If we have ever loved a pet or human, we know this to be true. That even after they are gone from this physical realm, they live on in our hearts. If you were to Google quotes about love and life you should be prepared to go down a chasmic rabbit hole, only to emerge weeks later with one great truth- stated a thousand different ways in a myriad of languages, cultures and religions…
“To love and to be loved is the greatest happiness of existence.”Sydney Smith, in Lady Holland’s Memoir (1855), “Of Friendship”
And if ever there was a poignant pregnant line spoken by a character and lived for too short a time by the actor who played him, it is this one.
“Poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”Robin Williams as John Keating in Dead Poets Society
In the first line of her poem, Dickinson likened love to immortality and I have done the same with my poem, while exploring the quality of a life without love, or as in Robin Williams’s case, a life so clouded by depression that one is rendered unable to sustain him/herself. We can survive for a time on all the other things, the scraps, like wealth, recognition, applause, etc., but on the table of life the main dish is love and if we don’t get to partake in and share that, no amount of those other things will ever satiate our souls.
Unless you’re new to Emily Dickinson, you know that Death was never far away in her thoughts and poetry. In #1646 she speaks of being “molested by immortality” and seems to say that we’re being tricked into thinking it will all last, when nothing actually will, because everything ends, so why hurry ourselves to that dark night.
The case against hurrying is not new. The irony is that we’ve been telling ourselves to slow down since the invention of everything humans have designed to help us do more faster. The reality is that we miss so much when we hurry. Most of all we miss the opportunity for genuine connection with others, nature, and our own inner selves. And the ramifications of all of that? Staggering, massive, and negatively consequential. So let’s take a moment whenever we can and focus on living our lives a little slower, because being more mindful can only make things better for all of us.
Some say Emily Dickinson had a morbid fascination with death. Others see the fact that approximately 1/6th of all her poems and letters were about death as something not unusual for one who lived next to a cemetery and during a time when folks died of illnesses at a much younger age than we do today. Her poem #614 speaks of diggers attempting to find a man buried in rubble. Too late, the saving grace is Death, in that he is no longer suffering.
I saw the setting of the first line of #614 as a place where dreams die, aspirations are quashed and we sometimes don’t even understand that we have made ourselves prisoners. I imagined a frolic of mythical forest fairies engaging in a battle with death, attempting to coax it into and ward it off with their fairy ring of mushrooms, a place of legendary doom for non-fairy folk.
In researching fairy rings, I learned quite a bit and will definitely be on the lookout for them in the future. If there’s a full moon and you see me running around one nine times, from east to west (the direction of the sun), it will be in hopes of hearing the fairies dancing and frolicking underground. Please just watch from afar and don’t make me lose count, for legend has it if I run around a tenth time I will meet ill fate and be made to run to the point of exhaustion and death and/or perhaps become invisible.
MCNAUGHTON, RUTH FLANDERS. “Emily Dickinson on Death.” Prairie Schooner, vol. 23, no. 2, 1949, pp. 203–214. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40624107. Accessed 22 July 2021.
I’m back after taking a little break to delve into my other creative projects! I wrote this poem just this morning as memories of my 4 year old daughter skipped through my brain. In her poem, Emily spoke on one her favorite subjects, death. She seemed to be saying that one should be able to choose their manner of death, much as she chose her burial attire and the manner in which she wanted her own death to be recognized.
When she ventured outside her Amherst home, Emily explored as an avid naturalist, and spent much time surveying, cataloguing and appreciating the wide variety of life forms. As a mother of two young children, I sought to get them outside as much as possible and to let them learn from and experience all the wonders of the natural world. On one particular trek through the woods in back of our North Carolina mountain home, my 4 year old daughter came upon a tiny fallen bird, unmoving and sadly dead. This poem is about how she reacted.
The next morning we arrived at the doorway to her Montessori preschool and she presented the Directress with the shoebox containing her discovery. As all good teachers do, during morning circle she used it as a teaching moment, as the littles solemnly passed the box around and they talked about what might have happened to the tiny bird. A simple playground burial followed, with the preschoolers expressing their genuine and heartfelt care for the tiny creature. Life is beautiful and poignant, gentle and harsh. May we all be as bold as preschoolers in expressing that same kind of genuine and heartfelt care for each other.
Of course not literally, but with all the angst I had as a teenager, I spent the majority of my waking hours wondering how we were going to survive the lockdown, quarantine, toilet paper shortage, and general malaise that the Covid-19 virus brought to our lives.
Once again, I was wrong. My husband deserves all the credit for carrying the weight of everything for the first few months until I rose from my funk and started to fully function again. And here we are, over a year later. Many of us are vaccinated and we’re all eager to travel and visit family and hug everyone! There’s so much we’ve all missed. And oh so many who will forever be missing loved ones who died from complications of Covid-19.
The vaccinations have brought us light and hope. Next week, I’m going to get to visit my daughter and grandson for the first time in over 13 months. Believe me, I’m going to hug them for a very long time. We’re so close to managing this. But we’re not there yet. Let’s all be smart. Wear our masks. Get vaccinated. Stay safe.
If you read enough of her work, you’ll soon realize that death is a recurring theme in Emily Dickinson’s poems. Some have found it morbid, but others appreciate the innate curiosity that drew her into philosophizing and speculating about death and an afterlife. Biographers have noted that she grew up living next to a cemetery, which may have started her thinking about the subject. Throughout her life, she was an avid observer of nature and as her poetry reveals, a deep thinker. As a homebody, she certainly had time on her hands to engage in both of those activities.
I don’t write about death a lot, but I will confess to having a preoccupation with True Crime/Murder. I’m a Dateline junkie and have just discovered a great true crime podcast to listen to while I work on the cutting and pasting part of this project. Somehow, I think if Emily were alive now, she’d share my attraction. I haven’t spent a lot of time trying to analyze why I’m drawn to that kind of thing, as opposed to the Hallmark movie genre, but a quick Google of the question tells us that people like me are drawn to the genre because its speaks to the dichotomies of life (good-vs-evil, etc.) and like a haunted house or going to Halloween Horror Nights, we get to experience fear in a safe setting. Makes sense to me.
Emily often wrote about the dichotomies of life and today’s Carol and Emily poem does that too with ecstasy and sorrow, breath and death….