rosary & ashes – a flicker of doubt

hiding – unmasked under an avalanche of progress there was no saving the unsaved. until now it had escaped me, this mystery built within effervescent dreams. who was the dictator. who was the builder. a question mark fails to be for this isn’t about that, or this, it has to do with these blank verse visits that permeate a pinhole and bloom beautiful. cut thorns from those bandages. it was a green cargo box filled with dirt that promised salvation. thinking back, whose voice was it that kept me running.

Don’t ask…I’ve really no idea other than it is a snippet into a dream that kept me entertained sometime during sleep. It had escaped memory until I was reading Christopher Hitchens’ Mortality, just a bit ago. Curious, reading chapter 2, his thoughts on cancer and the futility of faith, and this dream resurfaces between lines regarding blasphemy and prayer (left hand of the page). Then it disappeared. Turn the page, it came back again, green plastic box – perhaps a cargo hold – hiding on the inside.

Hitchens, whom we all know has since left this life, was of a brilliant mind. His book chronicles without apology his bold refusal to die quietly under the comfort of a god’s blessing. He has me laughing. He has me crying. He has me remembering a sweet man whom could have written these matter-of-fact pages in the face of cancer’s spreading hand. He and I sparred religion until the bitter end. Funny how I’ve come full circle, no longer believing in written salvation. Sadly, he is not here to tell me how it all ends.

Pacing a surgery room recently – a Catholic, an atheist, a waffler, and a brother without declaration – we hashed the purpose of prayer. Poor souls seeking solace around us, no words were minced as I declared that there was no purpose of prayer if this life’s death is mapped before conception. Brother decried, “why, you’re a Calvinist!” Is that it, I thought it was an original thought of a realist…

Tonight, east winds howl through cheap windows as pinks start to add contrast. No matter how many times a match strikes, the flame fails to ignite insides. Somewhere there is another room with a window that explores a visage painted in black, illuminated in white. Someday it may open. I wonder if it will before midnight’s rosary and ashes meet. 

#488 & #754 – Emily Dickinson, the mystery continues -

Myself was formed—a carpenter—
An unpretending time
My Plane—and I, together wrought
Before a Builder came—

To measure our attainments—
Had we the Art of Boards
Sufficiently developed—He’d hire us
At Halves—

My Tools took Human—Faces—
The Bench, where we had toiled—
Against the Man—persuaded—
We—Temples build—I said—
(#488)

#488 is a poem Emily Dickinson composed right before her most prolific writing period. She had just reached out to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a writer of politics, a composer of poetry and prose, whom would become her greatest literary confidant. Their exchange of letters would last from 1862 until Dickinson’s death in 1886.

It is through these letters, that we gain a greater understanding of Dickinson’s faith and doubt. Dickinson doesn’t shy away from sharing her disbelief despite the fact that Higginson embraces his own.

The book, White Heat, documents other correspondence as well; there is Sue, her sister-in-law; and a friend, Abiah Root. These help to shed light, that despite Dickinson’s Christian upbringing, she rejected the notion of belief. As reported in “White Heat,” she states to Root: “I was almost persuaded to be a christian…” She goes on to explain that she felt at peace until her mind took over. Dickinson writes to Higginson that she was, “grateful to whatever highest power produced a consciousness capable of doubting it”. (White Heat, p. 50)

Poem #488 is interesting. Here is a very well read, intuitive woman who could compare herself to a sundry of professions, yet she chose the carpenter. Her implications regarding tools to human faces; and the building of temples, seems too akin to Christ to ignore. I continue to question if she felt god-like, or that she was at least of the same plane, in her mind. One could even infer that her strictly alabaster attire she wore later in life, ascribed to this notion of a pureness of that of a deity.

Adrienne Rich posits that poem #488 is more a signifier that Dickinson realizes her skill, her gift, as a poet, and expresses it with confidence. I don’t object to this notion, I just feel that it is another example of Dickinson’s poetry expressing her individuality. Perhaps, one could infer that she felt she was as gifted as any creator.

Does Dickinson’s need to voice her disdain for religion; to declare she may or may not ‘see’ death a sign of anger at God, or at the Westernized structure of religion?

Dickinson’s struggle reminds me of the oft used, “dark night of the soul”. There seems no end to this dark night. The seclusion, albeit one self-imposed; the unbelievable creative spirit that dwelled within her psyche; and her bouts of depression (I’ve not read much regarding this, but there has been inference in many poems). Was Dickinson’s answer was to object to a God she felt powerless against? She was a woman of vast intelligence who understood ‘place’; who felt the injustices of the world; ergo, were her poems to lash out only, or to draw a boundary to make clear that she would not be a part of any doctrine?

Perhaps I am interjecting too much of my own wranglings with faith. I’ve stated before that my study is not of literature or writing. I lacked confidence to pursue my writing, ergo, I followed my second passion, science and research. However, I do understand the human condition; I don’t paint roses where there should be thorns. I am not as wise as Emily Dickinson, but I know what it is to ‘see’ what others miss, to ‘feel’ what others don’t want to recognize. It Can tear at your soul; it can certainly tear at your belief system.

What is one to do when they come up against a brick wall of ‘authority’ that does, or doesn’t, hold the keys to the kingdom whom you may, or may not, believe is a ‘fair’ creator? If you are a writer, you write.

Emily Dickinson wrote of nature, but rarely in a flowery way. Emily Dickinson wrote of darkness, but never in a way that would conjecture a ghost or Grimm fairy tale. She grappled with a depth that most of us shall never understand. I believe that is why she remains, and shall remain, a great mystery to our American canon of the great poets.

I shall leave with another poem that moves me deeply. It is one that Rich also was moved by for years. I’m most grateful that my job of transcription has been eased after I found the full essay of Rich’s “Vesuvius at Home” online via Parnassus. (I’ve not had time to even read this new find, but I’m quite excited to bookmark and pursue later.) If you’d like to read Rich’s full essay, please do!

Rich states that poem #754 is Dickinson acknowledging her daemon. Again, I understand her reasoning, however, when I read it the first time, off in the margin of my copy I wrote without even thinking, “Did Emily fight with God?”

Rich regards #754 as a study of a woman’s power as woman and as artist. I see it more as an examination of Dickinson’s ability to be immortal. Either way, Ms. Dickinson was indeed a Loaded Gun, thank god for that -

My Life had stood—a Loaded Gun—
In Corners—till a Day
The Owner passed—identified—
And carried Me away—

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods—
And now We hunt the Doe—
And every time I speak for Him—
The Mountains straight reply

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow—
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through—

And when at Night—Our good Day done—
I guard My Master’s Head—
‘Tis better than the Eider-Duck’s
Deep Pillow—to have shared—

To foe of His—I’m deadly foe—
None stir the second time—
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye—
Or an emphatic Thumb—

Though I than He—may longer live
He longer must—than I—
For I have but the power to kill,
Without—the power to die—
(#754)

P.S. I am most grateful to you all who have taken the time with your thoughtful commentary. I hope to comment on those later tonight. Despite being without work today, I had work to do, so I’m a bit behind in comments and commenting. As you are busy bloggers too, I’m certain you understand, and will hopefully offer me a bit of a grace period. ~ a

#508.05 – thoughts on #508

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.

#508.05:

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, tak...

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)

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