By all accounts Emily was not born an “unhappy child”, but she did go on to experience significant losses that affected her deeply and contributed to the abundant theme of death in her work. In her poem #646 Emily seems to say that there is a lot more joy out there to be had than she has experienced in her self-chosen cloistered life. She hints in the last stanza that a certain unnamed someone may hold the key to making it all Bliss:
I have known people who never seem to get a break, never find that golden ticket, and spend their whole lives trying to keep their heads above water, choking and almost drowning again and again along the way. They may experience slivers of happiness here and there, but Bliss is a foreign word to them because they just haven’t had the chance to experience it.
I also know that you can seemingly have it all, or what looks like it all, wrapped up beautifully in gold and still not have a life filled with Bliss. (defined as extreme happiness, utter joy). Life is just not like that, as tragedy and loss strike us all.
As our individual paths converge with others, we’d do well to remember that we have no idea what stories, burdens and losses others carry under the skin of their public self. What we do know is that a kindness, a hand or a smile reaching out to them, without a request or expectation back, is a universally appreciated gift.
This morning I went to have blood drawn for my upcoming physical and witnessed a perfect example of someone trying their best to make everyone smile, to bring a little Bliss to each person’s day. The lab tech’s name was Sandra and she had a kind word and or compliment for every person she dealt with. It took little effort, but you could tell that people appreciated her. They thanked her, laughed with her, or like me, wished her a wonderful day before they left. Then they took that little bit of happiness she shared with them and went their own ways, surely smiling under their masks and hopefully inspired to fulfill the butterfly effect and share it with someone else.
We’ve all experienced how one word, one interaction, can ruin a good day. We can’t individually solve everyone’s problems, but we each have the power to help bring a little bit of joy, bliss, or happiness to other’s days. And sometimes that goes a long way towards helping someone believe that life is truly good, prompting them to share that goodness with someone else, and making our world a kinder, gentler place for us all.
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.
I for one was extremely curious that Jesus actually was rapping back in the day. Could he have been the Original L L Cool J? Cool J’s real name is James and the LL stands for Ladies Love (Cool James). You know how everyone finds religion in prison? Jesus might have been LL Cool Jesus ( Lawbreakers Love Cool Jesus)!
Come to find out, Emily was writing about the other kind of rapping, Jesus rapping or knocking on a door. She goes on to write about how she begins rapping on the door of her beloved’s heart. In this instance, as in many in which Emily writes of an unnamed love, we can assume that the heart she was referring to was that of her beloved best friend and eventual sister-in-law, Susan Dickinson, to whom she is said to have written and hand delivered this poem.
For my version of #317, I decided to visit current events here in the USA and speak to those who probably don’t want to hear what I have to say, but I’ve never been one to shy away from “Good Trouble”. You’ll have to imagine it spoken by a competent rapper, because that I am not.
In the words of the late great human rights activist Representative John Lewis:
“Just so- Jesus raps-“
Just so – so you know
I didn’t look like those pics they show.
But oh hell yeah- I did throw
the temple tables of all of those
making money as religion’s hoes.
Religion should help, religion should support.
Keep your right-wing asses out of court.
Get your feet
out on the street
and minister to people who need to eat.
Take your pro-life banner and tear it up.
Put your money where your mouth is and show my love.
For all the foster kids with no homes-
The vets who on your streets do roam-
The women and men working night and day
who still don’t get enough in pay
to have a decent place to live-
You say you love me, so what gives?
Fix these problems before you stick
your pompous nose in the thick-
of a woman’s inalienable right to pick-
what her own body does and doesn’t do.
Really? Who the hell are you?
It’s not your choice. I’m not your guy.
And if you can’t see the reasons why
I’ve rapped these words,
then your heart is blind.
Love is love. A woman’s body is her own.
Now do my REAL WORK
or shut up and stay home.
Picture credit https://www.orthodoxroad.com/the-many-faces-of-jesus/
It is widely accepted that in poem #579 Emily uses food and hunger as metaphors for life. As humans we hunger for much more than food, and certainly Emily felt those same hungers. We find and try things, people, jobs, and places we think we want and later find them not to be the case. At times we can’t identify the thing that would gratify the hunger we feel, but we know what the emptiness of its absence feels like.
My journey to satiate that unidentified want ended in 2003 when I met my best friend and love in the face of a man I never would have chosen before. He wasn’t an outlaw, a (public) bad boy, or a rebel. He was everything I never knew I wanted and everything I had always needed to compliment the person I am. I literally saw myself sparkling in his azure eyes and the rest is 18 beautiful years of history. He’s my third and last husband and he loves and puts up with all of me, (even when I flip him a bird). This one’s for him. ❤
According to some scholars, Dickinson’s poem #613 is quite the exercise in feminism. In it, she masterfully uses the imagery of a captive bird and speaks in a defiant voice about the struggles of being a female, expected to be silent and kept locked up by societal expectations of the mid 1800’s.
Although she never engaged in any public romantic relationships, researchers have long questioned the many cryptic references to “loves” in her poetry and posed questions about her private life and potential relationships with several men and also with her sister-in-law, Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson. In my version of this poem I imagine the coded language she used to send messages that would not be deemed appropriate during her time. Over a century and a half later, fans of her work are still looking for the meanings between her lines.
Note on “fascicles:
*During Dickinson’s intense writing period (1858-1864), she copied more than 800 of her poems into small booklets, forty in all, now called “fascicles.” She made the small volumes herself from folded sheets of paper that she stacked and then bound by stabbing two holes on the left side of the paper and tying the stacked sheets with string. She shared these with no one. They were discovered by her sister Lavinia after Emily’s death.