First, Last, Always

This poem sits right across the page from one of Emily’s Greatest Hits: “I dwell in Possibility —/ A fairer House than Prose —” These tend to cluster in thematic batches. So for today Emily has this to say:

#655, c. 1862

Without this — there is nought —
All other Riches be
As is the Twitter of a Bird —
Heard opposite the Sea —

I could not care — to gain
A lesser than the Whole —
For did not this include themself —
As Seams — include the Ball?

I wished a way might be
My heart to subdivide —
‘Twould magnify — the Gratitude —
And not reduce — the Gold —

Since the above lines come so close upon “a fairer House than Prose” I have to see the “this” in the first line here as a reference to her work, her poems. Her fairer house is the one in her imagination.

Emily knows herself very well. She knows where she lives and what is most important to her. The daily explosion of words from her mind onto the page. She can’t live without that, for it is her ability to conceive that near-perfect poem each day that makes the day. Without her gift for inner sight and outer expression, there is nothing. Everything around her ceases to exist or falls into the distance across the sea. Everything falls away against the vast ocean of her inner life.

She asks: Doesn’t this ability to imagine and craft the vision actually bind up the world and keep it whole as the seams do the ball? Without her work, her poems, the world, not just her world, but the objectively perceived world, falls to pieces. Unravels. Like the Tibetan monks who keep the planet spinning on its axis by maintaining a constant flow of prayer, Emily serves us by stitching together the seams of our senses with her words.

The last stanza is somewhat arresting. Can a woman who is devoted to a life’s work, such as finding the right word, also subdivide her heart to share with another?

Emily says, “No.” Her avocation demands the complete and total dedication of the heart to the task. This is not the sort of task that she dispenses with in a day, so that she is free to turn her attention and heart to another. When the shoemaker puts down his tools at the end of the day, for a brief time, until he takes up his work again, he is not a shoemaker. He may be a lover, a husband, a father, brother, son or friend. But when the writer puts down her pen, she is still a writer. She is still writing when she pours the coffee. Takes a bath, still writing. Walks the dog, yep still writing. On the phone with her mother, most especially. Sleeping, yes. Dreaming, absolutely. She is never not writing. Making love? Sorry, but yes, then too. Her heart may never be subdivided. Nor her attention. That flow of words and images never ceases. The story-making machinery between her ears never rests.

Emily wishes it was possible for the Lady Poet to exist in devotion to another and knows she could do that without loss to her avocation. She knows her heart is big enough to encompass all that she opens it to. The lack of space is not the problem. It’s that she simply cannot divide her love. She has married herself to her first love, the world inside her imagination. There may not be another.

I imagine that she permits visitors from time to time. But Emily remains clear that no one else may share that place of honor within her. No one and no thing will ever equal the love for her own ability because it all begins and ends with her words. These are her words. Everyone else is on the outside.

A casual observer might conclude that Emily is a lonely girl . . . and well . . . the soft animal of our body wants what it wants.

Emily is not lonely.

This poem voices her simple truth, a direct understanding of herself. Her serenity lies in knowing where her real attachment lives. That is to the wondrous realm she carries around within her. One that will never leave her. And never die.

It’s hard to explain this contentment, but I’ll try. The gift of imagination means never having to explain. That’s love. The wordy child begins a conversation with herself at a young age that springs from complete understanding and yields only pleasure. All obstacles dissolve into nothing. She may explore with complete freedom anything that she devises. No one ever says, “No.”

Mainly it’s just better in here than out there.

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