In which Pam reads the poem backwards, but to be fair, she is trapped under a sleeping child and typing one-handed

Did the harebell loose her girdle
To the lover bee,
Would the bee the harebell hallow
Much as formerly?

Did the paradise, persuaded,
Yield her moat of pearl,
Would the Eden be an Eden,
Or the earl an earl?

~Emily Dickinson

Brenna: Do you have any thoughts about the racy bee poem?

Pam: What is a harebell?

Brenna: A flower.

Pam: Only that this sounds like it was intended to be a tongue twister and I’m having trouble unpacking it!

It’s pretty!

Brenna: It is! It looks like bluebells.

I feel like all she’s saying is that if the harebell was easy to get, the bee would not appreciate it as much? I don’t know…do bees appreciate? I mean, bees are amazing, but I feel like she’s putting a LOT on them here. They seem like a stand-in metaphor for her…but for what? Humans in general?

Pam: Ooooooh that makes sense!!! I was reading it backwards and so confused!!

Brenna: LOL Backwards would definitely make it a tongue twister!

Pam: Right? But bees and flowers have a transactional relationship

Pathetic fallacy, Emily

Brenna: Yes! But she writes about them as if they don’t. As if bees are these lecherous parasites. But TBH she thinks bees are dudes, so there’s that.

Pam: What’s up with the earl?

Brenna: No. Idea. I get the heaven bit. If heaven was easily obtainable, would it really be heaven? But the earl….??? Is “earl” a metaphor for something of worth? I feel like she’s pushing really hard for the rhyme, which is weird because hello, Emily Dickinson, Queen of the Slant Rhyme.

Pam: Right?? Tongue twister. Or a pointed jab at someone.

Brenna: Ah! Maybe! Wasn’t there an earl in another one we read not too long ago? Or maybe I am making this up…Maybe she knew a guy named Earl??

Um, this is interesting: According to her, this is A Racy Poem. Also a feminist manifesto. And I have to say, as much as I love me a good feminist manifesto, I am having trouble as a feminist beekeeper going with this whole “bees as lecherous dudebros” metaphor.

Pam: Oh wow. Huh.

Brenna: Pam, can you imagine if Emily Dickinson had known that worker bees are all female? It would have BLOWN HER MIND. And changed half her poems.

Pam: I feel like this one might deserve a pic of a bee on a flower and that musing.

Brenna: LOL

Pam: How would her poems have changed if she’d known???

Brenna: She couldn’t have used bees as a metaphor for creepsters, for starters! And I wonder whether she’d have still used them to symbolize God in other poems. I feel like she’s maligning bees. Poor bees never did anything to Emily Dickinson. Unless she got stung a lot. Even so. Maybe she got burned by a beekeeper.

Pam: Maybe she was allergic to honey. Or hated the smell of beeswax candles.

Brenna: Is that even possible?

Pam: I don’t know.

Brenna: Should we call it a day? I am tempted to just copy/paste this whole convo without editing.

Pam: Do it. It’s perfect.

Take your power in your hand!

LIX
I took my power in my hand
And went against the world;
’T was not so much as David had,
But I was twice as bold.


I aimed my pebble, but myself
Was all the one that fell.
Was it Goliath was too large,
Or only I too small?

~Emily dickinson

Pam: April is making me feel like the speaker in this poem.

Brenna: SAME. April is already kicking my tail and it’s only ten days old.

Pam: Trying to do big things, being thwarted because in the end, I am too small. Remember when we thought March would be better than February??

Brenna: We were so young and innocent….

Pam: It makes me wonder if I’ll look as these months as Goliaths later in life.

Brenna: They feel like Goliaths to me now. But maybe the actual Goliath is lurking around the corner. That’s a depressing thought.

Pam: No no no, we’re only looking at current Goliaths!

Brenna: Ok, good! So. What are we to make of this poem? Is it a cautionary tale? I know it ends with her failure, but I’m kind of in love with those first couple lines. I want to take my power in my hand. That sounds like some serious magical badassery.

Pam: I think we can look at it two ways. Sure, it’s a failure. But do you stop at failure? Why write the poem, then? Maybe the speaker is trying to dissect this failure so that next time, they’ll have a different result.

Brenna: Ah, I like that! Why tell the tale of your failure if not for some greater purpose?

Pam: It’s too bold in the beginning for me to think that this is just about failure. Somebody who is taking power in their hand is not going to give up. Or at least, that’s my hope.

Brenna: So maybe she’s encouraging us. Even someone as small as herself (there’s Lil’ Emily again….) can defy a giant, so we can too!

Pam: Why is she always diminutive, do you think?

Brenna: It strikes me as a little weird. Did women value being small back then? I thought the ideal was statuesque. Is she being purposefully different? Going against the grain? Or highlighting how small she feels?

Pam: It seems like the kind of petty thing I would do if someone called me small. “You think I’m small? I’ll show you what small can do!” You knew this was coming, but the rhymes in this poem are interesting!

Brenna: Tell me more!

Pam: They’re close, but a little bit slanty, in stanza one. Hand/had, world/bold. And then stanza two blows it up a little bit! fell/small, sure. It’s slant, but it works. But myself/large? In no way does this even begin to rhyme! Is this meant to show us how very large she is not? The rhyme in that stanza is disjointed, and I’m wondering what, if anything, it has to tell us.

Brenna: She is feeling disjointed/small in comparison to the world?

Pam: Her rhyme is tighter when she’s about to act. She’s gathering power, slinging it. The rhyme comes undone after, when she’s lost

Brenna: Ooooh, that’s good! Yes! Just like the slingshot!

Pam: Yes! We are on it today. This is what I love about poetry. Everybody brings life experience to the table, and you can still choose to not accept the poem at face value. We choose to read this poem not about failure, but about talking yourself up for another try!

Broadcloth Breasts

LX
A shady friend for torrid days
Is easier to find
Than one of higher temperature
For frigid hour of mind.


The vane a little to the east
Scares muslin souls away;
If broadcloth breasts are firmer
Than those of organdy,


Who is to blame? The weaver?
Ah! the bewildering thread!
The tapestries of paradise
So notelessly are made!

~Emily dickinson

Pam: Oh, this one is oddn!It’s easier to find a shady friend on a hot day, than a warm friend on a cold one?

Brenna: I think so–“fair weather friends.” It’s easy to find friends who will stick with you when things are good. But those friends flee when they catch a whiff of trouble. And whose fault is it that some people are like this? God’s?? How weird! That is my paraphrase of this poem.

Pam: What are broadcloth breasts??

Brenna: I think broadcloth was cheaper/tougher than fine materials like organdy. More common. Less prestigious…but the less prestigious friends may be the better ones, the ones who are in it for the long haul. Just because someone looks pretty doesn’t mean they’re going to stick with you.

Pam: Fair. I get the broadcloth/organdy comparison. But. Breasts?

Brenna: “Breasts” because that’s where the heart is? But boy howdy, does that sound super-weird to modern ears.

Pam: It’s so bizarre. Like. Why not describe faces? Or hands? And muslin, of course, is both a fabric and the word you use for a test garment you make in order to insure that your pattern works.

Brenna: It is? I did not know that! Maybe the “muslin” friends, like the test garments, were never made to last.

Pam: Yes! I’m not sure how modern the terminology is to refer to test garments as muslins, but it’s used that way nowadays.

Brenna: I hope that meaning held back then–I think it adds a lot to the poem! Some friendships are never meant to last. They’re pleasant, surface relationships for pleasant, surface times. But when things get real, you need the broadcloth friends. The ones who will stick it out with you.

Pam: Ah! It’s so-called because garment makers typically used muslin, which was pretty cheap, to make the test garment. Then they could make the pattern again, with any adjustments, in the final material, which was probably more expensive. Yes! You want friends who can be made into sturdy bags. Not friends only good for party dresses.

Brenna: So maybe all friendships start as muslin ones? And some stand the test of time and become broadcloth. Some turn out to be organdy–pretty, but not lasting. Others just remain muslin. They never work out.

Pam: They’re basic friendships that don’t delve into anything deeper. Acquaintances, not kindred spirits.

Brenna: “Friends who can be made into sturdy bags”= my new favorite out-of-context quote.

Pam: You and I are BROADCLOTH.

Brenna: You know it!

Pam: I’m going to cross stitch that for you as a constant reminder of our weird friendship.

Brenna: That would be possibly the best gift of all time. You have to stitch it ON broadcloth.

Pam: GASP I DO

Brenna: Have we discussed this poem enough? I think we have. Thanks for the firm broadcloth breasts, Emily.

Practising sands

We play at paste,
Till qualified for pearl,
Then drop the paste,
And deem ourself a fool.
The shapes, though, were similar,
And our new hands
Learned gem-tactics
Practising sands.

~EMily dickinson

Brenna: Short and sweet!

Pam: I like short and sweet!

Brenna: Okay, let’s go!

Pam: Oh, I like this!

Brenna: Have you read this one before?

Pam: I haven’t! Have you?

Brenna: I was very familiar with the first four lines, but had somehow never read the last four! I must have seen them quoted somewhere.

Pam: This one is new to me!

Brenna: Excellent! So, let’s talk poem!

Pam: It makes me think of learning something new. Like, starting off with crayons if you’re learning to draw, then getting good enough to realize you’re terrible.

Brenna: Yes! I think, on a surface level, it’s about how the simple things we learn as children transfer to adulthood.

Pam: But you’ve still learned valuable skills. Yes!

Brenna: But I think there’s more to it than that. First of all, there’s the way that we judge our past, younger, less experienced selves–we deem ourselves fools for being psyched about things like learning to tie our own shoes.

Pam: Oh, excellent point.

Brenna: Then there’s the reversal–“the shapes, though, were similar.” Maybe we weren’t so foolish after all. It almost feels like there’s a teensy tinsy implied critique here of the pearls. Real gems are virtually indistinguishable from good copies. What are we really valuing? And then “our new hands.” It’s as if not only have we changed–we’ve actually become new. We are new people now. And then “gem-tactics.” I stinkin’ love that. It’s like a whole huge social commentary in one made-up, Emilyfied compound word. Women’s self-adorning=tactics.

Pam: I like the differences between the paste and the pearls. You can do so many things with paste–you can make art, fix things. Pearls can pretty much just be admired. The average person wouldn’t have a multitude of uses for them. But we value them more.

Brenna: And “gem-tactics” sounds like “gymnastics”–the ways in which we contort ourselves to fit into our roles as adult women. Oooh, good point! Paste is useful and more fun.

Pam: I think you have this poem’s number.

Brenna: I love your point about paste. Paste has a potential that pearls do not. They are done, no longer becoming.

Pam: What does “practising sands” mean, though?

Brenna: Ooooh, Pam!! Pearls are instigated by sand!

Pam: Gasp

Brenna: Sand is what makes pearls!!! TA-DAAAAA!!!

Pam: We are the pearls!!!

Brenna: We are! AND the sand! We are Every Woman. It’s all in us.

Pam: I love this!!!

Brenna: We carry within our adult selves the grains of our child selves. They may irritate, but they have made us what we are. DANG, Emily.

Pam: Incredibly profound. I really love this one!

Brenna: It’s a great one!

Pam: And from the outset, I thought, I have no clue what this means. I can’t figure this out. And in five minutes, you opened my eyes and now we get it. And we are pearls.

Brenna: We are SO pearls.

Alone

The wind tapped like a tired man,
And like a host, ‘Come in,’
I boldly answered; entered then
My residence within


A rapid, footless guest,
To offer whom a chair
Were as impossible as hand
A sofa to the air.


No bone had he to bind him,
His speech was like the push
Of numerous humming-birds at once
From a superior bush.


His countenance a billow,
His fingers, if he pass,
Let go a music, as of tunes
Blown tremulous in glass.


He visited, still flitting;
Then, like a timid man,
Again he tapped- ‘t was flurriedly-
And I became alone.

~Emily Dickinson

Pam: Is this really an entire poem about a gust of wind in her house?

Brenna: I think it is.

Pam: Emily.

Brenna: And, of course, the wind is a dude.

Pam: Emily.

Brenna: The wind taps like a tired man but then enters rapidly. I guess that’s the gusting? The wind lulls and then blows in fits and starts. That seems like a very March wind. My first question: how does one “hand a sofa” to someone?

Pam: Can I just say that you have got to be lonely as everything to be sad when the wind, your only visitor, leaves? Yes, she’s hitting us over the head with the “he is incorporeal” stuff.

Brenna: I love the description of his speech, though–“like the push of numerous hummingbirds.” And I like the reference to the glass instrument–is it the glass harmonica?

Pam: Oh, good question! I have no idea. I’ve never heard of a glass harmonica. I was thinking of water glasses, how you can fill them halfway and run your fingers around them rim to make them sing. But I imagine that you are closer to the truth! As always, I am wondering why the rhyme changes in the last stanza. “man/alone” disrupts the rather straightforward rhyme scheme in lines 2/4 of the previous stanzas (pass/glass, push/bush).

Brenna: Yes! That’s a glass harmonica! Benjamin Franklin invented it as a mechanized instrument, but it’s basically glasses. Okay, you have got to listen to one before we go any further.I am going to google right now.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQemvyyJ–gI just watched that. It’s gorgeous!!Isn’t it magical?I wonder if that’s what she’s referring to in the poem–it does sound like the wind!It’s gorgeous. I want this instrument in my daily life.Agreed.Back to rhyme scheme? Man/alone disrupts.Sounds about right.

Pam: Yep. It’s the nail in the coffin of “yes, I’m really alone,” which we can tell because the rhyme scheme is different–and there’s emphasis on the man in that particular rhyme scheme, so we’re left wondering about him, too.

Brenna: And “flurriedly.” Um. Emily. That is hard to say. And is it just me, or does “and I became alone” feel like a very weird way to put it? The contrast between the speaker “boldly” admitting the wind early in the poem, and the wind as “timid” near the end is interesting.

Pam: Yes! In the beginning she’s active–she boldly answers–and in the end she becomes alone, passive.

Brenna: Is she becoming like the wind? She isn’t alone until she knows she is.

Pam: I wonder if the conceit of this poem is what might happen if you thought you heard a knock at the door, but opened it to find only wind, and realized that you were lonelier than you’d originally imagined. Someone knocks, I’m excited because I think I have a visitor, I open the door–and it’s just the wind, and now I am definitely lonely.

Brenna: Yes. That seems spot on to me.

Pam: Boom. Poem cracked like a nut.

Brenna: You win! Shall we call it a day?

Pam: Let’s do.

April Can Go Suck a Lemon

Dear March – Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell –


I got your Letter, and the Birds –
The Maples never knew that you were coming –
I declare – how Red their Faces grew –
But March, forgive me –
And all those Hills you left for me to Hue –
There was no Purple suitable –
You took it all with you –


Who knocks? That April –
Lock the Door –
I will not be pursued –
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied –
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come


That blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame –

~Emily Dickinson
Why we are not as jazzed about March as Emily. Exhibit A: Alabama.

Brenna: The thing about this poem that interests me most is that she seems to want to prolong March, and is annoyed by the prospect of April cutting March short.

Pam: This makes me wonder what’s so wonderful about March in Massachusetts.

Brenna: This is an excellent question.

Pam: Because, let me be honest here, March in Alabama is absolutely horrific.

Brenna: March in New England has got to be rougher than March in Virginia, too.

Why we are not as jazzed about March as Emily: Exhibit B: Virginia.

Pam: We had deadly tornadoes on Sunday and we’ve had a ridiculous amount of rain and today it’s 30ish degrees outside with a windchill in the 20s.

Brenna: I did google the red maples, and it turns out that they do briefly turn red in spring before they turn green. But March is NOT a friendly month. It’s freezing here today–lows in the teens this week.

Pam: Perhaps the best thing about March is that February is over?

Brenna: March is breathless–that’s a great description–but it isn’t kind.

Pam: So at least there’s the hope of nicer weather ahead, and green growing things?

Brenna: Yes!I have noticed on walks lately that the birds are singing differently. March is the promise of spring, even if it’s not here yet. And the chickweed and wild onions are green, even if nothing else is yet.

Pam: We have a tremendous amount of growing things. Daffodils are almost done here, actually; they started blooming in the last week of February. The tulip trees are going bonkers. Grass is greening up. But this ridiculous, ridiculous cold weather is 100% February and I am sick of it. I suppose the annoying thing about April is that February does all the work of getting to spring, and then April takes over right as things are getting good.

Brenna: So in March, spring is imminent, but we’re not out of the woods yet.
Why is she so reluctant to let April in?Is it something specific about March? Maybe it’s March’s storminess. We’ve talked before about how cold and storms seem to serve as her metaphors for passion, and March is a passionate kind of month meteorologically.

Pam: She’s a little bit scandalous about March, too, isn’t she? Taking it right inside and upstairs and closing the door?

Brenna: Yes! Emily and March–get a room!! It’s as if March and April are suitors. April has stayed away for a year. April is the guy you’re secretly in love with who’s completely uninterested in you until you have a boyfriend, and then he makes a move.

Pam: And, interesting–although of course she had nothing to do with this–the next poem begins “We like March.” We do like March!

Brenna: We LOVE March because IT IS NOT FEBRUARY.

Pam: YES. In Huntsville, we wish that March would stop trying to be February. We feel a little bit like March and February divorced, and we’re spending our week with February before we get a weekend with March. So maybe March is not necessarily her first choice, but she is not going to let April know that.

Brenna: That is a fantastically apt description. Maybe she is angry at April for being absent so long, and so she’s trying to make it jealous by taking March upstairs.

Pam: Beginnings are so fun, aren’t they? When you see the first daffodil shoots, and the first bulbs about to open. And at least here, April doesn’t get any of that. So maybe it’s that March is doing the work for spring and April just gets to breeze on in and take up the mantle, and she’s resentful.

Brenna: As the daughter who stayed home and never married, I can see that resonating with her. Oh, no, wait, Lavinia didn’t get married, either: https://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/lavinia_dickinson This is fascinating. Apparently, Lavinia burned Emily’s letters, as Emily requested, but Emily left no instructions about the poems. So the publication of the poems was not in any way counter to Emily’s wishes, as far as anyone can tell.

Pam: What was in the letters, though??

Brenna: Who knows??? But I don’t want anyone reading my letters after I’m dead!!

Pam: Same, but I want to read Emily’s.

Brenna: I always feel weird reading famous people’s letters.

Pam: I understand this is selfish. But Lavinia, WHY?

Brenna: Because Emily said, and she was the oldest sister, and apparently Lavinia was devoted to her. BUT. Did Lavinia read them before burning them??

Pam: Lavinia. What did you know??

Brenna: I’m poking around online and finding references to Dickinson’s letters that suggest that some of them are still out there. ???

Pam: WE MUST FIND THESE LETTERS

Brenna: https://www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/letters

Pam: How do we get these letters??

Brenna: Any conclusions about this poem?

Pam: April can go suck a lemon.

Brenna: I think that sums it up nicely.

Stop now!

APOCALYPSE

I’m wife; I’ve finished that,
That other state;
I’m Czar, I’m woman now:
It’s safer so.


How odd the girl’s life looks
Behind this soft eclipse!
I think that earth seems so
To those in heaven now.


This being comfort, then
That other kind was pain;
But why compare?
I’m wife! stop there!

~Emily Dickinson

Brenna: Pam. We already did this one. SIGH

Wait, no. We did not.

Pam: lol

Brenna: I did the one AFTER it.

Pam: Well, I still have no idea what is happening.

Brenna: Okay. “Apocalypse.” !! That’s not ominous.

Pam: END of the WorLd

Brenna: Who the hell titled this poem??

Pam: That is a wonderful question. If she’s wife, what has she finished?

Brenna: Being a little girl. And it’s weird that she finds being a wife “safer.” RUN, EMILY. IT IS NOT SAFE. DANGER, WILL ROBINSON.

Pam: We know that she was not a wife. Am I meant to assume some other narrator? Is she being obscure for the heck of it? Is she a nun? Is she married to God? What is HAPPENING I seriously do not know.

Brenna: She likes to write as if she’s a wife. From a wife’s perspective.

Pam: Why? Please school me.

Brenna: I guess for the reason any poet writes from any other perspective?Also it could be a God poem. Or a dude poem. Either one. I think she must have liked imagining she was married. Imagining is for sure safer.

Pam: Okay, so: she’s wife now. She’s Czar, so she gets to be in charge, unlike in her unwedded state.

Brenna: I think she’s writing from the perspective of a married woman. She’s left behind childhood, girlhood. Where it gets weird for me is her assertion that being a wife is safer.

Pam: Yes! How is this safer?

Brenna: Wives die in childbirth. It’s not safer, Emily!!

Pam: I was just typing that!! Safer economically, perhaps, assuming the husband is a decent provider?

Brenna: Maybe it’s safer because now she’s in a relationship? Now she’s married and no longer searching. She’s a “heart in port,” safe from the tempestuous passion of “wild nights” and from temptation? And then she reflects on how strange childhood looks from her womanly perspective, and that makes sense to me. It’s surreal to take on an adult role. I wonder how many of us ever really feel fully adult. I remember my mom telling me that when she was married with young children, she used to sometimes look around in a daze and wonder where the grownups were.

Pam: The way she describes the two states is very interesting to me. We have wife, czar, woman, and safer vs. that and that other state.

Brenna: Yes! super interesting and weird. And “czar” is a male role. So by becoming a wife she’s become a man? Because she’s joined with a man?

Pam: And that last rhyming couplet is such a childlike thing to say!

Brenna: It is! It’s like she reverts at the end.

Pam: There’s this image of the grownup married woman saying these ridiculously simple rhymes.

Brenna: And I think that’s telling.

Pam: Yes! It subverts the idea that marriage = adult, grownup, more wise. It’s like the person who tells you how incredibly humble they are.

Brenna: “This being comfort, then/ That other kind was pain”. This is a weird thought. “Because marriage is comfort, then it logically follows that childhood was NOT comfort.” It’s like she’s trying to convince herself with bad logic. So there’s this reversal. The wife doth protest too much. She opens with “It’s so great to be a wife!” but then flip flops at the end. “It MUST be great to be a wife because everybody says so and I’m supposed to want this.”

Pam: Yes! We have to wonder who the audience is, if it’s not just the speaker saying these things to convince herself.

Brenna: “But why compare?/ I’m wife! Stop there!” It’s as if, looking back at childhood from her current reality of marriage, which is supposed to be better, she’s trying to tell us that it’s not better. But as a wife, she’s not allowed to say that. She has to make it sound good, but she has serious reservations. She has to shut herself up so she doesn’t say what she’s really thinking. I wonder…is this Emily trying to convince herself that it’s better to remain single??

Pam: Or, at least, to show us that being a wife doesn’t mean that your problems go away.

Brenna: Hell no they do not go away. You just end up with kids who get the plague and then you are stuck at home cleaning things and cooking soup and going out of your mind. Of course it is possible that my current mental state is coloring my reading of this poem… Maybe the speaker is imagining what it’s like to be a wife. She wonders if she’s missing anything. She thinks at first that she is–comfort, stability, a steady relationship to depend on. But as she thinks about it, she realizes what she’s losing.

Pam: Yes! I think this is why the rhyme scheme switches in the last stanza, too.

Brenna: I love reversals in poems. I geek out about this kind of thing.

Pam: She’s exploring in the first two stanzas, and in the last she’s come to a decision–but it’s not the one she expected. This may be why she reverts to this more childlike rhyme scheme; the first two stanzas are still AABB, but they are very, very loose rhymes. You can’t tell me that anybody, even in the 1800s, actually thought that that/state was anything other than a slant rhyme. But we have perfect rhyme in compare/there. Your current mental state is RELEVANT to this poem.

Brenna: I love how you always bring it back to the rhyme scheme. I forget to do that.

Pam: I can’t help but to check the rhyme scheme first every time.
What do you think? Have we done it justice?

Brenna: I think we have done it all the justice we can possibly do it at this moment. Stop there!

In which we are not sure whether this is actually a love poem:

IX


Have you got a brook in your little heart,
Where bashful flowers blow,
And blushing birds go down to drink,
And shadows tremble so?


And nobody, knows, so still it flows,
That any brook is there;
And yet your little draught of life
Is daily drunken there.


Then look out for the little brook in March,
When the rivers overflow,
And the snows come hurrying from the hills,
And the bridges often go.


And later, in August it may be,
When the meadows parching lie,
Beware, lest this little brook of life
Some burning noon go dry!

~Emily Dickinson

Brenna, haphazardly choosing today’s poem: On page 18, IX strikes me as kind of a weirdo one.”Have you got a brook in your little heart.” WHY DOES THIS MAKE ME LAUGH

Pam: Let me flip over. I’ve lost my book. Give me a minute!0

Brenna: I shall paraphrase for you thusly: Your love is a little brook. It is smol and secret. But in March WATCH OUT, PASSION and other things polite nineteenth-century ladies only speak of via euphemism. But then by August, your love is dried up and DEAD and everything Emily Dickinson writes is about DEATH.

Pam: Oh my goodness. Flipping over now.

Brenna: I may be feeling a little punchy…

Pam: I think punchy is the right way to approach this one.”Have you got a brook in your little heart” Emily what even. Everything is bashful and blushing and trembling!

Brenna: Usually she reserves “little” as an epithet for herself, but here it’s second person. But I still get the feeling she’s talking to/about herself.And if you don’t watch out, you will be Overcome! And then die.When your love is in full flood, it will take out bridges!! Beware!!

Pam: I absolutely think she’s talking about herself, and that’s what cracks me up the most. It’s disguised to look humble and it’s doing the exact opposite. Look at me, I am so dainty and I have this very tiny love, which I am shouting about in a poem!

Brenna: YES. My love is very smol and cute and dainty, but then it gets huge and ragingly powerful and it will TAKE YOU DOWN. And then it dies.

Pam: Are you also reading the torrents of March as just inexpressibly huge lust? Is that just me? I’m honestly equating this with the animals going twitterpated in Bambi. Spring = birds and bees!

Brenna: I am reading this exactly the same way. Spring=innocent puppy love. March=lust. It will destroy you and everything else in its path. August=you are OLD and DRIED UP and love is no longer for you. So there!!

Pam: Exactly!!We have the cold in this poem, too! The snows hurrying from the hills. What were you saying about cold in Dickinson’s poems?

Brenna: Cold=passion. Aha!! It still holds true! My Cold Theory of Dickinson!!

Pam: It’s an I Am Very Special poem.

Brenna: It is! It strikes me that rather a lot of her poems are “I Am Very Special” poems. Like Poe, who wrote that from earliest childhood he was totally and completely unlike anyone else. There is so freaking much exceptionalism in poetry. Maybe just American poetry?? Or maybe white people poetry…

Pam: I honestly think it’s just a poet characteristic. I’m not going to say I’m also like that, but I’m also like that. I think if you didn’t have such an inflated sense of self-worth, you’d probably choose a saner career than poet.

Brenna: Is that why we write? Then how do we explain the constant and crippling self-doubt?? She had it too! Why are we paradoxes???

Pam: I think being a writer makes one automatically a parodox. So what do we do with this wilting flower?

Brenna: Hmmm…..Well, let me ask you this– Do you have a brook in YOUR little heart, hmm? Why is this even in the “Love” section? We’re only assuming it’s love because it’s in that section, but this could be ANYTHING. I don’t know what to do with this weirdo poem. Maybe we post it along with a single question–what on earth does she mean??

Pam: Oh, goodness. I don’t have a brook in my heart. My heart is composed primarily of lost socks and pizza.

Brenna: I want to laugh and cry at the same time, that is so true. Lost socks and pizza….yes….It’s the freaking METER. The meter is what makes this poem so very especially weird. Meter and rhyme scheme. It sounds like one of those horrible poems written just to rhyme.

Pam: YES. The poem bends itself in knots to fit the rhyme.

At this point, dear reader, we just gave up.

Elysium

IV


ELYSIUM is as far as to
The very nearest room,
If in that room a friend await
Felicity or doom.


What fortitude the soul contains,
That it can so endure
The accent of a coming foot,
The opening of a door!

~Emily Dickinson

Pam: Elysium can be really near if there’s a friend in it?

Brenna: This one is small yet fascinating. I don’t know what to make of this, but it’s interesting to me that the speaker poses two possibilities for the friend–“felicity or doom”–but only one for what that means to the speaker herself–“elysium.” What if the friend meets doom? This is the Schrodinger’s cat of Emily Dickinson poems–as long as you don’t know whether the friend is meeting felicity or doom, the room contains heaven. And doom. But heaven!

Pam: The speaker is in heaven because there’s a friend nearby. But there’s little regard for the friend’s situation.

Brenna: And how that affects the speaker. So very Emily. Heaven can be in the next room if the friend’s fate turns out well. But if not….she doesn’t offer the alternative. Perhaps it is too painful to consider.

Pam: And the second stanza seems to switch. Now it’s the friend enduring as they’re waiting for the door to open.

Brenna: Oh, I see how you’re reading it–if a friend is nearby, that’s heaven.

Pam: Yes! How do you read it?

Brenna: I read it as, “My friend is in the next room awaiting their fate. Heaven is possibly in that room–if all turns out well for them.” And I read the fortitude as hers while she waits to find out what will happen to the friend.

Pam: Oh, I see! Elysium is friend A going to comfort friend B, who is awaiting fate! That makes far more sense.

Brenna: I hate to say it, but either way she comes across as a bit of a jerk. It’s all about her.

Pam: She does! She’s fond of these tricky constructions, isn’t she?

Brenna: She does love her some convolution in tiny spaces. It’s very pat-myself-on-the-back. Humblebrag!! Emily mastered it long before social media. Reading an Emily Dickinson poem is like crawling around in a very tiny cave.

Pam: See, I read the fortitude as the friend’s awaiting the speaker.

Brenna: Oh, I read it as her waiting to find out–did the friend meet felicity or doom?

Pam: I love how we have such different readings for this short poem. That’s the magic of poetry. We get out what we put in. It can mean what we need it to mean.

Brenna: Yes! Either way you read it, though, she really doesn’t come across so well, does she? “My friend is in an agony of waiting for their own doom but THIS IS ABOUT ME.”

Pam: It is SO HARD when my friend is worrying.

Brenna: You’re having a bad day and that is so rough on me. But maybe I’m totally misreading. What if the elysium, too, is the friend’s perspective? “There could be heaven or hell in this room for my friend.” And then the second stanza, as you were saying, also makes sense from the friend’s perspective. She really does not exactly specify whose perspective this even is. EMILY. Is this poem about her wait, or her friend’s? Is it confusing on purpose? Does she mean for it to be read both ways?? Is the poem, perhaps, saying that when a friend suffers, we suffer, too, and so she actually confuses us as to perspective to create the illusion of being actually IN that situation?? Is she that meta??

What do you think?

Say!

XI


MY river runs to thee:
Blue sea, wilt welcome me?


My river waits reply.
Oh sea, look graciously!


I’ll fetch thee brooks
From spotted nooks,—


Say, sea,
Take me!

~Emily Dickinson

We had fun discussing this weird little poem, but our conversation took a number of twists and turns, including a digression in the direction of The Golden Girls, so instead of that conversation, we’re offering you a prompt born of our discussion.

As we make our way through Emily Dickinson’s poems, we often find ourselves wondering about her life. Why write poems if you never want anyone to read them? Why write poems to the beloved if you never intend to deliver them?

And so, today’s prompt: Write a love poem that reads like no one is intended to read it, and then share it with the world! Preferably via the comments section below. 😉