Sunday, September 25, 2016

Poems I Journey With 14

Emily Dickinson
After Gerard Manley Hopkins, I turn most often to the wonderful and wondrous rhythms of the poems of Emily Dickinson, another spiritual and mystical poet who also loved her periods of isolation and aloneness and even ascetic living like the Victorian Jesuit priest and convert. Dickinson was born in 1830 (fourteen years before Hopkins was born) and died at the age of 56 in 1886 when Hopkins was 42.  While their lives overlapped then for some 42 years in terms of linear time neither would obviously have been aware of the writings of the other given their personal and indeed the social circumstances of the day and indeed the fact that neither sought publication of their work.  But, I personally get a lot of spiritual sustenance from the poems of both great poets. Both were also most unusual is that they both broke away from the then conservative conventions of what poetry was deemed to be. While both are spiritual and mystical poets their work is correspondingly completely "sui generis," unique and authentic to the very syllable of their output.  As her poems are so short I will offer three short favourite poems from Dickinson's pen here below:

1. Hope is a thing with feathers

Hope is a thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—

I've heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb—of Me.

2.  Heaven

"Heaven"—is what I cannot reach!
The Apple on the Tree—
Provided it do hopeless—hang—
That—"Heaven" is—to Me!

The Color, on the Cruising Cloud—
The interdicted Land—
Behind the Hill—the House behind—
There—Paradise—is found!

Her teasing Purples—Afternoons—
The credulous—decoy—
Enamored—of the Conjuror—
That spurned us—Yesterday! 

A somewhat younger Emily Dickinson

3. My cocoon tightens, colors tease

MY cocoon tightens, colors tease, 
I 'm feeling for the air; 
A dim capacity for wings 
Degrades the dress I wear. 

A power of butterfly must be 
The aptitude to fly, 
Meadows of majesty concedes 
And easy sweeps of sky. 

So I must baffle at the hint 
And cipher at the sign, 
And make much blunder, if at last 
I take the clew divine. 

The Briefest of Commentaries:
I love Emily Dickinson's poems because they invariably give me a spiritual lift and a deep insight into the depths that simple things can have. I also like her unique writing style with dashes, which is completely unique to her and revolutionary, indeed, at the time she was writing.  She is simply unique, "sui generis" and so authentic. Who could not be moved by the image of a little bird?  It is at once so fragile and yet can fly to such heights and gain an overall view of things we humans are not privy to. Then the equating of hope - a complete abstraction - with that little physical image of a bird is simply mindblowingly powerful.  That equation or juxtaposition of two utterly different "objects" is so wonderful and wondrous that it strikes us immediately as being insightful. Hope, which we all need to keep going, is often as fragile as a little bird which we often doubt will be able to weather the storms of life. Where does that little bird of hope perch? Yes, in the very cage of our souls!  It sings a tune without words, the delicate and fragile tune of hope.  And that strange little fragile creature, that brittle bird of hope, never asked a single crumb of sustenance from its jailer, that is, ME and YOU and US!!

The second poem is about Heaven. However, no mystic will ever offer a cheap or cheapened image of that place or state or whatever we call Heaven.  Dickinson presents that reality as somewhat unattainable like the apple on the highest bough while we are mere children playing about the trunk of that great tree. There are hints also of Moses not being granted his wish to the Promised Land which has traditionally also been linked with whatever Heaven is, may be or could be. In fact, I like this poem also, and have placed it under the poem on Hope as Dickinson talks about the reaching of the apple being absolutely hopeless.  In that regard let me repeat its opening stanza for our contemplation here:

"Heaven"—is what I cannot reach!
The Apple on the Tree—
Provided it do hopeless—hang—
That—"Heaven" is—to Me!

The third poem reminds me of the sage advice, or at least the wise comment of Anais Nin (1903 - 1977) that the day will come for all of us "when the risk to remain tight in the bud is more painful than the risk it takes to blossom."  These words resonate with those of the entire poem and especially those of the first stanza. The growth of the little seed in the bud to full flower and blossom parallels the formation of the butterfly from egg to larva (caterpillar) to pupa (chrysalis) to adult butterfly:

MY cocoon tightens, colors tease, 
I 'm feeling for the air; 
A dim capacity for wings 
Degrades the dress I wear. 

No comments:

Post a Comment