He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.
The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.
I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us – don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know!
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
This “nobody”, this voluntary recluse, who chose loneliness (perhaps after her one love, a married protestant minister, moved thousands of miles away, to San Francisco), preferred to avoid people who “talk of hallowed things aloud, and embarrass my dog“.
It might be lonelier
Without the loneliness …
It probably would. Though perhaps at times she regretted it:
This is my letter to the world
That never wrote to me …
In Hunger, she speaks of “persons at the windows“, seeing herself as an outsider, hungry, looking in – but preferring hunger, although sometimes she may dream of going back:
My business? Just a life I led …
But who can go back? Mostly now she looks beyond the present. In an early poem, she writes:
Who has not found the heaven below
Will fail of it above …
Did she find heaven below? Perhaps not in her immediate surroundings, but she shows the mystical, pantheistic tendencies (we find the same in Blake, for instance, and Wordsworth) of one who does indeed find heaven here in this universe.
My river runs to thee:
Blue sea, wilt welcome me?
But when I think of Emily Dickinson, the first thing that comes to my mind is the odd, outstanding, perfect line, the sort of line that truly does make one sigh and say “That is poetry”. Lines such as:
I like a look of agony,
Because I know it’s true …
Or this two-line description of a man:
A face devoid of love or grace,
A hateful, hard, successful face …
Or this, on the scientific doubting Thomas:
Split the lark, and you’ll find the music …
Or these, on Death:
I heard a fly buzz when I died
The blond assassin passes on,
The sun proceeds unmoved …
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me …
Or this, from the poem Charlotte Bronte’s Grave:
Oh, what an afternoon for heaven,
When ‘Bronte’ entered there! …
Oh, what an afternoon for heaven when ‘Dickinson’ entered there!
Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep,
He hath awakened from the dream of life;
‘Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance, strike with our spirit’s knife
Invulnerable nothings. We decay
Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
Convulse us and consume us day by day,
And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.
He has outsoared the shadow of our night;
Envy and calumny and hate and pain,
And that unrest which men miscall delight,
Can touch him not and torture not again;
From the contagion of the world’s slow stain
He is secure, and now can never mourn
A heart grown cold, a head grown gray in vain;
Nor, when the spirit’s self has ceas’d to burn,
With sparkless ashes load an unlamented urn.
He lives, he wakes – ’tis Death is dead, not he;
Mourn not for Adonais. Thou young Dawn,
Turn all thy dew to splendour, for from thee
The spirit thou lamentest is not gone;
Ye caverns and ye forests, cease to moan!
Cease, ye faint flowers and fountains, and thou Air,
Which like a mourning veil thy scarf hadst thrown
O’er the abandoned Earth, now leave it bare
Even to the joyous stars which smile on its despair!
He is made one with Nature: there is heard
His voice in all her music, from the moan
Of thunder, to the song of night’s sweet bird;
He is a presence to be felt and known
In darkness and in light, from herb and stone,
Spreading itself where’er that Power may move
Which has withdrawn his being to its own;
Which wields the world with never-wearied love,
Sustains it from beneath, and kindles it above.
He is a portion of the loveliness
Which once he made more lovely: he doth bear
His part, while the one Spirit’s plastic stress
Sweeps through the dull dense world, compelling there
All new successions to the forms they wear;
Torturing th’ unwilling dross that checks its flight
To its own likeness, as each mass may bear;
And bursting in its beauty and its might
From trees and beasts and men into the Heaven’s light.
Another beautiful poem by the late Kathleen Raine. “I asked of the rose only more rose, the violet more violet …”
Then, I had no doubt
That snowdrops, violets, all creatures, I myself
Were lovely, were loved, were love.
Look, they said,
And I had only to look deep into the heart,
Dark, deep into the violet, and there read,
Before I knew of any word for flower or love,
The flower, the love, the word.
They never wearied of telling their being; and I
Asked of the rose, only more rose, the violet
More violet; untouched by time
No flower withered or flame died,
But poised in its own eternity, until the looker moved
On to another flower, opening its entity.
What lovely things
Thy hand hath made:
The smooth-plumed bird
In its emerald shade,
The seed of the grass,
The speck of stone
Which the wayfaring ant
Stirs – and hastes on!
Though I should sit
By some tarn in thy hills,
Using its ink
As the spirit wills
To write of Earth’s wonders,
Its live, willed things,
Flit would the ages
On soundless wings.
Ere unto Z
My pen drew nigh;
And the honey-fly:
And still would remain
My wit to try
My worn reeds broken,
The dark tarn dry,
All words forgotten –
Thou, Lord, and I.