Monday, January 18, 2010

Emily Dickinson

I have been rather interested in poetry since I was old enough to realize that my grandmother, Helen Livingston, was a published poet.  She taught HS English forever and a day (thirty years at least), and once I even accompanied her to school where I received a lot of welcome attention from her students.  One day soon I will post some of her poetry.  I think it is really wonderful and worth saving.  But today, I want to focus on another poet--Emily Dickinson. I have read some of her poetry and I love most of it.  I found that she could be rather dark and she wrote about death a lot, but in a beautiful, dark sort of way. 

Well, I was right about the death part!  I have just come back from Wikapedia and she certainly was preoccupied with death, largely because she experienced a lot of it in her lifetime and it had an effect on her.  While she was alive, her poetry wasn't known and before she died, she made her sister promise to burn all of her poetry.  Thankfully, that didn't happen and while less than a dozen of her poems were known while she was alive, nearly 1800 poems were discovered after her demise.

I like this one:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,                                         
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.

 And this one:

I had been hungry all the years-
My noon had come, to dine-
I, trembling, drew the table near
And touched the curious wine.
'T was this on tables I had seen
When turning, hungry, lone,
I looked in windows, for the wealth                   
I could not hope to own.

I did not know the ample bread,
'T was so unlike the crumb
The birds and I had often shared
In Nature's dining-room.

The plenty hurt me, 't was so new,--
Myself felt ill and odd,
As berry of a mountain bush
Transplanted to the road.

Nor was I hungry; so I found
That hunger was a way
Of persons outside windows,
The entering takes away.

This particular poem tells me that sometimes a person doesn't realize what they have because they want what they don't have and so never really appreciate what they've had all along.  Sometimes I think that is what winning the lottery would be like.  I'd win a million bucks and try to go out and spend it and realize that I just am not that happy with what that million bucks could get.  I know, I isn't happiness, but it sure helps out a lot.

This next one makes me wonder if she is speaking of one of her dear friends that she lost to death.  Her autobiography at Wikapedia talks about the principal of her school, Amherst Academy Director,  Leonard Humphrey, who died unexpectedly while she attended there. She apparently idolized him and thought the world of him.  Maybe she is possibly talking about him in this verse, just a guess:

God permit industrious angels
Afternoons to play.
I met one, -- forgot my school-mates,
All, for him, straightaway.

God calls home the angels promptly
At the setting sun;
I missed mine. How dreary marbles,
After playing the Crown!

At any rate, I know I've only just scratched the surface of the works of this poet, but what beautiful language she uses to help us visualize the feelings in her heart!  I'm just glad that someone didn't honor her dying wishes!



Chastina said...

I've always had a hard time understanding poetry. Mainly because of the way language is used and I'm a straight forward type of girl.

It is beautiful though.

Richard & Natalie said...

Thank heavens for people who don't honor dying wishes! I love poetry too. It is like a mystery to me; searching through the language for clues to what the author really means is absolutely thrilling to me.

Kimberly said...

I love poetry and all the arts. I remember the first poetry book I ever got was in the fourth grade.

The Boob Nazi said...

I love that first one! If I can help at least ONE person in my life, my life has worth. Thanks.

Anonymous said...


This post reminds me of reading poetry in high school.... didn't read much of it after that, and I am not quite sure why, but poets like emily dickenson are inspiration to read it again!

Terra H. said...

Poetry is such a beautiful form of writing. I used to write poetry back in the day and still have copies of all that I wrote. Hopefully someday my children will want to read it.
Seems like you're learning a lot about her on Wikipedia.