Called to my full

I ’m ceded, I ’ve stopped being theirs;
The name they dropped upon my face
With water, in the country church,
Is finished using now,
And they can put it with my dolls,
My childhood, and the string of spools
I ’ve finished threading too.

Baptized before without the choice,
But this time consciously, of grace
Unto supremest name,
Called to my full, the crescent dropped,
Existence’s whole arc filled up
With one small diadem.

My second rank, too small the first,
Crowned, crowing on my father’s breast,
A half unconscious queen;
But this time, adequate, erect,
With will to choose or to reject,
And I choose—just a throne.

~Emily Dickinson
Image by Peter de Vink via Pexels.

I’ve always read this as a love poem–specifically a poem about marriage. I’ve never been a huge fan of most love poems, and Dickinson’s make me uncomfortable sometimes, particularly when they extol the glories of being married, as if marriage is the completion of a woman. But rereading this now, I wonder if it really has to be a love poem. Maybe…the metaphors and language certainly work for marriage. But ultimately, if it is a love poem, it’s a weird one. There’s no mention of the beloved. The only man in the poem, the only other individual other than the speaker, is the father, who perhaps is just a father but maybe stands in here, too, for God himself.

If that’s the case–if the “father” is God–then this becomes a very different poem. The speaker is making a break from the religion and conventions with which she’s been raised. The end of childhood here is no cause for nostalgia, but the embrace of freedom.

In the middle of the poem, I’m intrigued by the reference to the moon–“Called to my full, / The crescent dropped.” She is living into her full potential, her true, unobscured state.

As the poem continues, the speakers uses the language of royalty and power–“rank,” “queen,” “throne”–and we get a sense that this is not so much a poem about love as personal power. Maybe, if it’s a love poem at all, it’s a love poem to herself, to the changes that have empowered her, brought her to where she is.

I think I like it a lot better this way.

love//pain

YOU left me, sweet, two legacies,—
A legacy of love
A Heavenly Father would content,
Had He the offer of;

You left me boundaries of pain 5
Capacious as the sea,
Between eternity and time,
Your consciousness and me.

~Emily Dickinson

On Thursday night, I wound up in the emergency room. I’ve had my share of ER visits, all of which were scarier than this one. This time, my back gave out on me and the pain was so intense I passed out. My G.P.’s after-hours doctor said that I needed to go to the ER, so I went. It’s nothing life-threatening, nothing super-serious–but it’s the most blindingly, breathtakingly awful pain I’ve ever experienced.

I’m doing much better now, out of pain and taking it easy as my back heals. Of course, I’m thinking about pain, and disposed to take Dickinson’s words on the subject quite literally.

My ER diagnosis is sacroiliac joint dysfunction. This is pretty common, apparently, particularly among women. The first cause listed on my discharge instructions? Pregnancy. I cannot think of a more visceral link between pain and love.

I’m about 200% sure that this Emily Dickinson poem is not about having children and the love and pain that are inextricably alchemized through that process, but right now, that’s where I’m at with this poem–that’s what it holds for me in this moment. And I don’t think it really matters–what Dickinson’s getting at is that pain is part of love, that pain and love are equally products of our relationships with one another. There can be no love without the possibility for pain, and I’ve never heard of a pain-free relationship that was worth anything.

Words of encouragement

Read, sweet, how others strove,
Till we are stouter;
What they renounced,
Till we are less afraid;
How many times they bore
The faithful witness,
Till we are helped,
As if a kingdom cared!

Read then of faith
That shone above the fagot;
Clear strains of hymn
The river could not drown;
Brave names of men
And celestial women,
Passed out of record
Into renown!

~Emily Dickinson

There is something rather un-Emily like about this poem. I don’t know if it’s that she usually isn’t trying to buck anybody up, or if it’s the more straightforward voice, or the address at the beginning, which sounds somehow more sonnet-y than usual.

Your prompt is to write some words of encouragement, and put them somewhere to be found and read.

A timely reminder

I had no time to hate, because
The grave would hinder me,
And life was not so ample I
Could finish enmity.

Nor had I time to love; but since
Some industry must be,
The little toil of love, I thought,
Was large enough for me.

~Emily Dickinson

The world seems so hate-filled lately. The news is full of accusations and phobic people, the internet is full of trolls, and people “unfriend” each other over online spats.

But who has time for that?

Life is short. There’s barely enough time to love anybody, let alone hate. Love is enough to keep anyone busy for a lifetime.

A little love song for summer

Summer for thee grant I may be
When summer days are flown!
Thy music still when whippoorwill
And oriole are done!

For thee to bloom, I ’ll skip the tomb
And sow my blossoms o’er!
Pray gather me, Anemone,
Thy flower forevermore!

~Emily Dickinson

Peak Emily. A lovely little love song for summer, in which the poet cannot resist inserting the inevitability of death. Happy reading!

Heaven below

Who has not found the heaven below
Will fail of it above.
God’s residence is next to mine,
His furniture is love.

~Emily Dickinson

Dickinson often seems to be dancing on or just over the edge of blasphemy. Heaven on earth? God’s residence here, among us? Yet there’s a lot of food for thought here, and in some ways the thrust of this poem is theologically extremely sound. We must make the world we wish for, and if heaven is our aspiration, well, that means we have our work cut out for us. If we don’t find heaven now, will we ever? And if we don’t recognize the divine in the midst of the profane, how will we ever recognize it at all?

Resurrection

’T WAS a long parting, but the time
For interview had come;
Before the judgment-seat of God,
The last and second time


These fleshless lovers met,
A heaven in a gaze,
A heaven of heavens, the privilege
Of one another’s eyes.


No lifetime set on them,
Apparelled as the new
Unborn, except they had beheld,
Born everlasting now.


Was bridal e’er like this?
A paradise, the host,
And cherubim and seraphim
The most familiar guest.

~Emily dickinson

This one is titled “Resurrection” in my copy of Dickinson’s poems. “Perfect for Easter!” I thought, and then, “Oh, come on, Emily,” when I read it and saw that it is actually a love poem. Just when you think she can only write about death (or orioles) she takes death and turns it into a poem about undying love.

But then, when you think about it, isn’t that what Easter is–a love story?