Monday, February 01, 2016

Emily Dickinson - Three Series

Emily Dickinson - Three Series is the collection of Emily Dickinson's poems, which I had to read as an ebook, since I could not find a complete printed collection in store.  Also, the complete ebook was free. Not a bad deal, right? I wrote a bit about my reading experience last week. I decided to include it on my Spin list, even though I started it a while ago, because I needed the motivation to finish it. Reading one or two poems in between novels was not cutting it anymore. Plus, I've been wanting to share what I've been reading. 

It's just so difficult to talk about all the poems, but I feel like I should, like each one deserves a moment of its own. They deserve more than just the glimpse into her work that I'm going to give here.

I think most literary people (any many non-literary people) are familiar with Dickinson's The Chariot:

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school where children played,
Their lessons scarcely done;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 't is centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.

I remember reading this poem more than once during university, for various classes. Something about it must have stuck with me, because now I've read all of her poems. All those poems and all that reading has left me with eight pages of notes and highlights that I want to go back to and read again as I read the poems.

I decided to read the poems slowly. Many of the poems are short, some are only four lines, so I decided reading them like a novel would be a waste. I wanted to take my time, think, feel each poem. I may not write about each poem, but I can go through the eight pages of notes and highlights and pick a few things to share.

The poem titled in the collection, In A Library, is great.  It starts:

A precious, mouldering pleasure 't is
To meet an antique book,
In just the dress his century wore;
A privilege, I think,

I just love it! The entire thing is an ode to books and libraries. It spoke to me.

As light as this poem was, there are many that have darkness, that come from some deep, solitary place. There are also others that seem to be observational, looking at the beauty of nature especially. There are times when I feel like she's talking about herself and others where I feel as though she is reacting to the outside world.

The Lonely House stood out for me as poem with a bit of a story. It had a good creep factor too, a poem for Halloween maybe.  The third stanza

How orderly the kitchen ’d look by night,
With just a clock,—
But they could gag the tick,
And mice won’t bark;
And so the walls don’t tell,
None will.

The walls don't tell what? Who's in my house? Maybe I'm reading too much into it.

I want to talk about The Mystery of Pain, but instead I'll just include the link. I'm nervous about looking too deeply at it.  There's pain there and maybe Dickinson wanted to solve the mystery of her own.

This one also stood out for me:

Death is a dialogue between
The spirit and the dust.
“Dissolve,” says Death. The Spirit, “Sir,
I have another trust.”
Death doubts it, argues from the ground.
The Spirit turns away,
Just laying off, for evidence,
An overcoat of clay.

I don't even know what to say about this one, I just want people to read it.

But for a new part of the emotional journey:

“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.

This is actually the second time I've posted this poem on my blog. I think it's my favourite in the entire collection. 

There are just so many, too many. 

This one, near the end of the collection, almost had me crying:

We never know we go,—when we are going
  We jest and shut the door;
Fate following behind us bolts it,
  And we accost no more.

I read it shortly after the deaths of Alan Rickman and David Bowie, as well as news of the death of the oldest person in the world.  Rickman and Bowie were 69, but the former oldest person was 112. The poem just made me think that we never know when we are going to go, 69 or 112, sooner or later. I don't even know if that's what this poem is really talking about. 

Many of the titles (all?) are arbitrary, added posthumously. Some aren't even the same across all collections. Most of the poems are just numbered. I suppose that is because she only published handful of them in her lifetime. I wish she had published more in her life, but I suppose that's what many people have wished. I think that I might start re-reading the poems, just always have them on my tablet and between novels and stories, when I want a little clarity or burst of emotion, read one of her poems, a cycle from beginning to end and around again, always with me. Is that crazy? I don't know. I just find the idea comforting and isn't that what you want from what you read.

I don't think there is enough time in my world for an in depth study of her work, maybe back when I was studying in University. Let's just say, I recommend her work, from the well-known to the lesser-known and that Dickinson's work is something I see myself continually returning.


  1. Many years ago a prof essentially ruined Emily Dickinson for me by pointing out that most of her poems can be sung to the tune of Yellow Rose of Texas. Now I cannot not sing them.

    1. That sucks! I'm glad I don't know what song that is... and if it's ruined Dickinson for you, I'm not looking it up.

  2. I admire your fortitude in reading through how many thousand poems she wrote. I was doing some prep work for a teacher this week which involved looking in poetry anthologies and every single one had more poems by Emily Dickinson that any other poet. I read The Yearling for my SPIN book. I would be honored if you would look at my review. Thank you. The Yearling

    1. Thanks. They are beautiful poems, but they take forever to read. I had read Dickinson previously in anthologies, that's one of the reasons I wanted to read the collection.