Poetic Spotlight: Emily Dickinson

A daguerreotype of Emily Dickinson, taken at Mount Holyoke Seminary.

This week’s addition to the poetic bookshelf is one I’m pretty every American knows (or at least they should), in spite of her legendary nature as something of a hermit.

Emily Dickinson was something of an anomaly, in all senses of the term. Though she wrote nearly 1800 – yes, 1800 – poems over the course of her lifetime, fewer than a dozen saw publication before her death, and these significantly altered versions of her work could scarcely be called hers by the time the publishers’ ink dried. But of course, Dickinson liked it that way. The obscurity – probably not the manipulation of her craft. Though there is often great yearning within her words, she was an introvert – the majority of her relationships being carried out by correspondence alone.

And yet, one can scarcely think of American poetry today without drifting to the topic of the recluse wonder. Today, she is considered one of the great American poets, her work – much of it only after her death discovered by her sister! – considered a treasure trove of language, thought, and style.

Though difficult to settle on but one of her pieces for the show tonight, in the end I bring to you “Because I could not stop for Death” – a fine sampling of her skills, and her tendencies, as readers of Dickinson will quickly find the themes of death and time cornerstones of much of her work…

Because I could not stop for Death

Because I could not stop for Death –

He kindly stopped for me –

The Carriage held but just Ourselves –

And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste

And I had put away

My labor and my leisure too,

For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove

At Recess – in the Ring –

We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –

We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed us –

The Dews drew quivering and chill –

For only Gossamer, my Gown –

My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed

A Swelling of the Ground –

The Roof was scarcely visible –

The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet

Feels shorter than the Day

I first surmised the Horses’ Heads

Were toward Eternity –

~Emily Dickinson

Exploring the Imagination

The Power of Imagination. Image by DP Studios and Wallpapers on Web.

What is a writer without imagination? It is the font of creativity, the well-spring of art that keeps us moving in a dry, dry world. Reality may lend forms to what we drink, but the imagination – the imagination breathes detail into those shapes. As Emily Dickinson once wrote, “The Possible’s slow fuse is lit by the imagination.” Such a beautiful thing to comprehend.

Which is why I am always curious when a head cocks at the sound of what I do. I write, I say, and I see the eyebrow arch. I enjoy the fantastic. Fiction. Fantasy. Their heads shake and I hear the words, “Why not write something real? Something substantial? Non-fiction is the bread and butter…” And I smile, just a bit, at the concept. They scorn it because of the lack of “real value” to the world. Real value? My goodness, how do we even begin to define…is not the power of the human imagination, the power to showcase how far that human thought can reach, not worth documentation? Every bit of writing employs imagination, to an extent. Fiction or non-fiction – those are merely scales of extent.

Even non-fiction has details we fill in. Auto-biographies, narrated years after the fact, might embellish a detail for the storytelling, reflect on events long gone and add a line, here or there, that prod at the curiosities of our own imagination. They pursue thought, not merely deeds.

As I get closer to releasing my first fantasy novel, though, it is a curious thing to reflect on – this concept of imagination, and where it stands in our society. So much fiction,  fantasy, sci-fi, and what you will flood the market, yet all too often you hear those calls for structure, for the sensible, for the restriction of the imaginative from sources populating that same reality. The disconnect astounds me.

Henry David Thoreau. Image care of Wikimedia Commons.

But that leads me to a few new quotes for this week, revolving around that sense of the imagination, and the creativity it walks with hand-in-hand:

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.  Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.  Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”
~Theodore Geisel

“They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea.” 
~Francis Bacon

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” 
~Henry David Thoreau

Families and Hopes

Given the state of worry and relief my family’s been put through in the past couple weeks, I thought I would return to my regularly schedules Quotes of the Week with a few pieces on hope and family. There is great pain and immeasurable joy contained within the word – family – and they are, truly, among the most important relations we will ever have in life – for they are always with us, whether we always wish them to or not:

“The family.  We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.”
~Erma Bombeck

“Sometimes our hearts get tangled
And our souls a little off-kilter
Friends and family can set us right
And help guide us back to the light.”
~Sera Christann

“Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops…at all.” 
~Emily Dickinson