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.

Prompt: impossible magic

The one that could repeat the summer day
Were greater than itself, though he Minutest of mankind might be.
And who could reproduce the sun,
At period of going down—
The lingering and the stain, I mean—
When Orient has been outgrown,
And Occident becomes unknown,
His name remain.

~Emily Dickinson

What a feat it would be–to repeat a summer day. To do so would be to command time, to seize it, slow it, make it stop and circle back. These warm indolent days of summer can seem at once eternal and all too fleeting. Dickinson imagines the power of the person who could achieve this feat–capturing the fleeting beauty at its peak.

Your prompt–following Dickinson’s example, write a short poem in which you imagine an impossible power and its use.

sunset on Pamlico Sound

Take your power in your hand!

LIX
I took my power in my hand
And went against the world;
’T was not so much as David had,
But I was twice as bold.


I aimed my pebble, but myself
Was all the one that fell.
Was it Goliath was too large,
Or only I too small?

~Emily dickinson

Pam: April is making me feel like the speaker in this poem.

Brenna: SAME. April is already kicking my tail and it’s only ten days old.

Pam: Trying to do big things, being thwarted because in the end, I am too small. Remember when we thought March would be better than February??

Brenna: We were so young and innocent….

Pam: It makes me wonder if I’ll look as these months as Goliaths later in life.

Brenna: They feel like Goliaths to me now. But maybe the actual Goliath is lurking around the corner. That’s a depressing thought.

Pam: No no no, we’re only looking at current Goliaths!

Brenna: Ok, good! So. What are we to make of this poem? Is it a cautionary tale? I know it ends with her failure, but I’m kind of in love with those first couple lines. I want to take my power in my hand. That sounds like some serious magical badassery.

Pam: I think we can look at it two ways. Sure, it’s a failure. But do you stop at failure? Why write the poem, then? Maybe the speaker is trying to dissect this failure so that next time, they’ll have a different result.

Brenna: Ah, I like that! Why tell the tale of your failure if not for some greater purpose?

Pam: It’s too bold in the beginning for me to think that this is just about failure. Somebody who is taking power in their hand is not going to give up. Or at least, that’s my hope.

Brenna: So maybe she’s encouraging us. Even someone as small as herself (there’s Lil’ Emily again….) can defy a giant, so we can too!

Pam: Why is she always diminutive, do you think?

Brenna: It strikes me as a little weird. Did women value being small back then? I thought the ideal was statuesque. Is she being purposefully different? Going against the grain? Or highlighting how small she feels?

Pam: It seems like the kind of petty thing I would do if someone called me small. “You think I’m small? I’ll show you what small can do!” You knew this was coming, but the rhymes in this poem are interesting!

Brenna: Tell me more!

Pam: They’re close, but a little bit slanty, in stanza one. Hand/had, world/bold. And then stanza two blows it up a little bit! fell/small, sure. It’s slant, but it works. But myself/large? In no way does this even begin to rhyme! Is this meant to show us how very large she is not? The rhyme in that stanza is disjointed, and I’m wondering what, if anything, it has to tell us.

Brenna: She is feeling disjointed/small in comparison to the world?

Pam: Her rhyme is tighter when she’s about to act. She’s gathering power, slinging it. The rhyme comes undone after, when she’s lost

Brenna: Ooooh, that’s good! Yes! Just like the slingshot!

Pam: Yes! We are on it today. This is what I love about poetry. Everybody brings life experience to the table, and you can still choose to not accept the poem at face value. We choose to read this poem not about failure, but about talking yourself up for another try!