The lighthouse spark: a NaNoWriMo prompt

GOOD night! which put the candle out?
A jealous zephyr, not a doubt.
Ah! friend, you little knew
How long at that celestial wick
The angels labored diligent;
Extinguished, now, for you!

It might have been the lighthouse spark
Some sailor, rowing in the dark,
Had importuned to see!
It might have been the waning lamp
That lit the drummer from the camp
To purer reveille!

~Emily Dickinson

Happy National Novel Writing Month! Confession: I haven’t started yet. But. In honor of NaNoWriMo, today’s post is a prompt inspired by this poem for everyone out there NaNo-ing.

What is your character’s “lighthouse spark”? What is their compass, their north star, the thing that orients them? What if you take that thing away?

Dews & sands

Angels in the early morning
May be seen the dews among,
Stooping, plucking, smiling, flying:
Do the buds to them belong?

Angels when the sun is hottest 5
May be seen the sands among,
Stooping, plucking, sighing, flying;
Parched the flowers they bear along.

~Emily Dickinson

Over the past few weeks, our weather here in the Shenandoah Valley has fluctuated wildly, as per usual. The oppressive heat of August finally broke toward the end of the month. Storms lashed the mountains, spilling rain over the blue slopes of the Alleghenies.

Now the temperature is climbing again. The skies cleared by rain a day or two ago are clotted with white clouds piling on top of each other. (Sometimes, when I squint my eyes just so, I can imagine that the towering clouds are mountains, unbelievably tall, dwarfing the planet itself.)

Hurricane season is well underway, and it is strange to think that in this oppressive heat, a storm is barrelling down on us. The winds and rain in the Atlantic will strike us, dissipated a good bit, by the end of this week, tearing the first-golding leaves from walnut trees and flinging them in a damp scatter across still-green grass.

Autumn is coming. The flowers that are dew-soaked in the morning will soon be parched, or storm-torn. The wheel of the year spins on.

Rouge et noir

Soul, wilt thou toss again?
By just such a hazard
Hundreds have lost, indeed,
But tens have won an all.

Angels’ breathless ballot
Lingers to record thee;
Imps in eager caucus
Raffle for my soul.

~Emily Dickinson

The poem’s title, of course, is not Dickinson’s, but it’s evocative. This poem itself strikes me as very different from her usual style and theme. Though Dickinson often delves into darkness, the image of demonic little imps eagerly vying for her soul is a different shade of darkness.

Is she writing about herself? or is she being more philosophical, more general? I wonder what inspired this poem. It’s interesting that in the very first line, the speaker acknowledges that she’s already gambled her soul, at least once–“Soul, wilt thou toss again?” How did the first toss go? If you lose your soul once, can you gamble it again? If you win it once, is it possible to lose it after that?

It’s a strange poem, and raises so many more questions than it answers.