Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Emily Dickinson: Maelstrom, Funeral, plus one

These are only two of Emily's poems that make me think I should be shovelling shit instead of trying to write an occasional poem, but I may not be the only one to ever feel that way...

'Twas like a Maelstrom, with a notch,
That nearer, every Day,
Kept narrowing its boiling Wheel
Until the Agony

Toyed coolly with the final inch
Of your delirious Hem—
And you dropt, lost,
When something broke—
And let you from a Dream—

As if a Goblin with a Gauge—
Kept measuring the Hours—
Until you felt your Second
Weigh, helpless, in his Paws—

And not a Sinew—stirred—could help,
And sense was setting numb—
When God—remembered—and the Fiend
Let go, then, Overcome—

As if your Sentence stood—pronounced—
And you were frozen led
From Dungeon's luxury of Doubt
To Gibbets, and the Dead—

And when the Film had stitched your eyes
A Creature gasped "Reprieve"!
Which Anguish was the utterest—then—
To perish, or to live?


I felt a funeral in my brain,
And mourners, to and fro,
Kept treading, treading, till it seemed
That sense was breaking through.
And when they all were seated,
A service like a drum
Kept beating, beating, till I thought
My mind was going numb.

And then I heard them lift a box,
And creak across my soul
With those same boots of lead,
Then space began to toll

As all the heavens were a bell,
And Being but an ear,
And I and silence some strange race,
Wrecked, solitary, here.

And then a plank in reason, broke,
And I dropped down and down--
And hit a world at every plunge,
And finished knowing--then--

following is a poem by me a few years ago...


Was Emily an ugly girl or did she have bad skin?
Was she flat instead of curved? Was she far too slim?
Were there too many splendid belles come out
Those cold New England antebellum years
And she remained--because a little plain?
It makes me sick that tough-sweet spirit had to grope among
Such stiff-necked pious dullards for fifty-six notched years.

Did she fail to learn the dance? Did she make the boys feel dim?
Did she love--just once--too much, then not again--
Or did she always love exactly what she loved--
But in her dreams and books?
Why couldn't she be happy? Why couldn't she be wed?
Why does her photo draw me in as if I think that
Somewhere she's alive and I should hurry up and write
And tell her--I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I wasn't there for you!

Dear Emily, my dear--maybe I'm just sleepy this Monday 2 A.M.
Maybe I've gone crazy that I would weep for you.
You've been dead--though you live here still--
More than a hundred years
And I've only been about half-here for this tired fifty-two.
I'm near the age now when you died and I must say I've felt
That treadmill in my brain, that maelstrom in my dreams,
And wonder which did you--
Did you fail to cling or did you just let go?


  1. I like your poem better than hers, Ron.

    She's a tad maudlin for my taste.

    I wonder why so many poets of that era (and others) lean towards the gloom of life rather than the brightness?

  2. I can't say that you misjudge her, but you may be giving me more credit for Lightness than I possess.


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