Monday, December 10, 2012

Emily and I

December 10, 1830-May 15, 1886

Today is Emily Dickinson’s birthday, and I’ve been celebrating by rereading favorites from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. That book is one of the books I’d choose among my top five if I were packing for a long stay on a desert island. A short while ago, I gave myself an Emily Dickinson birthday gift by downloading the book to my Kindle (only $.99).

Dickinson is not only my favorite poet; she’s also the first poet with whom I fell in love and the one with whom I’ve been living the longest. The Christmas I was ten, a favorite aunt gave me a children’s anthology of American poetry that included “I’m Nobody! Who are you?”  (Poem #260).

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog – 
To tell one's name – the livelong June – 
To an admiring Bog!

Reading the poem gave me my first sense of connecting with a poet in an electric moment when I felt as if he/she somehow possessed insight into my very soul. At ten, I was entering puberty early, consumed with self-consciousness over my height, my burgeoning breasts, and my suddenly boat-sized feet. I felt a million miles removed from many former friends who were still petite princesses, flat-chested and precious, pirouetting through the seasons, glorying in all the attention they attracted. I wanted nothing more than to be a nobody, fading into the background where no eyes could see me and pitying the public frogs. Emily was my friend during that period, and I read the poem so many times I memorized it.  

Many years later that time birthed one of my own poems, a personal favorite, that includes these lines:

That July I quit climbing trees
and would swim no longer with the boy cousins.
I read Jane Eyre on summer evenings,
wrote stories about stolen princesses,
and learned Emily’s nobody poem by heart.

From CustomeQuotesMaker at Etsy
I went on to read other Emily Dickinson poems, some of which touched me as powerfully as did that first one. I discovered other poets whose words sang in my head and resounded in my heart, but though adolescence and college days, through party phases and pondering periods, through darkness so deep I could see no glimmer of light and jubilation so wondrous I soared, through classrooms and sanctuaries and interstate commutes, Emily has been a companion of choice. 

My speech is peppered with Dickensenian phrases such as “slanted truth” and “amethyst remembrance” and “dimity convictions.” One of the books that has a permanent home on my bedside table is the old Anchor edition of Emily Dickinson's selected poems and letters. One of my daily rituals is to read a poem or a snippet from a letter. One of the things I love best is that even after half a century with this poet, I keep discovering new things that delight me and make me think long thoughts.

Around 1862, Dickinson wrote Poem #431, which contains these lines: “My Holiday, shall be / That they—remember me--” Today is her holiday, and I am remembering. May many new readers discover the wonders of Emily Dickinson’s poetry today.

Who’s your favorite poet? Do you have a favorite Emily Dickinson poem.


quantum said...

I don't have a favourite poet but am fascinated by certain poems and 'poetic thoughts'.For example I like Emily Dickinson's 'Love':

Love is anterior to life,
Posterior to death,
Initial of creation, and
The exponent of breath.

The idea that love is the force that gives meaning to life and creation fascinates me and poetry can perhaps express it best.

Robert Southey also captures this idea rather well for me in 'Immortality of Love' The first two verses:

They sin who tell us love can die,
With life all other passions fly,
All others are but vanity;

In heaven ambition cannot dwell,
Nor avarice in the vaults of hell;
Earthly these passions of the earth,
They perish where they have their birth;

Fascinating post Janga!

MsHellion said...

I love it! She is a great poet to remember! :) Thank you for sharing!

And I love Q's poem about love--I have part of that poem in a "quote" book I made for myself, of things I've read that I want to savor.

Janga said...

Thanks for sharing the Southey poem, Q. I like the lines very much. I confess I'm not very familiar with Southey's poetry, probably because I was seduced by Byron in my youth and always think of the older poet in terms of Byron's description--"quaint and mouthey" Southey.

Janga said...

Thanks, Hellie. Perhaps because I started reading Dickinson when I was so young, she has always seemed a real presence in her poems. She's the only canonical writer I think of by her first name. I owe much of my fascination with language to those early years of reading Emily.