IT tossed and tossed,—
A little brig I knew,—
O’ertook by blast,
It spun and spun,
And groped delirious, for morn.

It slipped and slipped,
As one that drunken stepped;
Its white foot tripped,
Then dropped from sight.

Ah, brig, good-night
To crew and you;
The ocean’s heart too smooth, too blue,
To break for you.

~Emily Dickinson

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Dickinson’s oeuvre is full of shipwreck poems. A ship is always a good metaphor, and she uses them frequently. So, November is shipwreck month here at The Emily Project. This is the season of hurricanes and storms. Last night, the wind rose and knocked everything about the yard. It was a veritable tempest for Halloween night.

In this poem, the storm has overwhelmed the ship that seems “drunk” and “delirious” from its battle with the waves. The last stanza is where Dickinson really gets to the meat of this poem–the ocean (nature? the divine??) doesn’t really care about any of us. We are insignificant, in the grand scheme of things. Yet that hasn’t stopped the speaker from valuing the little craft and its crew, their struggles on the deep. The meaning we find in our lives is meaning we make for ourselves, not anything conferred upon us from without. The universe may not note or care what we do, but we can value human effort and struggle, and feel for those who are lost.

Is Heaven a physician?

IS Heaven a physician?
They say that He can heal;
But medicine posthumous
Is unavailable.

Is Heaven an exchequer?
They speak of what we owe;
But that negotiation
I ’m not a party to.

~Emily Dickinson

For today’s poem, a prompt: compare a place or state of being to a person, as Dickinson does in this poem with Heaven and a physician/an exchequer. It’s an odd comparison, but it works. What place or state of being can you compare to a human being in a way that unpacks some of its significance?

Infinite to venture

Finite to fail, but infinite to venture.
For the one ship that struts the shore
Many’s the gallant, overwhelmed creature
Nodding in navies nevermore.

~Emily Dickinson

I love this one. The opening line is perfection–it perfectly captures something fundamental about human nature. We are made to try. The rest of the poem serves as a commentary and qualifier of this epigrammatic opening. For each individual success, there are whole navies of failures.

I just spent WAY too much time tracking down this column I chanced across yesterday, so I’m calling it quits for now and leaving you with that. Go out there and fail like a champ!

Prompt: The wind

Of all the sounds despatched abroad,
There ’s not a charge to me
Like that old measure in the boughs,
That phraseless melody

The wind does, working like a hand 5
Whose fingers comb the sky,
Then quiver down, with tufts of tune
Permitted gods and me.

When winds go round and round in bands,
And thrum upon the door, 10
And birds take places overhead,
To bear them orchestra,

I crave him grace, of summer boughs,
If such an outcast be,
He never heard that fleshless chant 15
Rise solemn in the tree,

As if some caravan of sound
On deserts, in the sky,
Had broken rank,
Then knit, and passed 20
In seamless company.

~Emily Dickinson

There’s so much loveliness in this poem–the wind as music permitted to be heard by both gods and humans; the “fleshless chant,”; the “caravan of sound”…….I could wax rhapsodic about this one. I love how Dickinson literally breaks ranks with her own stanza length by throwing in an extra line in the final stanza where she describes the wind as a caravan breaking rank.

But today’s post is not me geeking out or being baffled by another Dickinson poem. It’s a prompt for you.

What visceral effect does the wind have on you? Is it thrilling? Unnerving? Uplifting? Write a poem or paragraph in which you tease out that feeling through simile and metaphor à la Dickinson.

Summer dew

A dew sufficed itself
And satisfied a leaf,
And felt, “how vast a destiny!
How trivial is life!”

The sun went out to work,
The day went out to play,
But not again that dew was seen
By physiognomy.

Whether by day abducted,
Or emptied by the sun
Into the sea, in passing,
Eternally unknown.

~Emily Dickinson

Summer mornings in the Valley are dew-soaked and sparkling. As the sun climbs the arc of the sky, its heat burns away the liquid diamonds. Shaded, they linger for hours, but in the direct light of the sun, the moon’s tears dissipate quickly.

We are the dew of Dickinson’s poem, so certain in our smallness, our ephemerality. We suffice ourselves; we believe we are the answer to our own questions, the center of our own orbits. Like the dew, though, we vanish. What do we leave behind? And where do we go? What happens to the dew? Is it “by day abducted”–does it evaporate back into the same changeless cycle, or will it at last find the sea?

That Dickinson uses the phrase “in passing” suggests that the sun’s dropping of the dew into the sea is a casual gesture, offhanded. The dew that was so sufficient unto itself is, to the sun, a literal drop in the ocean. A drop of dew, to itself, is everything. In the vastness of the sea, it becomes nothing, eternally unknown.

And yet what is the sea but drops of water, gathered together from across a spinning planet, across lifetimes and ages, across space and time, all things coming together in one great final infinity?

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.