Emily Dickinson: Dear March – Come In

 

Dear March — Come in —
How glad I am —
I hoped for you before —

Put down your Hat —
You must have walked —
How out of Breath you are —
Dear March, Come right up the stairs with me —
I have so much to tell —

I got your Letter, and the Birds —
The Maples never knew that you were coming — till I called
I declare — how Red their Faces grew —
But March, forgive me — and
All those Hills you left for me to Hue —
There was no Purple suitable —
You took it all with you —

Who knocks? That April.
Lock the Door —
I will not be pursued —
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied —
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come

That Blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame —

~ Emily Dickinson

 

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I post this poem every March.

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Image by Alexandra_Koch licensed under CC0 via pixabay.com

Emily Dickinson: “A Light Exists in Spring” and Some Words About the Poet

"Bluebonnet Sunrise" licensed by Views of Life under CC BY-NC-SA-2.0. Via Flickr.
“Bluebonnet Sunrise” licensed by Views of Life under CC BY-NC-SA-2.0. Via Flickr.

A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.
When March is scarcely here

A color stands abroad
On solitary hills
That science cannot overtake,
But human nature feels.

It waits upon the lawn;
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.

Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:

A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.

~ Emily Dickinson

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This a picture of Emily Dickinson.

English: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dicki...
English: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dickinson, taken circa 1848. (Original is scratched.) From the Todd-Bingham Picture Collection and Family Papers, Yale University Manuscripts & Archives Digital Images Database, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) {{PD-US}}

This is a “fabricated” picture of Emily Dickinson.

Fabricated portrait of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), the American poet. It is an altered version of the only authenticated portrait of Dickinson made after childhood, with added frilled collar and changed hair to make her appear more feminine. Public domain.
Fabricated portrait of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), the American poet. It is an altered version of the only authenticated portrait of Dickinson made after childhood, with added frilled collar and changed hair to make her appear more feminine. Public domain. {{PD-US}}

According to a docent at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, in the late 1990s, the photograph was probably altered after Dickinson’s death in 1886, as a tribute and a keepsake. At that time, families often had photographs “enhanced” after a loved one’s death.

I didn’t know Emily Dickinson personally, but judging from what I’ve read and heard about her, I think if she’d seen the enhanced version, she’d have hooted.

Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts...
Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts – side view of Emily Dickinson’s house. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Daderot (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
She was obviously depressive, but she also had a sense of humor.

The docent told the following story (documented in an LA Times review by Susan Reynolds):

‘Once, when Samuel Bowles, an old family friend and the subject of Dickinson’s Master poems, went to visit, he found himself yelling up the stairs: “Emily, you damned rascal. No more of this nonsense! I’ve traveled all the way from Springfield to see you. Come down at once!”‘

The detail that doesn’t appear in the article, but that the docent added, is that, at Bowles’ summons, Emily left her room and came down the stairs, laughing.

Try calling someone without a sense of humor a “damned rascal” and see what happens.

And she wasn’t quite as antisocial as she’s generally portrayed. Alix North, in a biographical sketch of the poet, writes that in her twenties, Dickinson had a “busy social life” but that by her thirties, she had become reclusive and withdrew when visitors came.

It’s been speculated that Dickinson pulled away from the public because she thought she wasn’t beautiful, or that she was mourning an unrequited love, or that she was agoraphobic. But perhaps Dickinson “became an isolata , creating a moat around herself to preserve the rarity of her soul and because she believed that isolation was critical to artistic expression.”

English: Grave of Emily Dickinson in Amherst, ...
English: Grave of Emily Dickinson in Amherst, Massachusetts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Midnightdreary (Own work) [CC BY 3.0
By the age of 35, Dickinson “had composed more than 1100 concise, powerful lyrics that astutely examine pain, grief, joy, love, nature, and art.”

In other words, she knew exactly what she was doing: Social butterflies rarely, if ever, compose more than 1100 poems by the time they’re 35, at least not concise, powerful ones.

[Sentiments expressed in the preceding paragraph are mine alone. I could be wrong, but I’m not. A 14-year-old boy once told me that anyone who stayed at home as much as Emily Dickinson did couldn’t know enough about life to write anything worthwhile. I refrained from replying that 14-year-old boys don’t know enough about anything to say what Emily Dickinson could or could not do. Now I wish I’d said it. But as I was saying before I interrupted myself . . .]

Edward Dickinson, the poet’s father, was described by contemporaries as “stern and unyielding”; “within his home his decisions and his word were law.” Emily wrote that she didn’t learn to tell time by the clock until she was fifteen because “[m]y father thought he had taught me but I did not understand & I was afraid to say I did not & afraid to ask anyone else lest he should know.”

The museum’s docent pointed out, however, that he was also kind. He could have required Emily to work and support herself or at least to contribute to family finances. Instead, he supported her until his death in 1874. Her sister, Lavinia, took care of most domestic tasks that would normally have been shared. Her family allowed Emily time and space in which to write.

Well, I’ve gone on about Emily Dickinson for a lot longer than I intended, and I hope you’re still with me. I’ll stop now, but not before saying this, which I’ve said before, but I’m going to say again:

A textbook I taught from in 1973, my first year in the Texas secondary school trenches, contained the statement that Emily Dickinson is one of America’s greatest women poets.

WRONG.

Emily Dickinson is America’s greatest poet. 

And I am unanimous in that.

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See also, Emily Dickinson: “To March”

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“A light exists in spring” was taken from a digitized version of Poems: Third Series by Emily Dickinson, edited by Mabel Todd Loomis, 1896, 1898.

Other sources I’ve used include

The Soul Selects

For Maryellen ~

The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
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 —
Like Stone —

Emily Dickinson

Dear March

English: Daffodil Daffodil.
Colin Kinnear [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Dear March — Come in —
How glad I am —
I hoped for you before —

Put down your Hat —
You must have walked —
How out of Breath you are —
Dear March, Come right upstairs with me —

I have so much to tell —

I got your Letter, and the Birds —
The Maples never knew that you were coming — till I called
I declare — how Red their Faces grew —
But March, forgive me — and
All those Hills you left for me to Hue —
There was no Purple suitable —
You took it all with you —

Who knocks? That April.
Lock the Door —
I will not be pursued —
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied —
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come

That Blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame —

~ Emily Dickinson

*****

Image of daffodil by Colin Kinnear [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

#ROW80 9/7 & September

After yesterday waiting for the plumber, plus today waiting for the doctor, plus anticipation of tomorrow again waiting for the plumber, I have run out of steam. I therefore turn the blog over to the greatest American poet.

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Steeple of Arlington Street Church in Boston, ...
Steeple of Arlington Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts, viewed through autumn foliage of the Public Garden-- Image via Wikipedia

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September’s Baccalaureate
A combination is
Of Crickets—Crows—and Retrospects
And a dissembling Breeze

That hints without assuming–
An Innuendo sear
That makes the Heart put up its Fun
And turn Philosopher.

~ Emily Dickinson

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I just skimmed “A Valentine to Emily Dickinson Fans,” (link below), and found, not a Valentine, but a reference to “America’s greatest female poet,” and, though bone-tired, I must comment. That phrase appears in the introduction to the article, not in the article itself, so I don’t hold the author responsible (unless he says the same thing in his book). But really, we have been over this before. This is 2011, well past the time for praise qualified by gender. Do we see Walt Whitman called “America’s greatest male poet?” Or Shakespeare called “England’s greatest male dramatist?” We do not. If Dickinson is America’s greatest poet, as, of course, she is, say that. If she’s simply a great American poet, say that. If she’s second to Whitman (or whomever) in greatness, say that. But stop using the qualifier. Because I will see it, and I will continue to protest.

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Image by HouseOfScandal at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from

Emily Dickinson’s Cat

She sights a Bird – she chuckles –

She flattens – then she crawls –

She runs without the look of feet –

Her eyes increase to Balls –

Her Jaws stir – twitching – hungry –

Her Teeth can hardly stand –

She leaps, but Robin leaped the first –

Ah, Pussy, of the Sand –

The Hopes so juicy ripening –

You almost bathed your Tongue –

When Bliss disclosed a hundred Toes –

And fled with every one –

        ~ Emily Dickinson

Ernest & William, who would love to run without the look of feet


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A fellow blogger introduced me to this poem. I would link to her blog but haven’t been able to find the post again. When I do, I’ll share.

ROW80 7/10, Short-shorts, and Emily Dickinson’s Ribs

One of the shooting place for Around the World...
Image via Wikipedia

It’s no longer Sunday where I am, so my report for A Round of Words in 80 Days is now late.

On the other hand, it’s Sunday somewhere, so no sweat. I have plenty of time.

(Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have written no sweat in anything but a letter to my nearest and dearest. And I wouldn’t have turned in an assignment, even a non-essential assignment, late. But twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have worn shorts to the grocery store, either, no matter the temperature. Things change.)

First the report:

I wrote another short-short story, shot for 200 words including the title, and made it. The plot already existed, part in a file and part in my head; finished, the story would have comprised several thousand words.

I’d intended to submit it last January to a contest for an online magazine. Unable to finish by the deadline, I set it aside and didn’t pick it up again. It was one of those things I could have worked on forever and never completed.

So, in search of a plot for a 200-word piece, I pulled up that one and stripped it to its bare bones.

The result was like an X-ray: for the first time, I saw the basic structure, what held the story together and kept it upright. Or what, in its previous semi-incarnation, didn’t hold it together.

In its earlier state, it meandered all over the place. Like what would happen if you removed the skeleton from a body: it takes more than a heap of muscle to get from here to there.

A word in my defense: I believe in over-writing. I start with some characters, a setting, and a couple of lines, and see what happens. I do not–cannot–know exactly what happens before it happens.

For me, writing is thinking.

But in this case, I had thought several thousand words. With that, I could start paring down.

Then, after letting the 200-word version sit for a day or two, I began to expand, a few words at a time. It’s now 250 words and, I think, fairly decent. When I finish here, I’ll e-mail it to my critique group for some less biased opinions.

Constructing the short-short was an exercise. I enjoy reducing word count, tightening the pieces I write. If I had time, I would cut this post. I may come back and tamper with it next week or next year.

Writing can be drudgery, but cutting is always reward.

In stripping away unnecessary words, however, I discovered an unexpected benefit: seeing the plot clearly will make it easier to write the story I’d originally intended.

If I ever write it. I’m so enamored with the undernourished version that I might leave it alone.

Another thing: I selected the photograph above because 1) it was one of the shooting places for the 1956 version of Around the World in 80 Days, and 2) it’s in the public domain.

But as I typed away about bare bones and skeletons, I remembered Emily Dickinson’s poem about the train:

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 ribs, 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.

I read the poem to a class of sophomores when I was student-teaching, about a million years ago. We discussed Dickinson’s use of figurative language. The students were a savvy bunch and they had good answers and asked good questions.

One boy, for example, said, “What does it mean ‘To fit its ribs?’ What are its ribs?”

For me, that was one question too many. I’d never considered the ribs. I had no idea what the ribs were.

I stood before the class, mouth agape, understanding for the first time the true meaning of tabula rasa.

But before I could get a word out, another student said, “It’s the track.” Except the way he said it, it sounded more like, “It’s the track, dummy, can’t you read?”

I am indebted to those two boys: the answerer, for keeping me from looking like a dummy; and the questioner, for being a kindred spirit.

I addressed the “dummy” tone so the kindred spirit didn’t feel like a dummy. If I’d been teaching more than a week, I’d have said, “I don’t know. Anyone have an idea?” and delighted the entire class.

Kids like teachers who don’t know things.

A few years later, when I was “real,” a student wrote that I was the first of her teachers who had ever admitted being wrong. I suspect that was because I was the first of her teachers who was wrong. But however it worked, she thought the admission was pretty cool.

Having, like my unfinished story, meandered, I shall draw this bit of self-indulgence to a close.

Back to the report: Since Sunday, I’ve worked on the two short-shorts and finished editing the SinC Heart of Texas newsletter. And written this post. And tried to figure out Twitter.

To see how others are doing on ROW80, click here.

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Dear March

A close up of a daffodil.
Image via Wikipedia

Dear March — Come in —
How glad I am —
I hoped for you before —

Put down your Hat —
You must have walked —
How out of Breath you are —
Dear March, Come right upstairs with me —
I have so much to tell —

I got your Letter, and the Birds —
The Maples never knew that you were coming — till I called
I declare — how Red their Faces grew —
But March, forgive me — and
All those Hills you left for me to Hue —
There was no Purple suitable —
You took it all with you —

Who knocks? That April.
Lock the Door —
I will not be pursued —
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied —
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come

That Blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame —

~ Emily Dickinson

*****

Image of daffodil by Nanda93 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Emily on Winter

New England Early Winter. 1849. By Samuel Lanc...
Image via Wikipedia

The sky is low, the clouds are mean,
A traveling flake of snow
Across a barn or through a rut
Debates if it will go.

A narrow wind complains all day
How someone treated him;
Nature, like us, is sometimes caught
Without her diadem.

~Emily Dickinson

 

Image: New England Early Winter. 1949. By S.L. Gerry (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Comm

Day 26: Emily, tippling

I taste a liquor never brewed,
From tankards scooped in pearl;
Not all the vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an alcohol!

Inebriate of air am I,
And debauchee of dew,
Reeling, through endless summer days,
From inns of molten blue.

When landlords turn the drunken bee
Out of the foxglove’s door,
When butterflies renounce their drams,
I shall but drink the more!

Till seraphs swing their snowy hats,
And saints to windows run,
To see the little tippler
Leaning against the sun!

~ Emily Dickinson