I had to skip a day and start over because the poem yesterday threw me into a whirl of misunderstanding. I needed to dwell on it a while longer and try again today. It’s painful.
#1299, c. 1874
Delight’s Despair at setting
Is that Delight is less
Than the sufficing Longing
That so impoverish.
Mistaken oft has been
For the Authentic orbit
Of its Anterior Sun.
Yes, Emily you are correct. The actual fulfillment of longing or desire is never what one hopes. The anticipation, because it is all in the vapors of the mind, grows beyond any physical possibility. The tendency to focus on those vapors is a kind of addiction that may “impoverish”. By that she means this misdirected obsessive focus drains the life out of your Life. Em is saying: Don’t mistake your desire for the thing itself that you desire. Desiring only the experience of desire will rob you of energy or life force.
In the next stanza, the one I love more, we reach “Enchantment’s Perihelion.” Beautiful. Her metaphor of the sun here is lovely and a perfect counterweight to my moon visit two nights ago. The thought that rises up is a warning: You will miss the true experience, the great source of all life, heat, energy, if you mistake “enchantment” for the force that produces it. It takes courage to let go of enchantment because it is so delightful, or seems so at least. Clearly enchantment is not all there is.
Preferring enchantment over real connection to life is like taking in the fragrance of a freshly baked loaf of bread and thinking you have been sufficiently fed—while the bread itself goes stale and uneaten. This homely loaf is not nearly as glamourous as that glorious fragrance that fills all the air at once, swirls around you, takes control, entices you into the kitchen. This actual loaf of bread, if you were willing to take it and eat it, would sustain your body and give you strength in a real and lived way. Yet, the loaf itself does not produce nearly the excitement sparked by its heraldic scent.
So why would anyone prefer the enchantment over the true source of energy and life? Well, because it’s there. Enchantment is charming. It comes to you. You don’t have to look for it. Then it sweeps over you without effort. It’s easy to think that is enough. The real source takes more active engagement. Perhaps also, the real source of life is too much. Too consuming. Continuing the theme of the Sun, to contact the real source of life that throws this enchantment over us, would mean being burned up in the fire, melted and absorbed into that enormous power. Loss of boundaries. Loss of identity. Loss of control.
In any event, the sun (or God or the Beloved or who or what you want to slot into the role of life’s source) is too bright for our frail, limited, human eyes to see directly. We can only apprehend it by looking at the perihelion. Emily tells us not to get confused about what you’re looking at, really
Emily also offers us a lesson in love and relationship. Come down out of the ether of enchantment and partake of the real sustenance. Don’t mistake the diverting perihelion of desire for the sun/source of love itself.
Emily is probably offering a lesson in lots of things. Her metaphors are so dense, they travel well and can support just about any structure we build on them.
This poem continues to give me a pain in my chest. I don’t know where this feeling comes from. I could blame the poem, but honestly I don’t mind the pain. It is settling, and I am arranging myself around it.
Now, I am holding it like a flower.