Monday, September 16, 2013

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Part 1

I've been working on this mammoth for awhile. And rather than creating one epic, 20,000 word blog post, I thought it wiser to split it into sections as I read along. I'm only 443 poems into this almost unbelievable collection of 1,775. It covers all her poetry from approximately 1850 to her death in 1886.

I feel a sort of kinship with Dickinson. She seemed to be as obsessed with mortality, flowers, and em dashes as I am. Not to mention her poetry being consumed by self-doubt and an almost schizophrenic attitude towards faith--bouncing back and forth between loving devotion and outright contempt.

Her work really seems to find its footing around 1859-1862, when she would've been approaching age thirty. It also marks the beginning of the Civil War, which interestingly enough, doesn't make it's way into her writing. At least not blatantly. It'll be interesting to see if anything changes as my reading makes its way to the climax of the war in 1863, and the end of slavery/assassination of Lincoln in '65.

So I'm going to share my favorites now, keeping in mind that there is just soooooo much content to go through. I picked my favorites, which may or may not be the most well-regarded or famous. All emphasis is mine.

Prepare for morbidity and em dashes in 3...2...1....


All overgrown by cunning moss,
All interspersed with weed,
The little cage of "Currer Bell"
In quiet "Haworth" laid.

Gathered from many wanderings--
Gethsemone can tell
Thro' what transporting anguish
She reached the Asphodel!

Soft fall the sounds of Eden
Upon her puzzled ear--
Oh what an afternoon for Heaven
When "Bronte" entered there!

A favorite, obviously, because "Bronte." It's a little surreal to see one of your favorite writers exalted by another favorite writer, when they were separated by an entire ocean and opposing levels of notoriety. Charlotte was, by her death, incredibly famous as an author, while Emily's name wouldn't become notorious until well after her own death.

from #271

A hallowed thing--to drop a life
Into the purple well--
Too plummetless--that it return--

I pondered how the bliss would look--
And would it feel as big--
When I could take it in my hand--
As hovering--seen--through fog--

And then--the size of this "small" life--
The Sages--call it small--
Swelled--like Horizons--in my vest--
And I sneered--softly--"small"!

from #295

Feet, small as mine--have marched in Revolution
Firm to the Drum--
Hands--not so stout--hoisted them--in witness--
When Speech went numb--


"Morning" means "milking"--to the Farmer--
Dawn--to the Teneriffe--
Dice--to the Maid--
Morning means just Risk--to the Lover--
Just revelation--to the Beloved--

Epicures--date a Breakfast--by it--
Brides--an Apocalypse--
Worlds--a Flood--

Faint-going Lives--Their Lapse from Sighing--
Faith--The Experiment of Our Lord--

Number 300 is a favorite because it perplexes me so. Every time I read it I feel something different. I mean, "Brides--an Apocalypse--"?  Does she mean a revelation, or the ultimate destruction of something? If revelation, is it of the "the Lover" fooling around with "the Beloved"? Why are the maids playing dice? What the hell is a Teneriffe!? Who am I? Who are you!? Are you a nobody too? Hello?

from #351

I felt my life with both my hands
To see if it was there--


Of course--I prayed--
And did God Care?
He cared as much as on the Air
A Bird--had stamped her foot--
And cried "Give Me"--
My Reason--Life--
I had not had--but for Yourself--
'Twere better Charity
To leave me in the Atom's Tomb--
Merry, and Nought, and gay, and numb--
Than this smart Misery.

Remember that "outright contempt" I mentioned earlier? Yeah.

Also, for some reason I was really taken aback at the mention of the "Atom's Tomb." Mostly because I couldn't imagine anyone other than a scientist using the term "atom" 150 years ago. But according to the OED it's been in use in the English language since the 16th century. Who knew? (smart people I guess)


I had not minded--Walls--
Were Universe--one Rock--
And far I heard his silver Call
The other side the Block--

I'd tunnel--till my Groove
Pushed sudden thro' to his--
Then my face take her Recompense--
The looking in his Eyes--

But 'tis a single Hair--
A filament--a law--
A Cobweb--wove in Adamant--
A Battlement--of Straw--

A limit like the Veil
Unto the Lady's face--
But every Mesh--a Citadel--
And Dragons--in the Crease--

Love love love this poem. Everything about it. It can be interpreted in different ways, but it's major theme focuses on the insurmountable yet ethereal boundaries that separate us from satisfaction or understanding. Or from each other...which was my first interpretation of it. Of course my mind goes straight to the scandalous.

from #413

I never felt at Home--Below--
And in the Handsome Skies
I shall not feel at Home--I know--
I don't like Paradise--

Seems Dickinson was not just a Currer Bell fan, but an Ellis fan as well. Those lines could've been taken straight from Wuthering Heights. Cathy said something similar: "Heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights; where I woke sobbing for joy."

from #426

It don't sound so terrible--quite--as it did--
I run it over--"Dead", Brain, "Dead."
Put it in Latin--left of my school--
Seems it don't shriek so--under rule.

Turn it, a little--full in the face
A Trouble looks bitterest--
Shift it--just--Say "When Tomorrow comes this way--
I shall have waded down one Day."


Much Madness is divinest Sense--
To a discerning Eye--
Much Sense--the starkest Madness--
'Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail--
Assent--and you are sane--
Demur--you're straightaway dangerous--
And handled with a Chain--

from #441

This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me--

This is my blog to the World
That never blogged to Me.

213 pages
7,117 pages / 20,000 page goal


  1. According to this post your page goal is thoroughly dismantled and your knowledge of commas in numbers needs some freshening up.

    I've been writing lots of poetry lately. Some of it even getting published. Even without dashes. I guess I should be reading books of poetry but I'm afraid it'll burn me out.

    Maybe if I could just get a copy with the 'contempt of faith' poems...

    1. Ah! Thanks for catching the typo. Though it'd be nice if my goal was just 2000 so I feel accomplished.

      I'll try searching for some faith-hating poems for you.

    2. 2,000's not bad. Aim low I always say. =)