I’m listening to “For Emma, Forever Ago” (Bon Iver). Today’s poem is #756, c. 1863. Emily is in a queer mood. By request, I render it whole here:
One Blessing had I than the rest
So larger to my Eyes
That I stopped gauging — satisfied—
For this enchanted size —
It was the limit of my Dream —
The focus of my Prayer—
A perfect — paralyzing Bliss —
Contented as Despair —
I knew no more of Want — or Cold —
Phantasms both become
For this new Value in the Soul —
Supremest Earthly Sum—
The Heaven below the Heaven above —
Obscured with ruddier Blue —
Life’s Latitudes leant over — full—
The Judgement perished — too —
Why Bliss so scantily disburse —
Why Paradise defer —
Why Floods be served to Us — in Bowls —
I speculate no more.
This poem makes me ask what could I have that would make me happy to be miserable. I have not felt that way in many long years. So in love that even the pain of conflict with the loved one is a pleasure somehow. To know such complete bliss that even the misery is perfect. So rich in my soul that I am happy to embrace it all.
We are led to believe that if something is painful, or some association gives us pain, we must eradicate this from our lives. Because if it hurts, it must be bad. I’m not going to argue with that. Certainly a lot of toxic events, people, etc should be avoided because these are only destructive for all concerned.
Now Emily’s poem makes me ask what does it mean to have that “perfect paralyzing Bliss/Contented as despair”? This is the line that gives me pause. My wrinkled old brain doesn’t want to get around this. But I have to take another pass at it.
This is the Blessing she says. Not a joy, not a pleasure, but a blessing that surpasses all other blessings and is the limit of her dream, the focus of her prayer. Also I note this blessing is not so simple as to know God’s love or a promise of heaven after. For this blessing is “Heaven below” here on earth and obscures “Heaven above.” The earthly blessing is greater than what God offers in the afterlife.
It is that opening of the soul, the depth and richness in her soul that allows for all that earthly existence may provide. The paradox of the Bliss that leaves one paralyzed or a Despair that is contentment. This is not masochism. This is the complexity of being human. Well, the complexity of being Emily. To hold all that is possible in her soul at once without judgement or fear or anxious effort to replace, renew, retreat. Simple being.
The second to last line: “Why Floods be served to Us — in Bowls — I speculate no more.” Have to admit this really strikes a chord in my New Orleans heart. Em says, Do not sit and ask “Why?” There is no answer to the question,”Why did Katrina fill up the bowl of our city with water?” That question itself of “Why?” (and lack of an answer) breeds the misery, not the flood water. The water drained out of the bowl a long time ago. If we are still asking “why?” then we can’t blame Katrina or the federal government for our despair. It is our own poor question. There is no why. There is only the complexity of holding all that we are at once without desire or judgment. Only contentment for what we are.
I woke from this dream early in the morning: I am swimming in the ocean with my daughter. (I don’t have an actual daughter; this was my dream daughter.) We rise and fall in the enormous, green cloudy swells of water. I teach my daughter how to discipline the ocean so it will not overwhelm her. We make a game of it. We slap the surface of the water and shout, “Take that you great, big, brave, old ocean!”