and Karl Marx.

Emily Dickinson is represented with a schedule of her days at Mount Holyoke seminary. It’s a strict routine of studies, lectures, music practice, and meals.

It’s worth noting that during her time at Holyoke, Dickinson said of herself that “I am one of the lingering bad ones, and so do I slink away, and pause, and ponder, and ponder, and pause.” Perhaps that’s why she wrote of absence and tardiness and “ten thousand other things, which I will not take time or place to mention . . .”: to mention them in great detail would no doubt expose much of her inner life.

Lightning at our feet

Michael Gordon offers a new musical and theatrical interpretation of Emily Dickinson’s poetry with “Lightning at Our Feet” which combines music and film into a haunting atmosphere that brings Dickinson forward to the 21st century. The music is “virtuoso chamber music of a sort,” according to the review in the New York Times. From the excerpts available on YouTube, it’s reminiscent of the Cowboy Junkies enhanced by contemporary art music.