सगरमाथा (Sagarmatha)

I CAN wade grief,
Whole pools of it,—
I ’m used to that.
But the least push of joy
Breaks up my feet, 5
And I tip—drunken.
Let no pebble smile,
’T was the new liquor,—
That was all!

Power is only pain, 10
Stranded, through discipline,
Till weights will hang.
Give balm to giants,
And they ’ll wilt, like men.
Give Himmaleh,— 15
They ’ll carry him!

~Emily Dickinson
Mount Everest image via Pixabay.

Today’s post is going to be a footnote of sorts. I love this poem, and there are all kinds of things to say about it, but I think it also speaks for itself, so I’m going to have fun getting into the weeds a bit instead.

I fell down a rabbit-hole with this one. First I had to Google “Himmaleh.” Turns out it’s Himalaya, but closer to the Sanskrit word. This word is actually two words combined, and they mean “winter house,” which is completely lovely. The Himalayas could very well be winter’s home base.

Then, of course, I had to look up the true name of Mount Everest. It annoys me when people rename places that don’t belong to them, and “Mount Everest” is a prime example. It is decidedly not a “Mount Everest.” Its name is Sagarmatha, which means “Peak of Heaven” and is a vastly preferable and more evocative name.

I think about this kind of thing often–how we call places by the names some white explorer gave them, and not by their true names. I’ve often wondered why we can’t just call countries what the people living in them call them. What is it, this need to rename things in our own image? Does it make them more understandable? More accessible? More easy to fit in a box? Why is Deutschland “Allemagne” in French and “Germany” in English?

Why can’t we just call things by their names? I like that in this poem, Dickinson uses “Himmaleh.”

The heart asks pleasure first

The heart asks pleasure first,
And then, excuse from pain;
And then, those little anodynes
That deaden suffering;


And then, to go to sleep;
And then, if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor,
The liberty to die.

~Emily Dickinson

My first experience of this poem was not as a poem, but as a piece of music. It’s arguably the most well-known tune in the film The Piano.

When I first saw the film, I loved the music and hated the story. I complained about it to my then-boyfriend.

“This is the worst love story ever. The woman is trapped in this horrible life and her husband is a jerk and so is the guy she falls in love with, and her kid is creepy, and this movie is horrible.”

After politely listening to my rant, my now-husband, who has still to this day never seen the film, said, “The love story isn’t about the guys. It’s about the piano.”

BOOM.

As an English major, I felt incredibly sheepish. How had I missed this?

“Oh,” I said. “Okay. This is an amazing movie.”

I can’t read this poem without its namesake song from The Piano playing on repeat in my head. The tune fits the poem beautifully. Often, song versions of Dickinson’s songs sound too sweet to me. This one, however, seems to perfectly capture the mood not only of the film, but the poem.