Category Archives: Emily Dickinson

Dark Arts and Crafts

One-word prompt: Craft

The Color of the Grave is Green —
The Outer Grave — I mean —
You would not know it from the Field —
Except it own a Stone —

To help the fond — to find it —
Too infinite asleep
To stop and tell them where it is—
But just a Daisy — deep —

The Color of the Grave is White —
The outer Grave  — I mean —
You would not know it from the Drifts —
In Winter — till the Sun —

Has furrowed out the Aisles —
Then — higher than the Land
The little Dwelling Houses rise
Where each — has left a friend —

The Color of the Grave within —
The Duplicate — I mean —
Not all the Snows could make it white —
Not all the Summers — Green —

You’ve seen the Color — maybe —
Upon a Bonnet bound —
When that you met it with before —
The Ferret — cannot find —

Emily Dickinson

Time travels faster today. Before I tire of the snow, a scorching summer appears. Magical, all because I’m old.

Death can show up within a minute or maybe within the next 40 years. I used to have an eternity to live when young. But if past practices hold true, I won’t live much longer.

Along with death, extra baggage haunts me. Not the kind used for travel, but the kind that lays around the house.

It might be making me insane. I’m searching through all closets, storage boxes, and drawers; all is fair game for recycling, repurposing, donating, or tossing. Sentimentality be damned.

Some of the insane part: I sorted through hundreds of buttons my mother had collected. They’re sorted by color and rest in individual trays or bags. I’m planning to make a garden mobile with these buttons. Let’s see if it happens this spring. Hundreds of buttons could create a few outside ornaments.

More insanity: I gathered every single extra, unused, old key in my house. I’m pretty confident about this since I don’t think I’ve left a dust bunny unturned. I love playing with those keys and try to imagine each one’s former purpose. What they unlocked, the when, and the where and the by whom. I plan to put a couple of the prettier ones, one gold and one silver, on necklaces. Some others are also destined for garden artwork. Google search — check to see if these projects show up in my backyard.

I’m editing my life away. Will I reach its essence? My son will only need to dispose of keys, buttons, a few books, and some other stuff I love or need. Every sweep through, more goes and goes.

Someday I may look in my closet and find only one grain of rice. Will that bring me peace?

I know I can’t take it with me. I’ll take care not to get too attached to this earth. ED, I won’t wander too far from my room; preparing for one beneath the grass and snow.

The cut may hurt less if renunciation mingles with fleeting joys. If only I could report back.


Emily Dickinson’s Blue Fly Blue

The idea of the fly in this poem and the color blue have been churning around in my brain and I have to let some of it out (for the good and the bad!). Here’s the poem:

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –

With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –

The intriguing sound and sight of blue and buzz. An explosive little first sentence. Unexpected and intense, a good enough definition of Dickinson herself.

Stillness all around except for the fly buzzing. Between the force of a storm. After the storm that is birth and the storm that is life, death seems like a calm.

Eyesight is failing, they say hearing is the last to go. The last breaths were fast approaching the ultimate last breath and with it the power to control life and death.

Dickinson’s earthly goods were signed away in her hand-sewed booklets. The part of her available to give away is found in her poetry. Then comes the fly with blue and buzz.

Generally Western cultures are not fond of insects. We don’t eat them, we try to keep them out of our houses. A fly is often the first to home in on a corpse and begin to consume the abandoned flesh. As a signal to our mortality, a fly is not something we care to ponder.

It is shocking to see the fly hovering near the dying body seemingly ready to begin its ghastly work. Yet the fly is not scorned here, it is doing its part in nature.

She never formally accepted an organized religion during her lifetime. And she was well aware of the growing respect for science in her time as it pushed against the limits of human knowledge.

Blue is associated with truth in religious symbolism and the creative power of God, a symbol of heaven. But for Emily, I believe that the strongest creative power in her life was her power as a poet.

Science discovered that light contains all colors. When the eyes are failing and the dark approaches, blue is the last to remain. When the eye is adapted to the dark,  the color blue can be seen over a wider range of vision.

Vision is a process of the brain as much of as the eye. People that have sight restored to unseeing eyes may need to learn how to see. Dickinson’s poetry utilizes the brain and eye and pushes against human limitations.

Finally she could not see to see. Unlearning the skills of the temporal upon entering eternity. Her vision moves beyond the need of eyes. Those old skills will be surpassed.

Seeing what the bee sees, passing beyond the ultraviolet.

A Summer to Love

Today is a perfect summer day. Perfect as in the weather. The humidity is gone. The sky is blue with a few puffy clouds, the sun is not pounding down hot. Last I checked the temperature was 74 degrees. I could live this way for the rest of my life. Let me find a land that has this kind of weather and I may move there.

But then again, how would I know how good this day was if I didn’t have the hot, unbearable summer days or the freezing snows of winter? This day would be so common that my love for it would be weaker.

Emily Dickinson preferred to live in a land with both snow and sun. She liked to study the life and death cycle of the four seasons. Least she forgot that the body will not always be warmed by the sun.

So I will love this day and may look forward to a sweltering tomorrow. And an icy day a few months down the road.

The Emily Dickinson of Tao

The Tao Te Ching, a work of art as far removed from New England in location and language as can possibly be, is well-known to Western society nonetheless.

Chapter 47 of the Tao reminds me of Emily Dickinson:

Without opening your door,

you can know the whole world.

Without looking out your window,

you can understand the way of the Tao.

The more knowledge you seek,

the less you will understand.

The Master understands without leaving,

sees clearly without looking,

accomplishes much without doing anything.

Others have linked Emily Dickinson with Eastern religion and this passage from the Tao seems to prove the point and fits her well. She kept to her small room, but she explored metaphysical depths in her poetry.

Dickinson probably never heard of the Tao or read much about Eastern beliefs (outside of an exposure to transcendentalism), but she traveled that path. And she did it without wandering much past her New England garden.

Hope Is a Thing With Feathers

Bird outside my computer room window, I want to perch you on my hand so I can feel your weightlessness.

Are you as light as air?  Would your feathers feel soft against my hand? Or are your feathers rough, since your tiny toughness withstands harsh, icy winters while my large, heavy frame would perish besides you.

In general, you must avoid humans that could easily harm you intentionally or not.  But make an exception for me, just this once.  I’d be extraordinarily careful.  Then afterwards, fly off again and never trust us again.

Going Nuclear: Emily Dickinson’s Poetry

A professor once told me that some literary critics thought that the endings of Emily Dickinson’s poetry often had a feeling of an atomic explosion.  I didn’t realize that but I thought I did see a nuclear explosion in one of her poems:

It was a quiet seeming Day —
There was no harm in earth or sky —
Till with the closing sun
There strayed an accidental Red
A Strolling Hue, one would have said
To westward of the Town —

But when the Earth began to jar
And Houses vanished with a roar
And Human Nature hid
We comprehended by the Awe
As those that Dissolution saw
The Poppy in the Cloud

– Emily Dickinson

It starts with a perfectly pleasant day, a perfect set up for nuclear destruction.  Interpretations of the poem say that it describes a sunset. The sun sets in the west, bringing a red hue to the sky.  The houses vanish into the darkness.  Human nature has an old fear of the dark. The magnificent sunset, the poppy in the cloud.

But it’s perfect for a bomb dropping scenario.  All is quiet, no one expects harm, the accidental Red may have been a warning.  The Earth began to rumble, the bomb destroys houses, people are terrified by this awesome power, the poppy in the cloud (so much like a mushroom cloud) brings death to the planet.

I may be wrong, but whenever I read this poem, I can’t stop thinking of this nuclear metaphor.

Sometimes a Worm Is Just a Worm

I don’t believe that worms in Emily Dickinson’s poetry must all be phallically symbolic.  Intentionally or unintentionally, she may never have made this worm/penis connection.

But some critics insist this is so.  Some say Dickinson had a dread of male sexuality, or that she harbored an incestuous desire for her brother, or that she is gay.

In one poem she wrote, “I came upon a Worm — Pink, lank and warm –”  and in another poem she wrote about “A narrow Fellow in the Grass” that made her feel “Zero at the Bone–”  Psychoanalysts and literary critics alike made the appropriate connections.

She loved other people with a 19th century sensibility.  She used intimate language with her family and friends, but that was the way of the world  back then. The love she expressed for her sister-in-law exuded an intimacy that a modern person may find odd and perhaps gay.  Her empathy with others was often so strong, she suffered along with them through their illnesses and deaths.

She also loved nature; her garden, birds, and flowers.  She spent many days in her garden or gazing out at it from her window.

But she always had an eye on eternity.  This sweet life on earth is so temporary that it seems to mean so little in the face of eternity.

The lowly worm is a garden companion in life and a great leveler at the end of life.  The worm approaches the corpse in the ground, crawls through the flesh, decomposes the temporal body back into dust.  How efficient and necessary. And what can be more intimate than this final intercourse between worm and flesh lying together in the grave?  Human lust is just a flicker in the flame.