Category Archives: Poetry

The Emily Project: Part One/Life–XI (Much Madness)

It's... Madness Too

It’s… Madness Too (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Edith offered only a check on this one, which means I am stopping without the help of her usual notes.




Much madness is divinest sense


To a discerning eye;


Much sense the starkest madness.


’T is the majority


In this, as all, prevail.


Assent, and you are sane;


Demur, – you’re straightway dangerous,


And handled with a chain.



Edith: I could have really used a bit more help on this one besides a check.



Me: Craziness.  I can relate to operating outside of what it considered the norm. I do know that some of more famous people of history were considered crazy.  Think about DaVinci–helicopters, back then?  But no padded room from him. He was considered a genius.  So who decides the line between madness and genius? Emily notes that if you go with the crowd you are considered sane and should you go against the flow then you get clipped with the chain.  Did she speak from experience or observation?  Wearing white and going on permanent staycation probably put her on the chain gang.   I have read people referred to her as “The Myth,” which sounds like they knew her to be a bit odd, but were okay with it. Sane or Mad–it comes down to perspective, I think.





The Emily Project: Part One/Life: XII (I Asked No Other Thing)

Deutsch: Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Deutsch: Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Edith has deemed this one  an *.  Hmmm…


I asked no other thing,
No other was denied.
I offered Being for it;
The mighty merchant smiled.


Brazil? He twirled a button,
Without a glance my way:
“But, madam, is there nothing else
That we can show to-day?”


Edith: a cryptic asterisk, a light pencil underlining of “merchant” and “Mr Higginson” off to the side.


Me: Can I get a vowel, please?  Really.  Not much to go on here.  This is a giant puzzle. I get the sense of wish fulfillment, as if Emily were looking for something and didn’t quite get what she wanted.  Now, if Emily didn’t travel far from home Brazil would seem a mighty long way away.  Is Brazil a metaphor of sorts for wanting the impossible, and is the merchant trying to convince her Brazil is out of her reach.  By capitalizing “Being” I attach immediate importance, and naturally I think of God.  Did Emily ask God for something specific, yet did not receive the answer she wanted, perhaps with some disappointment having received all else she had asked.  Mr Higginson. I came across his name when initially researching about Emily and he becomes very important to her. I know he became a mentor and they corresponded over the years. Edith? Are you holding out on me?  What do you know about Thomas Wentworth Higginson?




We Interrupt This Regularly Scheduled Program…

Right smack in my poetry textbook (Sound and Sense), as I thumbed through it for an assignment, lay stretched out on the page a poem that smacked of Emily D–yet proved to be a tribute.  Here goes:

“I Am in Danger – Sir – “

“Half-cracked” to Higginson, living,
afterward famous in garbled versions,
your hoard of dazzling scraps a battlefield,
now your old snood

mothballed at Harvard and
you in your variorum monument
equivocal to the end –
who are you?

Gardening the day-lily,
wiping the wine-glass stems,
your thought pulsed on behind
a forehead battered paper-thin,

you, woman, masculine
in single-mindedness,
for whom the word was more than a symptom —

a condition of being.
Till the air buzzing with spoiled language
sang in your ears of Perjury

and in your half-cracked way you chose
silence for entertainment,
chose to have it out at last
on your own premises.

Written by Adrienne Rich

Edith:? She’s not here for this one.  I wonder if she knew about Rich’s poem and all its delicious references to Emily Dickinson.

Me: Okay, here I plunge.  First off Higginson jumped out at me. Bang. Having just posted a poem that might have referred to him I was more than aware of his name.  Kind of like buying a red car and all of a sudden the world is filled with red cars on the road.

To look up: variorum (hah–I know what a snood is–do you?)

The second thing I noticed right away was the stylizing, being much like Emily’s with the snippets of vague references and those marvelous dashes and the flippant use of capitalization.  Rich knows her stuff.

Another thing I noticed that while the poem was about Emily Dickinson it very much reminded a singular poem.  I appreciate that kind of talent and ability.

I don’t think I have the energy today to try to understand all the references, allusions, and other literary I-should-knows in this poem.  I have promised myself that once I am done with the project I will dive deep into Dickinson.  Right now I am cautioning against *spoilers*, meaning I want to get to know Emily D without much in the way of someone sidling up to me and whispering, “Did you know?” Nope, I want to get to know Emily straight up on my own.

Does anyone know of other poems that are about Emily?

Thanks for joining my on this journey.


The Dickinson children (Emily on the left), ca...

The Dickinson children (Emily on the left), ca. 1840. From the Dickinson Room at Houghton Library, Harvard University. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Emily Project: Part One/Life–XIII (The Soul Selects Her Own Society)

Image: Emily dickinson journal.gif

Image: Emily dickinson journal.gif (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The soul selects her own society,
Then shuts the door;
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more.

Unmoved, she notes the chariot’s pausing
At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat.

I’ve known her from an ample nation
Choose one;
Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone.

Edith: gave an asterisk; a parenthesis around “Then shuts the door;” an underline nod to “majority”

Me: Wow! Emily D shows major deepness once again.  Edith, I’m with you on the asterisk, although I don’t think this one is going to be a favorite, I definitely think it is noteworthy.

First of all, the idea of personifying the soul, even though the soul is who we are as a person, the way Emily states “soul” it becomes an entity entirely separate, and this one has a queenly air.  “Selecting society” reminds me of those old movies we watch in class where Queen Elizabeth talks in third person: We are not pleased.  Emily D’s soul selects her own society, sounding like she is very particular who she allows into her confidences.  She’s got that selective hermit thing going on here.

I don’t use “obtrude”in conversations, yet it makes absolute sense in this setting.  Emily is putting on the ritz–she’s the queen of solitude and letting people know that she is accepting only a few select into her company of manners.

ob·trude audio (b-trd, b-) KEY

ob·trud·ed, ob·trud·ing, ob·trudes

  1. To impose (oneself or one’s ideas) on others with undue insistence or without invitation.
  2. To thrust out; push forward.


To impose oneself on others.
Even if you happen to be royalty dropping by in your royal carriage, she may not acknowledge you. A girl’s got to have her own set of standards, I suppose.  She is “unmoved.” I wonder if she had a lot of people knocking at her door to visit.  Playing hard to get, hard to visit, maybe that made a lot of people curious about seeing if they were special enough to get a nod from the queen of solitude.
The last verse confuses me.
“I’ve known her from an ample nation/Choose one;/then close the valves of her attention/Like stone.”
I hear her saying she has known a lot of people, remaining particular about who she takes in as a friend and once she has made up her mind, that’s it–the rock of decision.
I can relate to the need for being selective about friends, and how solitude is a valuable aspect to life. Emily Dickinson takes it to a whole separate level. Although in a classy way.  We are not receiving today. Please and thank you.

The Emily Project: Part One/Life–XIV (Some things that fly)

Bombus polaris, a polar bumble bee

Bombus polaris, a polar bumble bee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Flying.  I give thoughts to flying.  How I would like to fly and how I am attracted to those things that can fly.  Big fat black bumblebees droning from flower to flower, swallows dipping and swerving about through the summer sky, and fireflies, although I’ve never seen one, I bet they are way cool to come across.

Apparently Emily D thought about flying as well.  Here’s thoughts on her XIV from Part One:

Edith: parentheses around the second stanza. Does that mean a special notation for that particular stanza–makes sense to me if it does.

Me: I like Emily’s short poems.  They tend to pack a quick punch, like a well-placed quip–I’m thinking of Elizabeth Bennet lines from her encounters with Mr. Darcy.

In the first stanza Emily pops off a few things that fly: birds, hours (brilliant!), the bumble-bee and she feels she doesn’t have to lament their passing, which is what elegy means to me, a poem of remorse of something no longer there (as in dead).

In the second stanza Emily talks about some things that don’t fly off, that hang around: grief, hills, eternity.  She says these things don’t “behooveth” her.  Hmm, I’ve come across behoove, as in doing things properly, but behooveth doesn’t come up on my on-line dictionary.  I wonder if Emily is putting a wordplay on “behoove” and on “moveth” making this a hybrid word.  What I hear her saying is sorrow, nature, and life after death are things that she can’t properly get worked up about.

In this stanza Emily gets tricky in her wording.  She says: There are, that resting, rise. I interpret that as acknowledging that some things, after a time, change from one state into another state. Or is she saying, “let’s put that aside for now”? She obviously can’t explain everything there is that she has questions about, like the sky–she knows she can’t explain the sky.

To me Emily is stating how she can’t change the way things are.  Life tends to be a big mystery in many areas of life.

As for Edith and her parentheses -I’m thinking she found comfort in the fact there Emily wrote how grief, hills, and eternity are always with us.  It seemed like a confirmation.

From bumblebees to eternity, Emily D knows how to cover all subjects.

SOME things that fly there be,—
Birds, hours, the bumble-bee:
Of these no elegy.
Some things that stay there be,—
Grief, hills, eternity:         5
Nor this behooveth me.
There are, that resting, rise.
Can I expound the skies?
How still the riddle lies!

The Emily Project: Part One/Life–XVI (To fight aloud is very brave)


Calvary (Photo credit: Osajus)

To fight aloud is very brave –




To fight aloud, is very brave,
But gallanter, I know,
Who charge within the bosom,
The Calvary of  woe.


Who win, and nations do not see,
Who fall, and none observe,
Whose dying eyes, no country
Regards with patriot love,


We trust, in plumed procession,
For such, the angels go,
Rank after rank, with even feet –
And uniforms of snow.
Edith: an asterisk and a check
Me: I think EmilyD had mixed feelings about war and fighting.  She shows her regard and respect by acknowledging how the soldiers fall, often dying for their country unobserved by those they are defending.  Yet, there also is a sadness, like she regrets they have to die: “We trust, in plumed procession/For such the angels go/Rank after rank, with even feet/And uniforms of snow.”  She points out their uniforms, how impressive they are to see, and then makes the comment how they are marching to their death (angels).
I feel the same way about war.  I don’t understand the whole idea of someone or some people deciding to killing is necessary to create peace.  On the other hand, I admire how soldiers go and do their duty and I am thankful they are doing the fighting instead of me.
I imagine this poem on a war memorial somewhere.  Has anyone seen this anywhere?



The Emily Project: Part One/Life–X (A Precious, Mouldering Pleasure)

Sophocles. Cast

Sophocles. Cast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A precious, mouldering pleasure ‘t is
To meet an antique book,
In just the dress his century wore;
A privilege, I think,

His venerable hand to take,
And warming in our own,
A passage back, or two, to make
To times when he was young.

His quaint opinions to inspect,
His knowledge to unfold
On what concerns our mutual mind,
The literature of old;

What interested scholars most,
What competitions ran
When Plato was a certainty.
And Sophocles a man;

When Sappho was a living girl,
And Beatrice wore
The gown that Dante deified.
Facts, centuries before,

He traverses familiar,
As one should come to town
And tell you all your dreams were true;
He lived where dreams were sown.

His presence is enchantment,
You beg him not to go;
Old volumes shake their vellum heads
And tantalize, just so.


Thanks, Emily.

I also think of books as friends.  I especially like how she presents old books (like this one is–now there’s irony for you) as special travelers from times past.  When students groan about having to read Shakespeare, Homer, and Poe I feel a bit sorry for them.  They don’t know what they are missing!  They don’t realize that all that we have today comes from the past.  Those old voices speak truths that still hold today.  It seems teens only want to read about zombies and sparkling vampire boys.  They don’t realize that these contemporary stories were inspired by the likes of Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker–old timers.

Emily: When Plato was a certainty. And Sophocles a man;When Sappho was a living girl, And Beatrice wore The gown that Dante deified. Facts, centuries before

Me: I admit I am not up on these names like I should be.  My school doesn’t really dwell on old-time writing much.  Poor excuse, I know–I should look up what I don’t know myself. I highlighted the names in blue to remind me to look them up and to understand who these people are and that will help me to better understand why they were important enough to Emily to include them in her poem.

Standouts: Since this is a longer poem I caught that Emily has a knack for rhythm or flow.  There is a definite meter going on with this poem without it going all sing-songey. Some of the lines rhyme, but most don’t. She also chose particular words that lend an old-time charm to the poem: venerable, quaint, certainty, deified, traverses, vellum.

Edith: she checked the poem and what this means I don’t know–it must mean something and I count it as an annotation, so I included it.

Old books make for old friends–someone must have said that.