Emily Dickinson was born today in 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts. She lived a life of frequent letter-writing, but it wasn't until after her death that forty handbound volumes of her 1800 poems were found, volumes made of stationery paper stitched with thread. She lived a life that cultivated such poetic riches -- dark-tinged word labrynths that radiate the brilliance of suns -- that it leaves me, at first, soundless: no noise from me but the beat of my heart. And then, I brim with words. Emily Dickinson's poetry makes me want to make art.
It is worth backing up, and giving her poems some space today.
A Man may make a Remark (952)
A Man may make a Remark -
In itself - a quiet thing
That may furnish the Fuse unto a Spark
In dormant nature - lain -
Let us divide - with skill -
Let us discourse - with care -
Powder exists in Charcoal -
Before it exists in Fire -
Fame is a fickle food (1652)
Fame is a fickle food Upon a shifting plate
Whose table once a
Guest but not
The second time is set.
Whose crumbs the crows inspect
And with ironic caw
Flap past it to the Farmer's Corn –
Men eat of it and die.
I like to see it lap the Miles (42)
I like to see it lap the Miles,
And lick the valleys up,
And stop to feed itself at tanks;
And then, prodigious, step
Around a pile of mountains,
And, supercilious, peer
In shanties by the sides of roads;
And then a quarry pare
To fit its sides, and crawl between,
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;
Then chase itself down hill
And neigh like Boanerges;
Then, punctual as a star,
Stop—docile and omnipotent—
At its own stable door.
For further reading:
- The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
- The Selected Poems of Emily Dickinson (ed. Billy Collins)
- Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries (ed. Helen Vendler)
- White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Brenda Wineapple)
About the Image: Emily Dickinson paper doll. Image from The Wit Continuum.