I’m ceded — I’ve stopped being Their’s –
The name They dropped upon my face
With water, in the country church
Is finished using, now,
And They can put it with my Dolls,
My childhood, and the string of spools,
I’ve finished threading — too –
Baptized, before, without the choice,
But this time, consciously, of Grace –
Unto supremest name –
Called to my Full — The Crescent dropped –
Existence’s whole Arc, filled up,
With one small Diadem.
My second Rank — too small the first –
Crowned — Crowing — on my Father’s breast –
A half unconscious Queen –
But this time — Adequate — Erect,
With Will to choose, or to reject,
And I choose, just a Crown – (#508)
~ Emily Dickinson
Today is “Poem in Your Pocket Day” to help wind down National Poetry Month. You are to share a poem, any poem, to carry in one’s pocket. It’s a bit of a romantic notion; one that makes me pine for minimal poetry books; ones that fit in your pocket, or at least, the palm of your hand.
I’ve shared Emily Dickinson’s poem #508. It is one that I just stumbled upon yesterday while reading Adrienne Rich’s, On Lies, Secrets, and Silence. While reading Rich’s commentary on Dickinson, and this poem, I had a bit of personal ‘ah-ha’ moment that differs from Rich’s feminist/lesbian POV.
Please note, I don’t discount any scholarly assessment, especially from an academic such as Rich, whose study of language, literature, and poetry was vast. That said, I’m a true believer that all of us can explore literature as a non-academic; sometimes even with relevance. After all, as writers, do we not write with the hope that all readers may explore and interpret with their own ideology without feeling imprisoned by the bars of the author?
So, let’s explore a bit of what Rich writes:
“This is a poem of great pride–not pridefulness, but self-confirmation–and it is curious how little Dickinson’s critics, perhaps misled by her diminutives, have recognized the will and pride in her poetry. It is a poem of movement from childhood to womanhood, of transcending the patriarchal condition of bearing her father’s name and “crowing–on my Father’s breast–.” She is now a conscious Queen “Adequate—Erect/ With Will to choose, or to reject–.”
I am convinced Dickinson is grappling with her faith and maturity; but it is Rich’s idea of ‘pride’ that caused me to pause. Rich’s own acknowledgement that her peers have missed this equation of pride had me do a quick search to see what has been theorized about poem #508. The conclusion: every academic had a slightly different theory.
Since this is a blog, not an academic paper, I shall not go on and on, but felt that there should be a bit of a back story. Emily Dickinson’s poems are oft shared briefly in American classrooms; yet, we never learn about her life. It seems odd since critical analysis would require an understanding of the writer. I, myself, upon reading Rich’s brief essay, “Vesuvius at Home: The Power of Emily Dickinson,” had to visit two more books to gain more knowledge about her upbringing and personal struggles. Sadly, not even these books agreed, leaving me to ponder if I should shelve my interpretation.
What am I searching for exactly? Something to help substantiate a personal thought that poem #508 had less to do with Dickinson’s breaking from her father/patriarchal rule as Rich states; but, more to do with her breaking from her metaphysical ‘Father’.
Dickinson upbringing was steeped in religiosity; yet, she only briefly ascribed to the teachings of Christianity. She was truly a black sheep. Only her older brother, William Austin, voiced a sentiment akin to her own. It is this very progressive objection to Christianity that I’m currently studying with great interest. Could poem #508 be so boldly written that Dickinson was declaring that she would choose “just a Crown -” because she had declared herself akin to the “King”? Is she rejecting the idea of Christian ‘bride’ because she sees herself as Queen. Is this perhaps what some would call veiled blasphemy?
Emily Dickinson’s poems regarding her faith, her life, and death are quite vast. There is so much more to say regarding this poem, as well as others. The more I read about her, the more I cannot help but see her as a soul so consumed that her only salvation was to see herself ‘saved’ from religion itself. Perhaps her brother’s statement, “God …could have created all these millions upon millions of human souls, only to destroy them?” was so alarming, that to embrace such a figure was darker than anything she could ever pen to paper.
I shall dig deeper with the current reading of, “White Heat,” with the hopes of theological discovery. There are other ideologies of Rich’s that I hope to address as well.
I’ll close with my immediate response that somewhat spurred tonight’s post. I wrote it at a tweet.
Her Words drew Halos
upon a dark Captor -
not he of lust
but He of Throne -
Emily saw herself Queen,
never Bride -
Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dickinson, taken circa 1848. (Original is scratched.) From the Todd-Bingham Picture Collection and Family Papers, Yale University Manuscripts & Archives Digital Images Database, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)