Tag Archives: Suicide

The Emily Project: Part One/Life–Poem IX (The Heart Asks Pleasure First)

Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts...

Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst, Massachusetts – side view of Emily Dickinson’s house. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Emily Project is my attempt to better understand The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (Little, Brown, and Company–1929 edition) through the annotations left by a previous owner, Edith S.  Not all poems will be covered, only the ones which Edith left a commentary.  This edition contains 613 poems. I don’t think this is all of her poems because I read somwhere she had written close to 1,800 poems during her lifetime. This project  is by no means a scholarly work.  That would be embarrassing since I have just recently became aware of Emily D through our English unit on poetry.  Instead, this will be an exploration through the silent guiding of Edith, who must have been an Emily fan.

I have decided to not  go running to all those perfectly wonderful and informative sites and books that are available on Emily Dickinson.  Why? Isn’t this all about trying to understand her works better?  Exactly.  When I want to enjoy a bowl of frozen yogurt I don’t go running to the Internet and check out everybody’s opinion and I absolutely don’t read all about the ingredients.  Nope.  I simply look at all the flavors and select according to my whim.  So it shall be with Emily’s poems.  I will sample–a nibbling, a tasting a relishing of her many poems, and with the help of Edith, who savored them long before I came along, I will come away that much more enriched.

I guess that all would be considered the prologue.  Here is the first poem marked by Edith.

The heart asks pleasure first,
And then, excuse from pain;
And then, those little anodynes
That deaden suffering;

And then, to go to sleep;
And then, if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor,
The liberty to die.

Edith: “written before or during 1862”
Me: What happened in 1862?
What are anodynes?
Why is Inquisitor capitalized?

Okay, so I had to go to the Internet after all.  I clicked on http://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/timeline and discovered she had begun a correspondence with a Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a writer and a social activist.  I have a feeling he is important to Emily D. I will investigate further on him.

anodynes  plural of an·o·dyne (Noun)

  1. A pain-killing drug or medicine.
  2. Something that alleviates a person’s mental distress.

People wanted to escape pain back then as much as we do today, although anodyne sounds much nicer than popping a pill. It sounds like her pain related more to her heart than her body. I can relate to that. Sometimes the heart hurts so much from whatever emotion we are going through such as, grief, anger or love, that it affects the entire body.

Inquisitor.  What an odd word to use.  The only thing I come up with is from my history class when we studied about the Inquisition–not a great time.  If someone asked you a question you had better come up with a good answer. Relying on my fabulous grammar skills I know capitalized nouns mean a proper name.  I’m thinking she is referring to God as the Inquisitor, and if that is the case, she must see Him as having the power to release her from the pain she sees Him as giving her.  Poor Emily.  She must have been miserable.

Overall: Emily hits it so well–we want pleasure first and escape from pain and will find ways to deaden our hurts, even to the point (for some people) of wanting to die to relieve the pain.  God is the one who can release us of that extreme pain.

Edith picked a pretty deep poem for me to start out on.  This one has really given me something to think about.  The line “The liberty to die” stands out to me. I hear Emily saying there is freedom in death and that death can only come from God.  Was Emily thinking of suicide?

I may have bitten off more than I initially thought.  Emily Dickinson is a pretty complicated lady.  Maybe this would have been easier if I had come across a collection of annotated Robert Frost poems.

 I found this beautiful piano piece by Michael Nyman entitled “The Heart Asks Pleasure First.” I definitely thinks it goes with the poem. Check it out on YouTube.http://youtu.be/u83xIXliIXY