Emily Dickinson Sept 13, 2008 13:30:20 GMT 2
Post by moira on Sept 13, 2008 13:30:20 GMT 2
This contribution courtesy of Joyce Nower. It is an extract from a much longer essay entitled, Soul, Take Thy Risk The Poetry of Emily Dickinson, published in her column “Intersections” in The Alsop Review. It can be read in full here: tinyurl.com/5276uj
Photo courtesy of Amherst College Library(poets.org)
Soul, Take Thy Risk
The Poetry of Emily Dickinson
What, among other things, I admire about Emily Dickinson is that although she grappled with her belief in a Deity, she never submerged her identity in that belief or relinquished her grasp of what she conceived to be the reality of the human condition. I admire her tough-mindedness, tossed out in action-packed, tightly formed lyrics, bright with both thought and feeling. And I admire the honesty of her consciousness, so forcefully articulated that the body of her work has become a model for a journey such as hers.
She had no easy answers, no cure-alls for the human condition. True, often she could not keep all the loose ends together, and at those times she went over the edge into despair; but she was game for the adventure, insistent on maintaining an independent identity, tough- minded and honest about her view of the Deity’s remoteness and (at times) perversity, prideful in her rebelliousness, and acid in her attack on dogma. She was, indeed, a spiritual warrior.
Born in 1830 into an oppressively patriarchal household, a household she left only on rare occasions throughout her life, she seems to have had a somber childhood, lacking that joyous spontaneity which we see in so many of her poems. Her relationships - except for those with her brother and his wife and children, who lived next door, and several young men friends during her youth - were characterized by a long-distance intensity maintained via letters, blossoming on at least one occasion into a love relationship which, too, remained long-distance. She ultimately preferred this remoteness, for it preserved the separateness of her identity. Here is how she put it in “The Soul Selects Her Own Society.”
The Soul selects her own Society -
Then - shuts the Door -
To her divine Majority -
Present no more-
Unmoved - she notes the Chariots -
At her low gate -
Unmoved - an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat-
I’ve known her - from an ample nation -
Choose One -
Then - close the Valves of her attention -
One could, of course, speculate that her relationship with a male Deity, as well as her relationships with men, were patterned after her relationship with her father - a stern, remote, demanding, undemonstrative, and yet a caring man; or that her restricted movement, the result of an authoritarian father, resulted in a narrow focus. Both views have been presented by others, and I shall not review them here. Let me just observe that we don’t discuss Sir James Barrie’s sexual difficulties every time we talk about Peter Pan! And we know next to nothing about Shakespeare’s personal life. And concerning breadth of experience: Thoreau prided himself on the fact that he had “traveled widely in Concord.” So, while giving thanks for the perspectives of psychoanalysis, let us (for now at least) look elsewhere for our insights.
Dickinson's handwritten manuscript of her poem "Wild Nights – Wild Nights!"