The end.

Went up a year this evening!
I recollect it well!
Amid no bells nor bravos
The bystanders will tell!
Cheerful, as to the village,
Tranquil, as to repose,
Chastened, as to the chapel,
This humble tourist rose.
Did not talk of returning,
Alluded to no time
When, were the gales propitious,
We might look for him;
Was grateful for the roses
In life’s diverse bouquet,
Talked softly of new species
To pick another day.
Beguiling thus the wonder,
The wondrous nearer drew;
Hands bustled at the moorings—
The crows respectful grew.
Ascended from our vision
To countenances new!
A difference, a daisy,
Is all the rest I knew!

~Emily Dickinson
Image by Matej via Pexels.

This is it–the final post of The Emily Project. A little over a year ago, looking forward at the prospect of a fresh, crisp 2019, I wanted to find a book of daily poetry for the year–by a woman. I looked, and looked, and found exactly…nothing. Sure that I was missing something, I complained to my friend Pam. She said, essentially, hang on. When she popped back into our chat, she hadn’t found anything either. But we could create our own poem-a-day blog, she suggested. And so, The Emily Project was born.

When we began, we alternated posts. Sometimes we wrote joint posts as dialogues. I always learned the most from those. Pam is a talented poet, and has a way of seeing all the nuances I miss. After a month or so, we figured out a posting schedule. We really had no idea what we were doing, aside from posting an Emily Dickinson poem a day.

Of course, life intervened, as it does. Sick kids and work schedules and general life drama intervened. The stresses of daily life intervened. I’ve been flying solo on this project since some time in April. Some days I’ve had epiphanies about poems I had read many times but never fully understood. A lot of times, I slapped poems up on the blog with only cursory comments. But the comments were never the point. The idea was to create something that didn’t exist, something that needed to–a “book” of poems by a female poet, with one poem chosen more or less carefully for the day.

Perhaps my biggest achievement of this project was that selection. Some of the poems are the well-known ones, the oft-anthologized ones. But many of them are hidden gems, poems I’d never heard of before. Often these became my favorites. Emily Dickinson’s mind is a weird, wonderful, vast expanse.

I’m still reflecting on this project–I probably will be for a long time. I’m a slow processor. I’ve also never been good at daily endeavors–the kind of continuous practice many people engage in, in which they do A Thing every. single. day. I admire these people and their practices. I’ve just never been good at this stuff. I let everything else get in the way. Maybe it’s because I’m a slow processor–doing something Every Single Day doesn’t always allow me the time I need to mull over a day’s doings. I’m not sure. I’m still processing that, too.

I didn’t always post poems on time. Sometimes I’d have to backtrack several days at a time. This post, which should have been December 31st’s, is getting written at 11:50 p.m. on January 1st because I got massively sick to my stomach just in time for New Year’s Eve. My excuses are not always so good. But. The important thing is this: this blog now contains an Emily Dickinson poem for each day of the year.

I am grateful for the roses in life’s diverse bouquet. And I am only 23 hours and 59 minutes late in posting this last post, dangit.

Happy New Year! Thanks for joining me at whatever point on this journey.

Wonderful rotation

Frequently the woods are pink,
Frequently are brown;
Frequently the hills undress
Behind my native town.

Oft a head is crested
I was wont to see,
And as oft a cranny
Where it used to be.

And the earth, they tell me,
On its axis turned,—
Wonderful rotation
By but twelve performed!

~Emily Dickinson
Image by Valentin Antonucci via Pexels.

Another wonderfully Emily poem. The first stanza is completely comprehensible. Spring, autumn, and winter come again and again. The cycles of nature repeat. So far so good.

The second stanza gets more riddle-y. “Oft a head is crested” that the speaker is used to seeing. What is the head? Is it the head of an actual person, or is she talking about something else? Probably something else, because often there’s a cranny where it used to be. I’m not sure exactly what the “head” here is, but it’s still clear she’s talking about change over time. Often she sees something familiar, but as often it’s gone.

“And the earth, they tell me, / On its axis turned” is a wonderful way of capturing the feeling we all have at the swift passage of time. The speaker describes herself as outside the common knowledge, needing to be told that this magic of change is the work of the world turning. This “Wonderful rotation” is performed by only twelve–the months.

I love the riddling quality of this poem, all the little nuances of the speaker’s character, her awed response to the change of seasons that most of us generally take completely for granted. It seems a fitting poem for the second-to-last day of the year.

Ancestor of dawn

The mountain sat upon the plain
In his eternal chair,
His observation omnifold,
His inquest everywhere.

The seasons prayed around his knees,
Like children round a sire:
Grandfather of the days is he,
Of dawn the ancestor.

~Emily Dickinson
Image via Aron Visuals, Pexels.

My favorite Dickinson poems are the ones like this–close observations of nature couched in fresh language, glimpses into the way Dickinson saw the world around her. She had a way of noticing, of really seeing what was happening in the natural world, and according it its proper importance. She doesn’t put human beings squarely at the center of the universe, as is the human tendency. Of course, she anthropomorphizes like all get out, but there’s an understanding in her observations of birds and weather, trees and seasons. I get the sense that she was tapped into something elemental, something visceral, that she took the time to knit a bond with the natural world in a way that many people never do.

How to be forgotten

AFTER a hundred years
Nobody knows the place,—
Agony, that enacted there,
Motionless as peace.

Weeds triumphant ranged, 5
Strangers strolled and spelled
At the lone orthography
Of the elder dead.

Winds of summer fields
Recollect the way,— 10
Instinct picking up the key
Dropped by memory.

~Emily Dickinson

It’s simple, really. Just let a hundred years pass. In a hundred years, the scenes of our suffering will be sanded down by time, glossed over, our traces removed. No one will know, remember. A few may guess, but certainty ended a long time ago.

The places that marked the unforgettable moments of our lives become overgrown, naturalized to their former wildernesses. The last vestiges of our existences, if such remain, are curiosities merely, a line to be idly wondered at, a few lost grave goods.

The wind, perhaps, carries a sense of what went before. Now, when we pass a place where great joy, great sorrow, great intensity of emotion has occurred, we hesitate, a few of us. There is a tinge of something on the breeze, a suggestion. A prickling at the back of the neck. A sudden incalculable rush of feeling. Signs that someone was here, once.

In a hundred years, someone else will perhaps wonder the same thing.

Odd secrets of the line

Just lost when I was saved!
Just felt the world go by!
Just girt me for the onset with eternity,
When breath blew back,
And on the other side
I heard recede the disappointed tide!

Therefore, as one returned, I feel,
Odd secrets of the line to tell!
Some sailor, skirting foreign shores,
Some pale reporter from the awful doors
Before the seal!

Next time, to stay!
Next time, the things to see
By ear unheard,
Unscrutinized by eye.

Next time, to tarry,
While the ages steal,–
Slow tramp the centuries,
And the cycles wheel.

~Emily Dickinson

The phrase “Odd secrets of the line” has snared my imagination. It reminds me of these lyrics, so today’s post is a conversation between two poems. I’ll put them both here and let them talk it out.

Heaven’s a bar down by the dock
Where the liquor is free they keeps a great stock
There’s always a place, always a smile
For a sailor come home from sea
Girls they are beauties they dance and they sing
They treat an old tar like a lord or a king
Heaven’s a bar down by the dock
Where there’s liquor for all and it’s free

Heaven’s a bar down by the dock
Where the liquor is free they keeps a great stock
There’s always a place, always a smile
For a sailor come home from sea

There in the snug drinking with me Shipmates return from the seven salt seas Tarry tailed tars, gold buckles shoes
The cream and the dregs of the crew.
Just sailors on shore with a dream in their eyes
Who saw the world’s end where the sea meets the sky
Vision remains, wonders recalled By the trinkets that hang on the walls

Late in the night clouds hurry past
The moon winks and goes, the doors are barred fast
The charts are laid out, the contraband found The crossbones laid out on the ground
The figurehead does it she never gets tired She beckons a breeze from her berth by the fire
Songs roll around, waves hit the bar
Til the bottles wash up on the shore

~”Heaven’s a bar,” via Warham Whalers

Esoteric time

’T WAS later when the summer went
Than when the cricket came,
And yet we knew that gentle clock
Meant nought but going home.

’T was sooner when the cricket went
Than when the winter came,
Yet that pathetic pendulum
Keeps esoteric time.

~Emily Dickinson

So much human thought is devoted to time, which bemuses me, since time is something we’ve constructed. We invented it, and then got ourselves all bent out of shape over it. We talk about time management, worry about it, pay people to do it for us. And yet we never quite seem to fully understand it. We’ve created a creature that’s grown beyond our understanding. Esoteric indeed.

Autumn is almost here. Monday is the Autumn Equinox. The sun will cross the equator and we will cross into the dark side of the year. We will celebrate the darkness at Halloween, and then in December we will light a hundred thousand million lights to try to hold it back.

Our relationship with time is a fascinating one.

Time trembles

LOOK back on time with kindly eyes,
He doubtless did his best;
How softly sinks his trembling sun
In human nature’s west!

~Emily Dickinson

Years ago, I worked as a professional organizer and time management consultant. As a fledgling organizer, I read books, took online courses, and absorbed as much as I could about the ways in which we use space and time, and how to make better use of them. This poem is recalling those experiences and that knowledge for me now, because it is a plea to humans to change their perspective of time, which is much of what time management consulting is about.

The fact that the speaker needs to begin this way–even needs to write this poem at all–says something about human nature. We tend not to “look back on time with kindly eyes.” We blame time for our own shortcomings–there wasn’t enough time, I didn’t have enough time, it took too much time, who has time for that? Time, rather than our own failure to use it wisely, takes the blame. I think a huge part of that is our own Western view of time as linear, as opposed to other ways of understanding time as a circle or spiral that loops back on itself.

Whenever we don’t have enough time, it’s not time itself that’s to blame. It’s our use of time–but it’s so much easier to just say, It’s not my fault, I didn’t get enough time.

The line about the “trembling sun” is especially evocative of our attitudes towards time. Why is the sun “trembling”–is it because we’ve exhausted time? because time has learned to fear us? a little of both? Either way, it doesn’t sound positive. With our attitudes toward and use of time, we make time itself tremble.

Summerspell

A something in a summer’s day,
As slow her flambeaux burn away,
Which solemnizes me.

A something in a summer’s noon,—
An azure depth, a wordless tune, 5
Transcending ecstasy.

And still within a summer’s night
A something so transporting bright,
I clap my hands to see;

Then veil my too inspecting face, 10
Lest such a subtle, shimmering grace
Flutter too far for me.

The wizard-fingers never rest,
The purple brook within the breast
Still chafes its narrow bed; 15

Still rears the East her amber flag,
Guides still the sun along the crag
His caravan of red,

Like flowers that heard the tale of dews,
But never deemed the dripping prize 20
Awaited their low brows;

Or bees, that thought the summer’s name
Some rumor of delirium
No summer could for them;

Or Arctic creature, dimly stirred 25
By tropic hint,—some travelled bird
Imported to the wood;

Or wind’s bright signal to the ear,
Making that homely and severe,
Contented, known, before 30

The heaven unexpected came,
To lives that thought their worshipping
A too presumptuous psalm.

~Emily Dickinson
“As slow her flambeaux burn away”…….

I’ve been studiously avoiding this poem for a while because the syntax baffled me in places and I didn’t know what to say about it. I’ve read and re-read it, thinking that I’d write about it, and every time, I came up short. Suddenly, as I’m staring at the end of summer and the start of the school year, I realize that maybe my wordlessness is the point.

Despite the fact that this is a long poem by Dickinson’s usual standards, she too seems to have trouble pinning a word to the experience she’s describing. For the first three stanzas, she repeats the words “a something,” as if she’s struggling to say what she means–or is acknowledging that some things can’t be trapped by language, affixed on paper like pinned insects.

This sense of vagueness continues through the rest of the poem, maintained by words like “veil,” “subtle,” “rumor,” “dimly.” The funky syntax in places helps to sustain this vagueness, too. I’m still not sure exactly how to parse the eighth stanza–“no summer could for them”?!? Really, Emily? But I think now that all this verbal meandering and twisting out of reach is extremely intentional. Dickinson is recreating summer in the form of a poem.

There’s something ephemeral about this sweet hot season–it slips away before we’ve completely made sense of it, fully enjoyed it. Like the poem, with its longer-than-usual length but shorter-than-usual stanzas, summer seems both long and short. And like the poem, it is hazily dreamlike, magical. The three-line stanzas begin to feel incantatory. Dickinson uses language like “shimmering” and “wizard-fingers.” The summer’s day is described as simultaneously solemn, ecstatic, and transporting. It’s a religious experience in the last stanza, with words like “heaven,” “worshipping,” and “psalm.”

I wonder if what Dickinson is doing here is not so much trying to define summer as capture our human experience of it. It is a magical season, a holy one–but then, they all are. Summer is elusive, fleeting. As I read through the poem yet another time, I realize that this is one that will continue to echo in my consciousness as I watch my children swimming underneath the August stars, running wild on the dark dew-soaked grass.

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!

The parlor of the day

The day came slow, till five o’clock,
Then sprang before the hills
Like hindered rubies, or the light
A sudden musket spills.


The purple could not keep the east,
The sunrise shook from fold,
Like breadths of topaz, packed a night,
The lady just unrolled.


The happy winds their timbrels took;
The birds, in docile rows,
Arranged themselves around their prince
(The wind is prince of those).


The orchard sparkled like a Jew,—
How mighty ’t was, to stay
A guest in this stupendous place,
The parlor of the day!

~Emily Dickinson

First impressions: Oooh, colors! Imagery! This is good. Oh, wait, casual anti-Semitism. Ick.

Second-read impressions: I love all the color imagery. Sometimes Dickinson seems to be painting with words in an impressionistic sort of way, splashing them across the page for their affect as much as their precise meaning. “The sunrise shook from fold”–how do we read this? It seems meant to be felt as much as understood. Is it a sheep fold? or a fold of cloth? Regardless, we feel the essence of what she is getting at–something once contained, now freed.

And then there’s “The lady.” Rhythmically, this could just as easily be “A lady,” but Dickinson is specific. Which lady? Are we supposed to know this? Intuit it? Either way, the kernel of sense is clear.

And how do the birds arrange themselves “in docile rows” around the wind? Long experience observing chickens has taught me that birds + wind does not in any way equal anything remotely like “docile.” Again, it’s the feeling rather than the meaning that matters here.

We are always guests in the morning. We cannot remain in it, much as we might like to. It moves on–or we move on. One way or the other, our sojourn there cannot last.