LINGERING VISIT WITH EMILY D.
TELL ALL THE TRUTH BUT TELL IT SLANT -- #1263
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
Jingle-like, with a true rhyme pattern (ABCB) in iambic tetrameter and trimeter, this double quatrain plays against the real wisdom the poem. The serious message is presented circuitously, as the poet is saying all truth should be delivered. Rather than a blunt telling of a truth, the speaker should use a gentle approach, as one would with a child, to make the truth more acceptable. Compare: “You left the dog to die,” with “The forgotten chow left in hot sun / with water not left near / faced his end when day was done / dwells no longer here.” My mother used to say, sometimes dancing around the truth makes it easier to take.
THERE IS ANOTHER SKY
There is another sky,
Ever serene and fair, And there is another sunshine, Though it be darkness there; Never mind faded forests, Austin, Never mind silent fields - Here is a little forest, Whose leaf is ever green; Here is a brighter garden, Where not a frost has been; In its unfading flowers I hear the bright bee hum: Prithee, my brother, Into my garden come!
NOTE: Here, Emily mixes rhyme and rhythm, feet, and meter to mostly good effect. Dominating are the trimeters (as in There is another sky / ever serene and fair; I hear the bright be hum). The addition of a syllable or two (And there is another sunshine; in its unfading flowers) keeps this gentle poem from becoming monotonous. It encourages inflection, making the imploring sister’s desire to see her brother seem more urgent. She yearns for him to enter an ideal and idyllic world where they can be happy. Though it appears to have been written before the Civil War, the poem suggests to me a sister wanting to cheer her discontented brother and might have been an actual invitation to share again the closeness they enjoyed until his marriage. For me, the only awkward note is the second-to-last line. This is a quibble, yet my ear wishes for another syllable or two here. Perhaps: Prithee, my dear brother, or Prithee, beloved brother.
I'M NOBODY! WHO ARE YOU?
I'm Nobody! Who are you? Are you -- Nobody -- Too? Then there's a pair of us! Don't tell! they'd advertise -- you know! How dreary -- to be -- Somebody! How public -- like a Frog -- To tell one's name -- the livelong June -- To an admiring Bog!
To bring whimsical charm and wisdom together with such economy is a greater accomplishment than it at first appears. Emily seems to be saying that the Somebodies of the world, as she knows it, are puffed up with their own importance (trumpeting their names, admired by people without discernment (the bog). Are all such public personages shallow? The poet leaves that question to us. If we are the private Nobodies, creating inherently full lives, we have no need for celebrity. Ah, but we must guard our private triumphs; once discovered, we become susceptible to the envious and adoring. The price for this spotlight is our happiness. Miss Dickinson used less space to say more eloquently by far what took a paragraph for me. I laugh, knowing that my analysis may not be what she meant at all. Tell me what you think
The longest of Emily’s 1775 published poems:
AWAKE YE MUSES NINE
Awake ye muses nine, sing me a strain divine, Unwind the solemn twine, and tie my Valentine! Oh the Earth was made for lovers, for damsel, and hopeless swain, For sighing, and gentle whispering, and unity made of twain. All things do go a courting, in earth, or sea, or air, God hath made nothing single but thee in His world so fair! The bride, and then the bridegroom, the two, and then the one, Adam, and Eve, his consort, the moon, and then the sun; The life doth prove the precept, who obey shall happy be, Who will not serve the sovereign, be hanged on fatal tree. The high do seek the lowly, the great do seek the small, None cannot find who seeketh, on this terrestrial ball; The bee doth court the flower, the flower his suit receives, And they make merry wedding, whose guests are hundred leaves; The wind doth woo the branches, the branches they are won, And the father fond demandeth the maiden for his son. The storm doth walk the seashore humming a mournful tune, The wave with eye so pensive, looketh to see the moon, Their spirits meet together, they make their solemn vows, No more he singeth mournful, her sadness she doth lose. The worm doth woo the mortal, death claims a living bride, Night unto day is married, morn unto eventide; Earth is a merry damsel, and heaven a knight so true, And Earth is quite coquettish, and beseemeth in vain to sue. Now to the application, to the reading of the roll, To bringing thee to justice, and marshalling thy soul: Thou art a human solo, a being cold, and lone, Wilt have no kind companion, thou reap'st what thou hast sown. Hast never silent hours, and minutes all too long, And a deal of sad reflection, and wailing instead of song? There's Sarah, and Eliza, and Emeline so fair, And Harriet, and Susan, and she with curling hair! Thine eyes are sadly blinded, but yet thou mayest see Six true, and comely maidens sitting upon the tree; Approach that tree with caution, then up it boldly climb, And seize the one thou lovest, nor care for space, or time! Then bear her to the greenwood, and build for her a bower, And give her what she asketh, jewel, or bird, or flower -- And bring the fife, and trumpet, and beat upon the drum -- And bid the world Goodmorrow, and go to glory home!
A romantic homily to a selfish bachelor? Maybe. The sing-song cadence made by couplets with a rhyme scheme of AABB lends the poem a sort of matronly plea that the young and otherwise worthy male is become a wastrel in declining the virtues of womanhood and marriage. This one fellow is a trope for all callous young men. It also signals the writer’s likely counting of herself among the “comely ladies in the tree,” or at the very least, her desire to be one of them. If the youth will be brave enough to love her, he will find his happy and righteous place. Till then, they both lack completion; the woman, at least, is conscious of this unenviable solitary state. In calling upon the muses to assist her, perhaps she gives herself too little credit for finding a Valentine on her own. Hers is the 19th century, remember. Mine is not to judge.
HEART! WE WILL FORGET HIM!
Heart! We will forget him! You and I -- tonight! You may forget the warmth he gave -- I will forget the light! When you have done, pray tell me That I may straight begin! Haste! lest while you're lagging I remember him!
The Valentine has come … and gone. The mourning cannot begin until the speaker’s heart cooperates with her brain. She is consumed with what she still feels for him, how much he enriched her light. If her heart does not quickly shut him out, she will continue to suffer. Of course, she asks of herself the impossible. Grief cannot be rushed, and for a time, she is at the mercy of her longing. When her heart and mind can see something else to engage them, the loss of the swain will begin to loosen its captive hold on her.
I NEVER SAW A MOOR
I never saw a Moor -- I never saw the Sea -- Yet know I how the Heather looks And what a Billow be. I never spoke with God Nor visited in Heaven -- Yet certain am I of the spot As if the Checks were given --
Faith is central to Emily’s ethos. Imagination supplies support for her faith in the existence of what she cannot personally inspect. Books and the witness of others (checks) surely assist her faith; so, it is as easy for her to accept Heaven as it is to accept the reality of an earthly geography beyond her own garden.
THE BRAIN -- IS WIDER THAN THE SKY
The Brain -- is wider than the Sky -- For -- put them side by side -- The one the other will contain With ease -- and You -- beside -- The Brain is deeper than the sea -- For -- hold them -- Blue to Blue -- The one the other will absorb -- As Sponges -- Buckets -- do -- The Brain is just the weight of God -- For -- Heft them -- Pound for Pound -- And they will differ -- if they do -- As Syllable from Sound --
In likening the brain’s resource to God Himself, Emily is affirming Man’s being made in God’s image. They are different, yet the same. The brain conceives of God; God conceived the brain. What wonder, were we able to perceive his relationship! There would be nothing known to Our creator that is unknown to us.
The commentary accompanying the poetry above is mine. For fun, I sought an analysis by someone else of one of the selections, pretty much at random. That is, the first one I found became the one I used. Here is an excerpt:
In the poem ‘Heart, we will forget him!’, she articulates herself as someone who is heartbroken, who is trying to forget someone very close to her. The time she has spent with him and the memories she has collected causes her distress and grief. She badly misses him and is hurt by the relationship status she shares with him. The emotional bond she has tied with him gives her pain, thus she finds it difficult to forget him. The poet personifies the heart as a person with human attributes. Once the emotion for him fades away or diminishes, the heart will forget him, though not literally. I admire the autobiographical piece narrated by the eloquent orator that brings to light her personal aspect with insight for deep introspection and meticulous attention to language.*
A piece of writing is new to everyone who reads it, and any meaning it provokes in the reader is valid. If the reader revisits the piece or does research that reveals nuance and history which expands the interpretation, the poem is new again. Isn’t there something to celebrate in that!
* Khawaja, Mewish. "Heart, we will forget him! By Emily Dickinson". Poem Analysis, https://poemanalysis.com/emily-dickinson/heart-we-will-forget-him/.