More Dickinson

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67

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory

As he defeated – dying –
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

Reprinted by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from THE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON: READING EDITION, edited by Ralph W. Franklin, ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998, 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

254

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

280

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through – 

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum – 
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My Mind was going numb – 

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here – 

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down – 
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then – 

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

303

The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —

I've known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

314

My life closed twice before its close —
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me

So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven, 
And all we need of hell.

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

326

I cannot dance upon my Toes —
No Man instructed me —
But oftentimes, among my mind,
A Glee possesseth me,

That had I Ballet knowledge —
Would put itself abroad
In Pirouette to blanch a Troupe —
Or lay a Prima, mad,

And though I had no Gown of Gauze —
No Ringlet, to my Hair,
Nor hopped to Audiences — like Birds,
One Claw upon the Air,

Nor tossed my shape in Eider Balls,
Nor rolled on wheels of snow
Till I was out of sight, in sound,
The House encore me so —

Nor any know I know the Art
I mention — easy — Here —
Nor any Placard boast me —
It's full as Opera —

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

341

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

Reprinted by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from THE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON: READING EDITION, edited by Ralph W. Franklin, ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998, 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Read by Frances Sternhagen:

348

I dreaded that first Robin, so,
But He is mastered, now,
I'm some accustomed to Him grown,
He hurts a little, though —

I thought if I could only live
Till that first Shout got by —
Not all Pianos in the Woods
Had power to mangle me —

I dared not meet the Daffodils —
For fear their Yellow Gown
Would pierce me with a fashion
So foreign to my own —

I wished the Grass would hurry —
So — when 'twas time to see —
He'd be too tall, the tallest one
Could stretch — to look at me —

I could not bear the Bees should come,
I wished they'd stay away
In those dim countries where they go,
What word had they, for me?

They're here, though; not a creature failed—
No Blossom stayed away
In gentle deference to me —
The Queen of Calvary —

Each one salutes me, as he goes,
And I, my childish Plumes,
Lift, in bereaved acknowledgment
Of their unthinking Drums —

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

356

I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my Feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -—
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

362

It struck me -- every Day --
The Lightning was as new
As if the Cloud that instant slit
And let the Fire through --

It burned Me -- in the Night --
It Blistered to my Dream --
It sickened fresh upon my sight --
With every Morn that came --

I thought that Storm -- was brief --
The Maddest -- quickest by --
But Nature lost the Date of this --
And left it in the Sky --

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

375

The Angle of a Landscape —
That every time I wake —
Between my Curtain and the Wall
Upon an ample Crack —

Like a Venetian — waiting —
Accosts my open eye —
Is just a Bough of Apples —
Held slanting, in the Sky —

The Pattern of a Chimney —
The Forehead of a Hill —
Sometimes — a Vane's Forefinger —
But that's — Occasional —

The Seasons — shift — my Picture —
Upon my Emerald Bough,
I wake—to find no — Emeralds —
Then — Diamonds - which the Snow

From Polar Caskets — fetched me —
The Chimney — and the Hill —
And just the Steeple's finger —
These — never stir at all —

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

399

A House upon the Height —
That Wagon never reached —
No Dead, were ever carried down —
No Peddler’s Cart — approached —

Whose Chimney never smoked —
Whose Windows — Night and Morn —
Caught Sunrise first — and Sunset — last —
Then — held an Empty Pane —

Whose fate — Conjecture knew —
No other neighbor — did —
And what it was — we never lisped —
Because He — never told —

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

Jazz singer Luciana Souza’s song using Dickinson’s poem 419:

419

We grow accustomed to the Dark —
When light is put away —
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye —

A Moment — We uncertain step
For newness of the night —
Then — fit our Vision to the Dark —
And meet the Road — erect —

And so of larger — Darknesses —
Those Evenings of the Brain —
When not a Moon disclose a sign —
Or Star — come out — within —

The Bravest — grope a little —
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead —
But as they learn to see —

Either the Darkness alters —
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight —
And Life steps almost straight.

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

435

Much Madness is divinest Sense —
To a discerning Eye —
Much Sense — the starkest Madness —
‘Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail —
Assent — and you are sane —
Demur — you’re straightway dangerous —
And handled with a Chain —

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

Reader unknown:

479

She dealt her pretty words like Blades —-
How glittering they shone —-
And every One unbared a Nerve
Or wantoned with a Bone —-

She never deemed —- she hurt -—
That -— is not Steel's Affair -—
A vulgar grimace in the Flesh -—
How ill the Creatures bear —-

To Ache is human -— not polite -—
The Film upon the eye
Mortality's old Custom -—
Just locking up -— to Die.

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

Reader unknown:

The text below is more accurate than the one read in the video above.

670

One need not be a Chamber--to be Haunted--
One need not be a House--
The Brain has Corridors-- surpassing
Material Place--

Far safer, of a Midnight meeting
External Ghost
Than an interior Confronting
That Cooler Host.

Far safer, through an Abbey gallop,
The Stones a'chase--
Than Unarmed, one's a'self encounter--
In lonesome Place--

Ourself behind ourself, concealed--
Should startle most--
Assassin hid in our Apartment,
Be Horror's least.

The Body-- borrows a Revolver--
He bolts the Door--
O'erlooking a superior spectre--
Or More.

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

The photograph used in this video  may or may not be Emily Dickinson:

764

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -
In Corners - till a Day
The Owner passed - identified -
And carried Me away -

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods -
And now We hunt the Doe -
And every time I speak for Him
The Mountains straight reply -

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow -
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let it’s pleasure through -

And when at Night - Our good Day done -
I guard My Master’s Head -
’Tis better than the Eider Duck’s
Deep Pillow - to have shared -

To foe of His - I’m deadly foe -
None stir the second time -
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye -
Or an emphatic Thumb -

Though I than He - may longer live
He longer must - than I -
For I have but the power to kill,
Without - the power to die -

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)

 

777

The Loneliness One dare not sound-—
And would as soon surmise
As in its Grave go plumbing
To ascertain the size-—

The Loneliness whose worst alarm
Is lest itself should see-—
And perish from before itself
For just a scrutiny-—

The Horror not to be surveyed-—
But skirted in the Dark-—
With Consciousness suspended-—
And Being under Lock-—

I fear me this—- is Loneliness-—
The Maker of the soul
Its Caverns and its Corridors
Illuminate—- or seal—-

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

783

The Birds begun at Four o’clock-—
Their period for Dawn-—
A Music numerous as space-—
But neighboring as Noon-—

I could not count their Force-—
Their Voices did expend
As Brook by Brook bestows itself
To multiply the Pond.

Their Witnesses were not-—
Except occasional man-—
In homely industry arrayed-—
To overtake the Morn-—

Nor was it for applause-—
That I could ascertain-—
But independent Ecstasy
Of Deity and Men-—

By Six, the Flood had done-—
No Tumult there had been
Of Dressing, or Departure-—
And yet the Band was gone-—

The Sun engrossed the East-—
The Day controlled the World-—
The Miracle that introduced
Forgotten, as fulfilled.

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

Reader unknown:

986

A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides -
You may have met him? Did you not
His notice instant is -

The Grass divides as with a Comb,
A spotted Shaft is seen,
And then it closes at your Feet
And opens further on -

He likes a Boggy Acre -  
A Floor too cool for Corn -
But when a Boy and Barefoot
I more than once at Noon

Have passed I thought a Whip Lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled And was gone -

Several of Nature’s People
I know, and they know me
I feel for them a transport
Of Cordiality

But never met this Fellow
Attended or alone
Without a tighter Breathing
And Zero at the Bone.

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

Reader unknown:

1100

The last Night that She lived
It was a Common Night
Except the Dying—-this to Us
Made Nature different

We noticed smallest things-—
Things overlooked before
By this great light upon our Minds
Italicized—-as 'twere.

As We went out and in
Between Her final Room
And Rooms where Those to be alive
Tomorrow were, a Blame

That Others could exist
While She must finish quite
A Jealousy for Her arose
So nearly infinite-—

We waited while She passed-—
It was a narrow time-—
Too jostled were Our Souls to speak
At length the notice came.

She mentioned, and forgot-—
Then lightly as a Reed
Bent to the Water, struggled scarce-—
Consented, and was dead-—

And We—We placed the Hair-—
And drew the Head erect-—
And then an awful leisure was
Belief to regulate-—

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

Besides being about the jay bird, this next poem may have had an additional, private meaning for Dickinson. Her brother, Austin, who lived next door at a house named Evergreens, was Amherst College’s treasurer and maintained a legal practice as well. For many years he had an extramarital affair with Mabel Loomis Todd:

1561

No Brigadier throughout the Year
So civic as the Jay--
A Neighbor and a Warrior too
With shrill felicity
Pursuing Winds that censure us
A February Day,
The Brother of the Universe
Was never blown away--
The Snow and he are intimate--
I’ve often seem them play
When Heaven looked upon us all
With such severity
I felt apology were due
To an insulted sky
Whose pompous frown was Nutriment
To their Temerity--
The Pillow of this daring Head
Is pungent Evergreens--
His Larder--terse and Militant--
Unknown--refreshing things--
His Character--a Tonic--
His Future--a Dispute--
Unfair an Immortality
That leaves this Neighbor out--

by Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886