Emily presents a difficult one today. My friend Shaun calls these “inscrutable.” In this case, I have to agree. Others like to say that Emily’s poems are so accessible. I don’t know where this idea comes from. I have to wait for the four lines below to unravel. I stare at them, walk with them in my mind, and wait for a thread to open it up. Here it is:
#899, c. 1864
Herein a Blossom Lies —
A Sepulchre, between —
Cross it, and overcome the Bee —
Remain — ’tis but a Rind.
A day has gone by, and I still don’t know what to make of the above. But I’ll plunge into it anyway.
The poem tells us where a flower actually resides. It is not in the fleshy petals. That is only the empty Rind, left behind. The Sepulchre that holds the body. The true nature of the flower is invisible. It is the fragrance. The essence that we know exists because the Bee is drawn to it.
The flower’s fragrance, like the invisible essence of the human spirit, is what truly animates. It’s the thing that brings us into “the family of things.” When we exist in relationship or in work with others, the bees who are drawn to us, come because we emanate something invisible. A scent, a sigh, a soul.
To be dazzled by the fleshy petals is to mistake the flower’s or the person’s true nature.
Emily also implies a question that hangs in the periphery of the poem. She asks where does the scent go after the Rind rots away? It lies in the memory of the Bee, perhaps?
Once again, Em requires that we sit with these dense overlapping possibilities and not think. You won’t ever get to know this poem. You might allow it to be near you and not demand too much more than that.
Lately, I have been savoring all the possibilities that reside in one moment. That we move along most of our lives, believing we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, given all that came before and all that we expect to come in the future. Yet, we never know the enormous potential in each passing moment. That I might say this word instead of that could change everything. Or make a right turn here instead of a left. Each small choice could bring me to an entirely new and different life.
I am living in this house because I walked down this street and saw a “for sale” sign in front of this house. If I had chosen another street that day six years ago, I wouldn’t be on this porch now. Maybe I’d be on another porch somewhere else. Maybe I’d be sitting on a porch in Vermont.
If I had not stopped in by the Spotted Cat one night eight years ago (where I found Lance as a puppy, on the loose, having just escaped capture by the SPCA) I would not have this mutt at my feet now. Lance would have a different name and be living with some other person. Or maybe he’d be dead. In any case, he wouldn’t be here with me on this porch. If I had stepped into this doorway instead of that doorway, I would not have Lance. Maybe I wouldn’t have any dog, and I’d be spending my summers in Japan. In that case, I would not know any of the people that Lance has introduced me to.
It was a choice that set off a vector line in one direction that has brought me here, far away from the point that a different choice taking me on a different vector line would have brought me. One vector line sets off other vector lines all along the way and so on. It’s dizzying to look at the series of seemingly trivial, one-shot decisions we make that comprise a whole life.
The idea that we plan anything is pure illusion. Once we put our lives into the hands of Chance, we must accept the outcome and recognize that we are determining our direction when we are least aware of it. We work with Chance, but only Chance knows it.
Often it is the smallest choice that puts us here 20 years from now, not there. So it helps to pay attention.