Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Dear Emily

In her poem "Dear Emily Dickinson" Cathleen Calbert asks Ms D lots of questions ("... how would you classify yourself? / Agoraphobic? Anorexic? New England eccentric? / ... / Did you have trouble rhyming? / ... Were you thinking -- / in gaps?"), and ends her poem with "... I've read every one / of your goddamned poems, / and I still don't know what they mean."

It always baffles me when I see people who otherwise fume about obscurity in poetry call Emily Dickinson a favorite. I've been gradually working my way through Dickinson's complete poems, I've been working on it for years now, likely I'll be working on it for years yet. Dickinson intrigues me. She really is like no one else. But her poems read like riddles. And they seem to me so fierce, a philosopher's work, as difficult to read as the thoughts they contain. Sure there are the anthology pieces. Dickinson wrote many many poems and many are easy, even goopy in their bees and sunsets sentimentality, but the more typical Dickinson, I'd say, is:

poem numbered 868

They ask but our Delight --
The Darlings of the Soil
And grant us all their Countenance
For a penurious smile.

What are the "Darlings"? Flowers? I'm tempted to say worms. And why is the smile "penurious"? Is it begrudging? Is it the smile of the poverty-stricken?

Then there's, poem #870

Finding is the first Act,
The second, loss,
Third, Expedition for
The "Golden Fleece"
Fourth, no Discovery --
Fifth, no Crew --
Finally, no Golden Fleece --
Jason -- sham -- too

Is this a version of the Hollywood formula -- boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl-boy-gets-girl-back? ... Maybe boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl-boy-never-really-had-girl-in-the-first-place ... boy was even deluding himself that he met a girl? And boy doesn't exist either? It's a fucking movie! Stumble out into the daylight and take your popcorn with you!

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