The day is beautiful. The lawn guy is buzzing all around so I can hardly hear myself think. Yet, something always sneaks through. Here is Emily’s idea:
#516, c. 1862
Beauty — be not caused — It is —
Chase it, and it ceases —
Chase it not, and it abides —
Overtake the Creases
In the Meadow — when the Wind
Runs his fingers thro’ it —
Deity will see to it
That you never do it —
Well, she just writes her own rules, doesn’t she. Look at that cheeky last stanza, rhyming the last three lines and leaving the first one out there, hanging in the empty air with no rhyme of its own. Lonely line.
Then she separates the line “Overtake the Creases” to make us pay attention to it. It is still linked to the first stanza by rhyming “creases” and “ceases”. But there it is alone in the middle of the poem with nothing to lean on. We have to see it as the lynch pin of the poem. The thing that God will make sure we never do. Overtake the creases.
I experience Emily’s sense of Beauty as something more than a pleasing arrangement of features, a quality of skin tone or favorable bone structure. (I can never forget Madelyn Kahn as the floozy in Paper Moon, jiggling and chirruping, “A girl’s just got to have good bone structure.”) Although none of that hurts, I’m sure Emily would agree there is something more to beauty than that.
So, “overtake the creases”? What do we do with that? Maybe this: If you try to run after the beautiful pattern in the grass of the meadow as the wind courses over it, this diverting eye-catching delight will elude you. Trying to capture such an event will leave you empty-handed, frustrated. The way to absorb this beauty is to allow it and stand in awe.
The image of the wind running “his fingers” through the grasses of the meadow figures the wind into a lover who runs his fingers through the hair of his beloved. Sweet Emily is the viewer, standing by the side, always a bridesmaid, never a bride. She may observe, not partake, of this unexpected, unsought, divinely instigated gesture of beauty and love.
Beauty is that moment of connection between wind and meadow, between lover and beloved. As spontaneous, unprovoked and ephemeral as a shift in the air. None of us can make the wind lift our hair just so. Love never appears on demand. It is not held as a debt owed. Emily, Emily, Emily. Have you been eavesdropping on my dreams? I think I know what Emily is talking about here. Her life has been well documented. But how does she know what I am thinking? Me, a lowly porch-scribbler. Whining into my coffee. Enough.
Beauty may not be pursued or grasped. Beauty may only be witnessed. This is the hardest lesson for all of us. What to do about those intoxicating fingers in our hair, the diverting bone structure, and all that that implies? Not merely the physical sensation of pleasure produced by beauty. But the sense of timelessness that accompanies it. A belief that one may be carried instantly out of one world, drear and common, into another that is perfection all at once.
Here she says it again: Trust in the unexpected. That trust is maintaining an awareness of possibility, not striving. The act of capture destroys. Possession kills. Why is this so difficult? Why would Emily’s Deity give us such a painful task? So cruel and hard to be presented with the thing we crave, and then deny us this thing if we pursue it. What did her Deity mean for us in this conundrum?
Nothing belongs to us. Not even our own beautiful lives. Attempting to possess anything betrays a profound lack of faith in bounty. Our own and the world’s. Grasping after the beauty or love we desire exposes our own failure of generosity. Shameful and self defeating. The god within will make sure we experience deprivation outside, just to make us see what a parched desert we have made of ourselves.
Emily, you are a tough nut. But I am glad to have you, all the same.