Out of joint

ARCTURUS is his other name,—
I ’d rather call him star!
It ’s so unkind of science
To go and interfere!

I pull a flower from the woods,—
A monster with a glass
Computes the stamens in a breath,
And has her in a class.

Whereas I took the butterfly
Aforetime in my hat,
He sits erect in cabinets,
The clover-bells forgot.

What once was heaven, is zenith now.
Where I proposed to go
When time’s brief masquerade was done,
Is mapped, and charted too!

What if the poles should frisk about
And stand upon their heads!
I hope I ’m ready for the worst,
Whatever prank betides!

Perhaps the kingdom of Heaven’s changed!
I hope the children there
Won’t be new-fashioned when I come,
And laugh at me, and stare!

I hope the father in the skies
Will lift his little girl,—
Old-fashioned, naughty, everything,—
Over the stile of pearl!

~Emily Dickinson
Image via Pexels.com

Let’s do another prompt! Because it’s NaNo season, and that’s how my brain is operating, apparently..

What I love about this poem is the way it articulates a sneaking suspicion that many of us have–that we were born in the wrong time, that our attitudes and priorities are so different from those of the majority that we’re not sure we belong here.

So your prompt is this–pick a character (sure, you could choose your MC, but what if you chose the villain?) and write about their favorite time in history that isn’t their own. Why does it appeal to them? Do they feel like they’d belong better there? What does this out-of-jointness say about them, and how does it affect their actions? dress? attitudes? behaviors? You might unlock something really interesting.

Day of the Dead

The distance that the dead have gone
Does not at first appear;
Their coming back seems possible
For many an ardent year.

And then, that we have followed them
We more than half suspect,
So intimate have we become
With their dear retrospect.

~Emily Dickinson

This seems an appropriate poem for today, when the Day of the Dead concludes. When someone has died, that they are gone at first seems impossible. As time passes and the loss settles into our bones, we wonder if we have joined them. You can read this on different levels–the pain of grief, the wishing to be with the departed, the fact that they take pieces of us with them…The last two lines are intriguing–“So intimate have we become/With their dear retrospect.” I wonder if Dickinson is talking here about the way we change the dead in our memories–we become familiar with their retrospect rather than hanging onto them exactly as they were. Memory is tricksy, and we alter the dead in our imagination.

Shipwreck

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

Image via Pexels.com

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.

Though pyramids decay

’T is an honorable thought,
And makes one lift one’s hat,
As one encountered gentlefolk
Upon a daily street,

That we ’ve immortal place,
Though pyramids decay,
And kingdoms, like the orchard,
Flit russetly away.

~Emily Dickinson
Image via Pexels.com

This poem has some things to say to this other poem, so I’ll just put them both here and let them talk it out. The following poem has chatted with Dickinson’s work here before, but I need pretty much no excuse to reread “Ozymandias” for the gazillionth time.

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

~Percy Bysshe Shelley

Bone

Image via Pexels.com

The bone that has no marrow;
What ultimate for that?
It is not fit for table,
For beggar, or for cat.

A bone has obligations,
A being has the same;
A marrowless assembly
Is culpabler than shame.

But how shall finished creatures
A function fresh obtain?—
Old Nicodemus’ phantom
Confronting us again!

~Emily Dickinson

Hmm…I don’t know?? “The bone that has no marrow” seems like maybe outer appearance without substance. Something hollow that should be full. A bone without marrow is not nourishment–it’s jut a bone. No one can get anything out of it.

In the second stanza, Dickinson moves from the example of the bone to what it represents–bones are obligated to contain marrow, just as beings are obligated to perform certain functions. “Marrowless” people are at fault for their own hollowness, she seems to be saying.

Is there a possibility of redemption? Can “finished creatures” achieve a new purpose if they’re already lacking marrow, substance? She doesn’t overtly offer an answer, but ends with “Old Nicodemus’ phantom.” Perhaps this is the answer–a resounding no. One who is hollow is a phantom.

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.

not Death

It was not Death, for I stood up,
And all the Dead, lie down –
It was not Night, for all the Bells
Put out their Tongues, for Noon.

It was not Frost, for on my Flesh
I felt Siroccos – crawl –
Nor Fire – for just my marble feet
Could keep a Chancel, cool –

And yet, it tasted, like them all,
The Figures I have seen
Set orderly, for Burial
Reminded me, of mine –

As if my life were shaven,
And fitted to a frame,
And could not breathe without a key,
And ’twas like Midnight, some –

When everything that ticked – has stopped –
And space stares – all around –
Or Grisly frosts – first Autumn morns,
Repeal the Beating Ground –

But most, like Chaos – Stopless – cool –
Without a Chance, or spar –
Or even a Report of Land –
To justify – Despair.

~Emily Dickinson

This is the Poe poem of Dickinson poems. So many fantastic details: hot breezes that “crawl” across the flesh, cold feet, bodies laid out for burial, a claustrophobic framing of a life, “grisly frosts,” the silence of a midnight when “everything that ticked – has stopped,” and space staring back at us.

The speaker insists that she’s not dead, but details all the parallels between her own state and death, while also outlining the differences. She is in a moment of existential crisis–a moment of perfect silence when she is left utterly alone with herself in the universe. What is the crisis, precisely? It’s not until the final stanza that she breaks from describing the symptoms to identify the disease, the dis – ease. She is “Without a Chance, or spar – Or even a Report of Land.” In the final line, the final word, of the poem, she names the answer to the riddle.