Today Emily considers feminine beauty. Not a bad topic for our little brown mouse. Here it is: #558 “But little Carmine hath her face—” Okay, whoever the poem addresses, this woman does not add color to her face. Carmine is a dye, not a blush produced by good health or sunshine or emotional heat.
Next: “Of Emerald scant—her Gown—” The woman Em refers to also does not play dress-up either, nor decorate herself with gems. I’m getting suspicious and nervous here. I love Carmine and Emeralds. I have many shades of Carmine at my disposal and trade them out regularly. Gewgaws are my life. Not to mention feathers, velvet, pointy-toed sandals. Emily please don’t make me feel shallow and guilty for loving the girly dress-up stuff. I want you to respect me, really I do. But c’mon. If you lived in my century I know we could be friends, drink iced-coffee and talk about our favorite shoes.
“Her beauty — is the love she doth —
Itself — exhibit — Mine —”
That little turn at the end intrigues me, the change from the third person to the first person. It makes me think of two possibilities. The first is that she speaks to a beloved friend, a woman who is either her lover in the sexual sense or a cherished friend of her heart. Either works. There is some hint around town that Emily may have been a lesbian. That’s possible. Or this love directed to a woman may be that 19th century style of discourse that close women friends saved for each other. I can well imagine that in a culture and a time that so denied (proper) women the liberty to express their emotional and sexual passions for men either in word or deed, that passion would would have to erupt out of some other (more chaste and “safe”) outlet. To her female friends.
I don’t have to tell you that you can’t plug up a woman’s emotions. They’ll just come out her ears or eyeballs or something we can’t even imagine right now.
Women need to love in the way that a dog needs to rub his head on your shins. I now that sounds awfully sexist, what I just wrote. Too bad. It’s true. Women need to lavish their love on someone. That impulse will flow into whatever channel that permits an opening. That love will go wherever it is welcomed.
The second thought that surfaced is that this poem may be the poet’s consideration of her own image in the mirror. I can imagine Emily seeing herself as outwardly plain and talking about herself in the third person when discussing her lack of paint and adornment. But then, oh but then, Em can see in her own face that love illuminates her from within and gives her a beauty that even she, modest Em, must recognize. A beauty that cannot be washed away with soap and water or discarded onto the dressing table.
Here is another sexist observation that I feel compelled to make about women in general and myself in particular. Love does make us beautiful. Bleecchhh . . . Sorry. There it is. I can’t take it back now. It’s true, and it makes me a little ill to know how true this is. But I can see it in my own face. When I love, I am lovely.
When I have lost that love, I can’t stand to look at myself. I can see the shift, the sag, the lines, the dark circles, the droop.
I hate that my face is such an automatic and vivid barometer of my emotional state. I’ll never be able to hide anything. If I had a tail, it would wag. I am only exposed. Only vulnerable. Arrrghhh.
I’ll never win at poker.
I’ll always be the one left hanging in the empty space between me and the other. The one with the better poker face.