The Poems of Emily Dickinson

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The Poems of Emily Dickinson With an Introduction by Martha Dickinson Bianchi A Penn State Electronic Classics Series PublicationThe Poems of Emily Dickinson Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830(1830-12-10) lived almost all of her life in her family's houses in Amherst, which has been preserved as the Emily Dickinson Museum. She was educated at the nearby Amherst Academy, a former boys' school which had opened to female students just two years earlier. She studied En- glish and classical literature, learning Latin and reading the Aeneid over several years, and was taught in other subjects including reli- gion, history, mathematics, geology, and biology. 4The Poems of Emily Dickinson E E E E Emily D mily D mily D mily D mily Dickinson (1830 – 86). Complete P ickinson (1830 – 86). Complete P ickinson (1830 – 86). Complete P ickinson (1830 – 86). Complete P ickinson (1830 – 86). Complete Poems. oems. oems. oems. oems. 1924. 1924. 1924. 1924. 1924. Introduction THE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON, published in a series of three vol- umes at various intervals after her death in 1886, and in a volume entitled The Single Hound, published in 1914, with the addition of a few before omitted, are here collected in a final complete edition. In them and in her Life and Letters, recently presented in one inclu- sive volume, lives all of Emily Dickinson—for the outward circum- stance matters little, nor is this the place for discussion as to whether fate ordained her or she ordained her own foreordination. Many of her poems have been reprinted in anthologies, selections, textbooks for recitation, and they have increasingly found their elect and been best interpreted by the expansion of those lives they have seized upon by force of their natural, profound intuition of the miracles of everyday Life, Love, and Death. She herself was of the part of life that is always youth, always magical. She wrote of it as she grew to know it, step by step, discovery by discovery, truth by truth—until time merely became eternity. She was preëminently the discoverer— eagerly hunting the meaning of it all; this strange world in which she wonderingly found herself,—“A Balboa of house and garden,” surmising what lay beyond the purple horizon. She lived with a God we do not believe in, and trusted in an immortality we do not deserve, in that confiding age when Duty ruled over Pleasure be- fore the Puritan became a hypocrite. Her aspect of Deity,—as her intimation,—was her own,—unique, peculiar, unimpaired by the brimstone theology of her day. Her poems reflect this direct rela- tion toward the great realities we have later avoided, covered up, or tried to wipe out; perhaps because were they really so great we be- come so small in consequence. All truth came to Emily straight 5The Poems of Emily Dickinson from honor to honor unimpaired. She never trafficked with false- hood seriously, never employed a deception in thought or feeling of her own. This pitiless sincerity dictated: “I like a look of agony Because I know it’s true Men do not sham convulsion Nor simulate a throe.” As light after darkness, Summer following Winter, she is inevi- table, unequivocal. Evasion of fact she knew not, though her body might flit away from interruption, leaving an intruder to “Think that a sunbeam left the door ajar.” Her entities were vast—as her words were few; those words like dry-point etching or frost upon the pane Doubly aspected, every event, every object seemed to hold for her both its actual and imaginative dimension. By this power she carries her readers behind the veil obscuring less gifted appre- hension. She even descends over the brink of the grave to toy with the outworn vesture of the spirit, recapture the dead smile on lips surrendered forever; then, as on the wings of Death, betakes herself and her reader in the direction of the escaping soul to new, incred- ible heights. Doubly her life carried on, two worlds in her brown eyes, by which habit of the Unseen she confessed: “I fit for them, I seek the dark till I am thorough fit. The labor is a solemn one, With this sufficient sweet— That abstinence as mine produce A purer good for them, If I succeed,— If not, I had The transport of the Aim.” This transport of the aim absorbed her, and this absorption is her clearest explanation,—the absorption in This excluding observance of That. Most of all she was busy. It takes time even for genius to 6The Poems of Emily Dickinson crystallize the thought with which her letters and poems are crammed. Her solitude was never idle. Her awe of that unknown sacrament of love permeated all she wrote, and before Nature, God, and Death she is more fearless than that archangel of portentous shadow she instinctively dreaded. Almost transfigured by reverence, her poems are pervaded by inference sharply in contrast to the balder speech of to-day. Here the mystic suppressed the woman, though her heart leaped up over children,—radiant phenomena to her, akin to stars fallen among her daffodils in the orchard; and her own renunciation, chalice at lip, was nobly, frankly given in the poem ending: “Each bound the other’s crucifix, We gave no other bond. Sufficient troth that we shall rise— Deposed, at length, the grave— To that new marriage, justified Through Calvaries of Love” Her own philosophy had early taught her that All was in All: there were no degrees in anything. Accordingly nothing was mean or trivial, and her “fainting robin” became a synonym of the universe. She saw in absolute terms which gave her poetry an accuracy like that obtained under the microscope of modern science. But her soul dominated, and when her footsteps wavered her terms were still dictated by her unquenchable spirit. Hers too were spirit terms with life and friends, in which respect she was of a divergence from the usual not easily to be condoned. It was precisely the clamor of the commonplace exasperated by the austerities of a reserved indi- viduality, that provoked her immortal exclamation: “Much madness is divinest sense To a discerning eye. Much sense the starkest madness; ’T is the majority In this, as all prevails. Assent and you are sane— 7The Poems of Emily Dickinson Demur—you ’re straightway dangerous And handled with a chain.” Her interpretation demands height and depth of application in her readers, for although her range is that of any soul not earth-bound by the senses, she does not always make it immediately plain when she speaks out of her own vision in her own tongue. In spite of which, beyond those who profess her almost as a cult, she is supremely the poet of those who “never read poetry.” The scoffers, the literary ag- nostics, make exception for her. She is also the poet of the unpoetic, the unlearned foreigner, the busy, practical, inexpressive man as well as woman, the wise young and groping old, the nature worshipper, the schoolgirl, children caught by her fairy lineage, and lovers of all degree. Full many a preacher has found her line at the heart of his matter and left her verse to fly up with his conclusion. And it is the Very Reverend head of a most Catholic order who writes, “I bless God for Emily,—some of her writings have had a more profound influence on my life than anything else that any one has ever writ- ten.” Mystic to mystic, mind to mind, spirit to spirit, dust to dust. She was at the source of things and dwelt beside the very springs of life, yet those deep wells from which she drew were of the wayside, though their waters were of eternal truth, her magnificat one of the certainties of every immortal being. Here in her poems the arisen Emily, unabashed by mortal bonds, speaks to her “Divine Majority”: “Split the lark and you ’ll find the music— Bulb after bulb, in silver rolled, Scantily dealt to the Summer morning, Saved for your ears when lutes are old.” But in what vernacular explain the skylark to the mole—even she was at loss to tell. And for the true lovers of the prose or poetry of Emily Dickinson, explanation of her is as impertinent as unnecessary. Martha Dickinson Bianchi Siena, March, 1924. 8The Poems of Emily Dickinson P Par art O t One ne P P Par ar art O t O t One ne ne Life E E E E Epigram pigram pigram pigram pigram THIS is my letter to the world, That never wrote to me,— The simple news that Nature told, With tender majesty. Her message is committed To hands I cannot see; For love of her, sweet countrymen, Judge tenderly of me 9The Poems of Emily Dickinson I I I I I SUCCESS is counted sweetest By those who ne’er succeed. To comprehend a nectar Requires sorest need. Not one of all the purple host Who took the flag to-day Can tell the definition, So clear, of victory, As he, defeated, dying, On whose forbidden ear The distant strains of triumph Break, agonized and clear. II II II II II OUR share of night to bear, Our share of morning, Our blank in bliss to fill, Our blank in scorning. Here a star, and there a star, Some lose their way. Here a mist, and there a mist, Afterwards—day 10The Poems of Emily Dickinson III III III III III SOUL, wilt thou toss again? By just such a hazard Hundreds have lost, indeed, But tens have won an all. Angels’ breathless ballot Lingers to record thee; Imps in eager caucus Raffle for my soul. IV IV IV IV IV IS so much joy ’T is so much joy ’T If I should fail, what poverty And yet, as poor as I Have ventured all upon a throw; Have gained Yes Hesitated so This side the victory Life is but life, and death but death Bliss is but bliss, and breath but breath And if, indeed, I fail, At least to know the worst is sweet. Defeat means nothing but defeat, No drearier can prevail And if I gain,—oh, gun at sea, Oh, bells that in the steeples be, At first repeat it slow For heaven is a different thing Conjectured, and waked sudden in, And might o’erwhelm me so 11The Poems of Emily Dickinson V V V V V GLEE the great storm is over Four have recovered the land; Forty gone down together Into the boiling sand. Ring, for the scant salvation Toll, for the bonnie souls,— Neighbor and friend and bridegroom, Spinning upon the shoals How they will tell the shipwreck When winter shakes the door, Till the children ask, “But the forty? Did they come back no more?” Then a silence suffuses the story, And a softness the teller’s eye; And the children no further question, And only the waves reply. VI VI VI VI VI F I can stop one heart from breaking, I I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain. 12The Poems of Emily Dickinson VII VII VII VII VII WITHIN my reach I could have touched I might have chanced that way Soft sauntered through the village, Sauntered as soft away So unsuspected violets Within the fields lie low, Too late for striving fingers That passed, an hour ago. VIII VIII VIII VIII VIII A wounded deer leaps highest, I ’ve heard the hunter tell; ’T is but the ecstasy of death, And then the brake is still. The smitten rock that gushes, The trampled steel that springs: A cheek is always redder Just where the hectic stings Mirth is the mail of anguish, In which it caution arm, Lest anybody spy the blood And “You ’re hurt” exclaim 13The Poems of Emily Dickinson IX IX IX IX IX THE heart asks pleasure first, And then, excuse from pain; And then, those little anodynes That deaden suffering; And then, to go to sleep; And then, if it should be The will of its Inquisitor, The liberty to die. X X X X X PRECIOUS, mouldering pleasure ’t is A 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 knowledge to unfold On what concerns our mutual mind, The literature of old; 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. 14The Poems of Emily Dickinson 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 volumes shake their vellum heads And tantalize, just so. XI XI XI XI XI UCH madness is divinest sense M To a discerning eye; Much sense the starkest madness. ’T is the majority In this, as all, prevails. Assent, and you are sane; Demur,—you ’re straightway dangerous, And handled with a chain. XII XII XII XII XII I ASKED no other thing, No other was denied. I offered Being for it; The mighty merchant smiled. Brazil? He twirled a button, Without a glance my way: “But, madam, is there nothing else That we can show to-day?” 15The Poems of Emily Dickinson XIII XIII XIII XIII XIII THE soul selects her own society, Then shuts the door; On her divine majority Obtrude no more. Unmoved, she notes the chariot’s pausing At her low gate; Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling Upon her mat. I ’ve known her from an ample nation Choose one; Then close the valves of her attention Like stone. XIV XIV XIV XIV XIV OME things that fly there be,— S Birds, hours, the bumble-bee: Of these no elegy. Some things that stay there be,— Grief, hills, eternity: Nor this behooveth me. There are, that resting, rise. Can I expound the skies? How still the riddle lies 16The Poems of Emily Dickinson XV XV XV XV XV I know some lonely houses off the road A robber ’d like the look of,— Wooden barred, And windows hanging low, Inviting to A portico, Where two could creep: One hand the tools, The other peep To make sure all ’s asleep. Old-fashioned eyes, Not easy to surprise How orderly the kitchen ’d look by night, With just a clock,— But they could gag the tick, And mice won’t bark; And so the walls don’t tell, None will. A pair of spectacles ajar just stir— An almanac’s aware. Was it the mat winked, Or a nervous star? The moon slides down the stair To see who ’s there. There ’s plunder,—where? Tankard, or spoon, Earring, or stone, A watch, some ancient brooch To match the grandmamma, Staid sleeping there. 17The Poems of Emily Dickinson Day rattles, too, Stealth ’s slow; The sun has got as far As the third sycamore. Screams chanticleer, “Who ’s there?” And echoes, trains away, Sneer—“Where?” While the old couple, just astir, Think that the sunrise left the door ajar XVI XVI XVI XVI XVI O fight aloud is very brave, T But gallanter, I know, Who charge within the bosom, The cavalry of woe. Who win, and nations do not see, Who fall, and none observe, Whose dying eyes no country Regards with patriot love. We trust, in plumed procession, For such the angels go, Rank after rank, with even feet And uniforms of snow. 18The Poems of Emily Dickinson XVII XVII XVII XVII XVII WHEN night is almost done, And sunrise grows so near That we can touch the spaces, It ’s time to smooth the hair And get the dimples ready, And wonder we could care For that old faded midnight That frightened but an hour. XVIII XVIII XVIII XVIII XVIII EAD, sweet, how others strove, R Till we are stouter; What they renounced, Till we are less afraid; How many times they bore The faithful witness, Till we are helped, As if a kingdom cared Read then of faith That shone above the fagot; Clear strains of hymn The river could not drown; Brave names of men And celestial women, Passed out of record Into renown 19The Poems of Emily Dickinson XIX XIX XIX XIX XIX PAIN has an element of blank; It cannot recollect When it began, or if there were A day when it was not. It has no future but itself, Its infinite realms contain Its past, enlightened to perceive New periods of pain. XX XX XX XX XX TASTE a liquor never brewed, I From tankards scooped in pearl; Not all the vats upon the Rhine Yield such an alcohol Inebriate of air am I, And debauchee of dew, Reeling, through endless summer days, From inns of molten blue. When landlords turn the drunken bee Out of the foxglove’s door, When butterflies renounce their drams, I shall but drink the more Till seraphs swing their snowy hats, And saints to windows run, To see the little tippler Leaning against the sun 20The Poems of Emily Dickinson XXI XXI XXI XXI XXI HE ate and drank the precious words, His spirit grew robust; He knew no more that he was poor, Nor that his frame was dust. He danced along the dingy days, And this bequest of wings Was but a book. What liberty A loosened spirit brings XXII XXII XXII XXII XXII I HAD no time to hate, because The grave would hinder me, And life was not so ample I Could finish enmity. Nor had I time to love; but since Some industry must be, The little toil of love, I thought, Was large enough for me. XXIII XXIII XXIII XXIII XXIII ’T WAS such a little, little boat That toddled down the bay ’T was such a gallant, gallant sea That beckoned it away ’T was such a greedy, greedy wave That licked it from the coast; Nor ever guessed the stately sails My little craft was lost 21The Poems of Emily Dickinson XXIV XXIV XXIV XXIV XXIV WHETHER my bark went down at sea, Whether she met with gales, Whether to isles enchanted She bent her docile sails; By what mystic mooring She is held to-day,— This is the errand of the eye Out upon the bay. XXV XXV XXV XXV XXV ELSHAZZAR had a letter,— B He never had but one; Belshazzar’s correspondent Concluded and begun In that immortal copy The conscience of us all Can read without its glasses On revelation’s wall. XXVI XXVI XXVI XXVI XXVI THE brain within its groove Runs evenly and true; But let a splinter swerve, ’T were easier for you To put the water back When floods have slit the hills, And scooped a turnpike for themselves, And blotted out the mills 22