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.

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.

nothing commoner than snow

Of tribulation these are they
Denoted by the white;
The spangled gowns, a lesser rank
Of victors designate.

All these did conquer; but the ones
Who overcame most times
Wear nothing commoner than snow,
No ornament but palms.

Surrender is a sort unknown
On this superior soil;
Defeat, an outgrown anguish,
Remembered as the mile

Our panting ankle barely gained
When night devoured the road;
But we stood whispering in the house,
And all we said was “Saved!”

~Emily Dickinson
Image by Radu Andrei Razvan via Pexels.

More death. Dickinson must have spent a lot of time thinking about it–so much time that she has a variety of different reactions and attitudes toward it. Sometimes it’s a suitor, welcome, chivalrous. Sometimes it’s an adversary. Sometimes it is longed for as relief from suffering, while other times the act of dying is itself the supreme trial.

There’s a lot of interesting, evocative, and tricksy language in this poem. In the first stanza, those who wear white are the ones who have overcome (or at least endured) tribulation. A lesser rank, presumably of the dead, wear “spangled gowns.” The contrast is interesting–those who are higher wear plain white, while those who are “lesser” are more elaborately adorned. The “lesser” are, however, still “victors.” All here have triumphed.

All of them, she goes on to elaborate in the second stanza, have been victorious, but those in white “overcame most times.” Their reward? Their only ornaments are palms, and the color of their raiment is “nothing commoner than snow.” Dickinson’s use of “commoner” suggests that snow is not common–they don’t wear anything commoner than this. At the same time, snow is fairly common, we know–certainly in New England. So there’s a paradoxical turn of phrase here, which perhaps is meant to underscore the paradox of the highest being clothed the most simply. Heaven, after all, is an upside-down kingdom where the last shall be first.

On the “superior soil” of heaven, surrender is unknown, and defeat is merely a memory, like the reminiscence of the last mile of a particularly difficult night journey.

The final stanza brings us out of heaven and back to Earth, back into a mortal, living perspective. Dickinson shifts from the white-clothed and bespangled victors to those they left behind: “But we stood whispering in the house, / And all we said was ‘Saved!'” That is all the living can say, all they can know. They can only guess at the rank and raiment of the deceased in heaven.

This, of course, begs the question–how can the speaker know? She identifies herself in the last stanza with personal pronouns as one of the “we,” one of the living left behind. Yet she is informing us about the status of the dead and saved. More paradox. So I’m left not entirely sure of exactly what she’s getting at, and once again wondering if I’m a bit dull, or if perhaps this was precisely the effect Dickinson was going for.

This pendulum of snow

A clock stopped—not the mantel’s;
Geneva’s farthest skill
Can’t put the puppet bowing
That just now dangled still.

An awe came on the trinket!
The figures hunched with pain,
Then quivered out of decimals
Into degreeless noon.

It will not stir for doctors,
This pendulum of snow;
The shopman importunes it,
While cool, concernless No

Nods from the gilded pointers,
Nods from the seconds slim,
Decades of arrogance between
The dial life and him.

~Emily Dickinson
Image credit: Amar Saleem via Pexels.

It always throws me a little when a Dickinson poem seems straightforward, as this one does. The poem is a riddle of sorts–the speaker tells us a clock stopped, but not the mantel’s. Though she never tells us explicitly what the clock actually is, the meaning is clear. This is (gasp!! surprise!!) a Poem About Death.

What’s enticing about this poem, to me, is the gorgeousness of Dickinson’s language. “Quivered out of decimals / Into degreeless noon” is a lush and lovely description, and evokes so much feeling through the poet’s choice of words. Quivering implies so many emotions and states of mind–fear, indecision, trepidation…and “degreeless noon” is equally evocative.

There’s also some wonderfully Dickinsonian contradiction. In the final stanza, the pointers are nodding, the seconds are nodding, but the clock has stopped–motion vs. motionlessness. The stilled clock parts are sending a message via their motionlessness, and Dickinson describes that message as a motion, a nod. And then there’s the contradiction between seconds and decades.

I love it when I feel like I understand one of Dickinson’s poems and can then really dig into the language and fully appreciate it. So often I read her poetry and am left scratching my head. This one is a nice exception.

whatsoever is consumed

Hope is a subtle glutton;
He feeds upon the fair;
And yet, inspected closely,
What abstinence is there!

His is the halcyon table
That never seats but one,
And whatsoever is consumed
The same amounts remain.

~Emily Dickinson
Image detail via Pexels.

Why did I choose this poem for Christmas Day?? I have no idea. Typically I choose poems a month at a time, mapping out which one I’ll read each day. I try to fit the poems to the seasons, to events happening on specific days, etc. I can’t remember why I decided this was a Christmas poem…maybe because it’s about hope? Or maybe because of all the gluttonous overkill that can all too easily happen on Christmas? I now have no idea. Oh well. Have an Emily poem for Christmas. Merry holiday to you and yours!