I’ve gotten advice from a friend about how to write this blog. First she said she wanted me to reproduce verbatim each poem, as I work with it. Then she said, “Nah, don’t bother. Too academic.” I agreed with her both times.
I’m typing in today’s poem in its complete form because I find it particularly challenging.
#1135, c. 1868
Too cold is this
To warm with Sun—
Too stiff to bended be,
To joint this Agate were a work—
How went the Agile Kernal out
Contusion of the Husk
Nor rip, nor wrinkle indicate
But just an Asterisk.
Today my attention is drawn to the last word. She drifts through a couple of images starting with marble and stone masonry. Then to a kernel coming out of its husk. Ending with an Asterisk. That symbol in typeface to show what’s missing. She moves from these hard-surfaced natural items, stone and nut, to the realm of writing, ideas and symbols. Actual symbols, not literary ones.
As asterisk symbolizes some words that are missing that we should look for elsewhere—in a footnote, for example. As a placeholder in the text, the asterisk is a symbol embedded in symbols. A symbol that symbolizes more symbols. Printed words are a lot of marks that symbolize things or ideas. The asterisk’s distance from physical reality is compounded by its function, its reason for existing in the first place.
Ok, now I’ll go lofting on my own trip because that’s what I’m here for. I use asterisks when I am editing a manuscript, and I want the student to know I especially like something in the story. For me the asterisk is a nice, dense, compressed item that seems to bristle with excitement. That’s why I chose it to symbolize my approval and enjoyment of someone’s writing.
And it works well for that. These penciled asterisks look merry and bright scattered up and down the margins of a manuscript. I’d be happy to have a manuscript of mine returned to me, decorated with lots of hand-made asterisks. It’s one of the more fun punctuation marks. I like it so much better than exclamation points. Those seem overbearing. An asterisk is an elegant, radiating expression of good will.
I wonder if that’s what Emily had in mind. I doubt it. I’m sure she was onto something else altogether, having to do with the brute act of drawing forth the seed of thought. From Agate to Kernel. What is she up to? What is hard, cold and immovable in her? That puts her in mind of some lively seed that somehow makes its way into the world without any obvious violence?
Is it those ideas, those words that are missing? Suggested only by the symbol in the typeface. What we can’t see. Her unspoken thoughts. Her unwritten words. That are waiting to be fertilized and grow.
Dear Emily, what on Earth are you up to, my girl? You leave me interestingly challenged and drawn into your knotty, gnomic pronouncements.