Selected Poems by Emily Dickinson

DickinsonFiction — print. Borders, 2006. 212 pgs. Purchased.

Now acknowledged as one of the greatest American poets, Dickinson wrote over 1,100 poems and only six of those were published — without her permission, too — during her lifetime. This collection arranges over 100 of her poems into four categories — Life, Love, Nature, and Time and Eternity — and includes a longer poem known as The Single Hound.

I don’t consider myself a great fan of poetry, and I find it difficult to formulate and share my thoughts on collections of poems. This may be because I either feel unable to decipher the poet’s hidden message – a problem I blame on an education system that drilled into me that there is always a hidden meaning – or unconnected with the poem itself.

Occasionally, I will come across a poem that evokes such strong emotion or serves as inspiration to my own creative endeavors that I will doddle sections of the poem in my notebooks or share on social media. (Sandra Cisneros’ “One Last Poem for Richard” is a perfect example of this; I would love to own a scarf, a t-shirt, a mug, etc. with lines eighteen through twenty-one printed on it.) And I am so pleased I finally plucked this collection off my bookshelf and allowed myself to delve into Dickinson’s evocative poems with a large cup of tea in hand.

“Remorse is memory awake, her companies astir,–a presence of departed acts at window and at door. It’s past set down before the soul, and lighted with a match, perusal to facilitate of its condensed despatch. Remorse is cureless,–the disease not even God can heal; for ’tis his institution,– the complement of hell.” (pg. 25)

Based on the numerous sticky notes used to flag favorite poems, those poems in the “Life” and “Nature” sections of this collection captivated my attention best. Dickinson seems to possess both a skeptical and religious outlook towards life, and her poems focus on remorse, immortality, longing, and how nature is simultaneously subtle yet powerful.

The poem above was especially thought-provoking for me. This was not only the point where I set the collection aside and began doodling portions of it into the notebook I use for scratch paper, but where I began to feel the urge to pick up my camera, explore nature, and begin a period of self-reflection. And the poem below, which was included in the “Nature” section, shows how difficult it is to categorize her poems — the poem largely focuses on nature, but also speaks to love and the fracturing of relationships over time and eternity.

Surprisingly, I found the longer poem — first published in 1914 — did not evoke the emotions, imagery, and self-reflection as the other poems in this collection and, sadly, ended this collection on a rather mediocre note.

“A murmur in the trees to note, not loud enough for wind; a star not far enough to seek, nor near enough to find; a long, long yellow on the law, a hubbub as of feet; not audible, as ours to us, but dapperer, more sweet; a hurrying home of little men to houses unperceived,–ass this, and more, if I should tell, would never be believed. Of robins in the trundle bed how many I espy whose nightgowns could not hide the wings, although I heard them try! But then I promised ne’er to tell; how could I break my word? So go your way and I’ll go mine,–no fear you’ll miss the road.” (pg. 75)

I have heard, repeatedly, that Dickinson utilized capitalization and punctuation at whim; she was particularly liberal with her use of dashes. Unfortunately, this collection does not seem to persevere this aspect of her poetry. A cursory glance at poems published in this collection yet available from academic sources online suggest the editor or compiler substituted her dashes with commas and semicolons. While this may have assisted in the readability and flow of her poetry, I wish her peculiar style would have been maintained.

The Classics Club:

I read this book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post, project post, or spreadsheet of titles.

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