Why You Shouldn’t Delay Reading The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson…

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There are various editions of Dickinson’s Complete Poems. This is my favorite edition, numbered by Thomas H. Johnson.

‘I’m embarrassed by how long I resisted Emily Dickinson’s “Complete Poems,” and I’m struck by how much my copy means to me now. As a daft young punk I too often sought out reckless emotion and vulgar effects, the same way one sometimes wants, when callow and feckless, to date a person with obvious physical attributes. Dickinson’s famous line — “I’m nobody! Who are you?” — is not what you want to hear when you are younger than 30, or, in my delayed maturity, closer to 40. It should have helped, but did not, when one of my favorite high school English teachers, Donald Glancy, explained that you could sing nearly all of Dickinson’s verse to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”

I keep a commonplace book, a place where I write down passages that matter to me from the books I read. It’s packed with Dickinson, from her poems and her letters. These lines come to me, in my daily life, both in their intended contexts and quite far out of them. She explains why we read: “I am out with lanterns, looking for myself.” She underscores my sense of what it is like to watch cable news: “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain.”

She suggests what I am thinking when I order a Negroni:

“Bring me the sunset in a cup.” She catches why gay marriage took so long: “The Truth must dazzle gradually/Or every man be blind.” Her sarcasm rings down the ages: “They say that ‘home is where the heart is.’ I think it is where the house is, and the adjacent buildings.”

Few writers circled religion with more wary alertness: “They say that God is everywhere,” she said, “and yet we always think of Him as somewhat of a recluse.” She wrote: “The only commandment I ever obeyed — ‘Consider the Lilies.’ ” And:

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church;
I keep it, staying at Home,
With a Bobolink for a Chorister,
And an Orchard, for a Dome.

I could not stop for Emily Dickinson, but she kindly stopped for me. Her raw, spare, intense poetry was written as if carved into a desktop. Now that I am older and somewhat wiser, what I prize about Dickinson is that she lives up to her own observation:
“Truth is so rare, it is delightful to tell it.”

(from an article by Dwight Garneraug published in The New Yorker, August 2015)
(Art: Pinterest)

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