Saturday, October 2, 2004

The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson

I enjoyed this a lot less than I thought I would. I remember thinking Dickinson was really cool after being exposed to her in high school, but now having read her poems—all of her poems as near as I can tell—I am much less impressed. I think it might be poetry itself I have a hard time dealing with. I’ve never been much of a fan, and my eyes just seem to dance over those carefully selected words, the lines and thoughts always broken in a way that challenges my understanding. I’ll definitely stick with prose, thank you.

Despite these impressions, here are some of Dickinson's poems that seemed to stand out.

Life XI
Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
It is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur—you’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

For each ecstatic instant
We must an anguish pay
In keen and quivering ratio
To the ecstasy.
For each beloved hour
Sharp pittances of years,
Bitter contested farthings
And coffers heaped with tears.

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

Life CVI
I felt a cleavage in my mind
As if my brain had split;
I tried to match it, seam by seam,
But could not make them fit.
The thought behind I strove to join
Unto the thought before,
But sequence raveled out of reach
Like balls upon a floor.

Time and Eternity LXXXIII
This world is not conclusion;
A sequel stands beyond,
Invisible, as music,
But positive, as sound.
It beckons and it baffles;
Philosophies don’t know,
And through a riddle, at the last,
Sagacity must go.
To guess it puzzles scholars;
To gain it, men have shown
Contempt of generations,
And crucifixion known.

The Single Hound I
Adventure most unto itself
The Soul condemned to be;
Attended by a Single Hound—
Its own Identity.

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