When our friends at HTML Giant recently asked what people thought was the all-time overrated piece of literature the first comment was, “Anything by Emily Dickinson,” and I think I felt a cleaving in my mind.
A few days later I acquired Helen Vendler’s Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries from the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, just released in September. Inside Vendler gives extraordinary close readings of 150 poems. Here’s a great radio interview with Vendler about the book.
Here is poem 861:
They say that “Time assuages”-
Time never did assuage –
An actual suffering strengthens
As Sinews do, with Age –
Time is a Test of Trouble –
But not a Remedy –
If such it prove, it prove too
There was no Malady –
And from Vendler:
When Dickinson lost her only “playmate,” her dog Carlo, Higginson expressed sympathy. She wrote back, saying, “Thank you, I wish for Carlo,” and continuing with the second stanza of “They say that ‘Time assuages’ – “. But she added, “Still I have the Hill, my Gibraltar remnant. Nature, seems it to myself, plays without a friend.” She never acquired another dog.
5 thoughts on “See Emily Play”
Just listened to Vendler talking to Christopher Lydon on Radio Open Source on the way into work this morning. I’m fairly ignorant of Dickinson’s deep cuts, and it makes me want to spend a lot of the afternoon with them.
(By the way, those of you who don’t listen to Lydon, you should. Go and check out RADIO OPEN SOURCE, his show/podcast, and listen to any episode. The conversation is thoughtful whether it’s about economics or war or poems.)
Thanks John, I listened to that a few weeks ago and added the link. She also talks about Wallace Stevens in one show. Great show.
Among the thousand ways that Dickinson matters is how central she is, downright essential, to American poetic expression. She simply couldn’t have worked her magic — part hymn & part lamentation, part conjure & part curative, her noon brightness everywhere shot through with chill — she couldn’t have done it in language other than American plain speech. More than Whitman, always taking the long breaths of the King James Bible, she forged something new, terse yet fecund, to the point yet echoing w/ suggestion. If the blues weren’t America’s music, hers would be.
I love this description of the value of Dickinson’s work.
Wonderful John – and the Shakespearean nuggets:
Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.