Today Emily writes to her brother, Austin. #2, c. 1851
There is another sky,
Ever serene and fair,
And there is another sunshine,
Though it be darkness there;
Never mind faded forests, Austin,
Never mind silent fields —
Here is a little forest,
Whose leaf is ever green;
Here is a brighter garden,
Where not a frost has been;
In its unfading flowers
I hear the bright bee hum;
Prithee, my brother,
Into my garden come!
She invites her brother into her garden where all is ever green. Nothing fades or dies.
Emily tells us what a spectacular world exists inside her head. She’d like to share it with someone she loves, her brother, someone who not only appreciates it, but needs a glimpse of this garden.
I get the sense that Em is comforting her brother with this poem. Also giving herself something. The pleasure for Emily is to share the wonders of her imagination.
Yeah yeah, the deal with her is that she wrote in solitude. But not really. She wanted someone to read what she wrote. She wanted someone to know the glories that she could “see” with her mind’s eye. Otherwise why commit any of it paper at all? And why send that batch of poems to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, asking for his opinion on whether her poems “breathed”?
Why? Because Emily Dickinson, infamous recluse and dog lover (these often go together), skinny, flat-chested, dour, long-nose Yankee bluestocking yadda, yadda, yadda—you’ve heard all the usual de-sexualizing stuff about our sweet Em—asked to be seen and heard through her words. She was an artist and yearned to be felt in the world. To have an impact. To exist. To move people with her words, make them think and react. She wanted to make something happen.
Now, I am savoring the paradox of “another sunshine/Though it be darkness there.” I want to hold that sunlight in the darkness behind my eyes. I am sitting on my porch. That damn bird has stopped singing finally. Lance has propped his chin on the lower porch rail. He’s keeping an eye on the squirrel in the crape myrtle because you never know what a squirrel might do. Now there is someone, Lance, who is happy not to be famous. If we ignore Lance forever, he won’t care. As long as someone puts food in his bowl at the right time, he’s content.
Another bird joins the song. More modulated. she moves up and down the scale with more grace and style than her predecessor. The more complex answer to his blunt announcement.
The darkness behind my eyes is illuminated by a light invisible to anyone else. This morning, I woke from a dream, brightly lit, even though it moved from day to night. The strongest image I took from the dream is a cluster of giant, ancient pine trees in a park at night. The wind moves their branches as I walk up the hill toward them. Although it is summer, the air is cool. The trees are lovely and mysterious. They stand near each other, as if in close counsel, holding their wisdom. They present themselves and defy understanding. They are alive with their own nature but give nothing away.
I recognize these trees. They grow in rocky soil in New England. They are strong, impervious to winter. Emily could have walked beneath these trees.