Personal anthology: Emily Dickinson

I'm in a traveling mood this month, and this poem of Emily Dickinson's was running through my head:

Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea,
Past the houses – past the headlands –
Into deep Eternity –

Bred as we, among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?

So I pulled my selected ED off the shelf to look the poem up so I could post it, and found the book full of Post-It flags I hadn't removed since my grad school days. Vague memories surfaced of having written about poem 675, "Essential Oils – are wrung," as an aside somewhere in my dissertation, one of my periodic forays into later periods than the one I was officially writing about. But what was with all the other markers? Had I meant to write more about Dickinson and never gotten around to it?

I'd forgotten, for instance, all about #885, but I'm glad I didn't take out the flag marking its page:

The Poets light but Lamps –
Themselves – go out –
The Wicks they stimulate –
If vital Light

Inhere as do the Suns –
Each Age a Lens
Disseminating their
Circumference –

And I'd also all but forgotten all about #1261, which takes a rather darker view of the same phenomenon:

A Word dropped careless on a Page
May stimulate an Eye
When folded in perpetual seam
The Wrinkled Maker lie

Infection in the sentence breeds
We may inhale Despair
At distances of Centuries
From the Malaria –

(Literary immortality as a plague. It's almost a horror-movie conceit.) I remember now what I was about: Dickinson seems in some of these poems to be riffing on Shakespeare's sonnets, particularly the ones that are obsessed with preserving either the young man's image or the poet's own reputation. But I was also startled to find that whenever it was I went through the book flagging poems, one of the others I marked was #360:

Death sets a Thing significant
The Eye had hurried by
Except a perished Creature
Entreat us tenderly

To ponder little Workmanships
In Crayon, or in Wool,
With "This was last Her fingers did" –
Industrious until –

The Thimble weighed too heavy –
The stitches stopped – themselves –
And then 'twas put among the Dust
Upon the Closet shelves –

A Book I have – a friend gave –
Whose Pencil – here and there –
Had notched the place that pleased Him –
At Rest – His fingers are –

Now – when I read – I read not –
For interrupting Tears –
Obliterate the Etchings
Too Costly for Repairs.

Oddly enough, I've been wanting to write about that poem (in the context of memory traces and the marks of previous readers) as part of the ongoing commonplace-book project, because I'd encountered it in an article about 19th-century sentimental literature and thought "Aha!". But I'd forgotten that I'd wanted to write about it then, too. Uncanny. Or maybe not, really.

I wonder if I was really a closet Victorianist all through the grad school years when I was in training to be an early modernist?

One Response to “Personal anthology: Emily Dickinson”

  1. dale says:

    Thanks for this, Amanda!