Good morning. This should keep me busy for a while. I am reading The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson. The latest copyright printed on the inside flap of my copy is 1960. The price: $6.95. The introduction tells me this edition relies heavily on the 1955 variorum text of The Poems of Emily Dickinson published by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (in three volumes!!). That consisted of 1775 poems. Emily’s capricious Capitalizations and highly intentional dashes are therein preserved.
I relay all this information as a form of throat clearing. You may ignore it if you like. The important information follows: This edition has been gathering dust on my shelf for many years, probably since my undergraduate days at Smith. Now I read one of Emily’s poems each morning as a meditative and creative practice. I read the poem aloud, close my eyes and let it dissolve on my tongue like a lozenge. Then I write whatever comes.
The first poem in this edition is a “valentine” dated 1850. She was young, a teenager. It is a conventional verse, exploring conventional sentiments of love. “Oh, the Earth was made for lovers . . .” she says. Then she goes on to explain how many things come in pairs. Heaven and Earth, Wave and Shore. Each needs the other to exist. Only God is single. Interesting thought that. The force that creates and governs all is the only undivided substance. All the rest, not only us humans, but everything according to Em is split into two parts that yearn for each other. That all things on the physical and psychic plane reflect our desire for a mate.
Then she ends with an exhortation to some unnamed person, presumably male, to give up his cold solitude. Emily instructs him to climb a tree where six girls—she names them—sit waiting to be plucked like ripe fruit. He is to take the one he loves (what of the other five I ask!) and bring her to the “greenwood, and build for her a bower”. He is also supposed to give her whatever she wants whether, “jewel, or bird, or flower—”. She also instructs him to “beat upon the drum—”
Then it appears he is to honor and cherish her until she faints from exhaustion.
Emily, you minx.
As I read this, some loud-mouth bird sits on the wire overhead and sings his chest out, calling to his mate, berating her for failing to notice his magnificence. What a racket. He sings ever stronger and louder so she will come to him.
It’s quiet now. The poem done. The singing too.