Just when I think I am ready to work with my dream material, I wake up and assert, “No! I won’t have this dream in my head.” Ugh, don’t ask. It was an unpleasant visit with my ex-husband. I tried to forget the dream and only succeeded in forgetting the second half. I remembered the first half, which was the truly terrible half. The second half might have been the triumphant resolution for all I know. That’s usually where the triumphant resolution falls in dreams, but I missed it. Serves me right for being a coward. I could try again tonight, I guess.
Here is today’s poem:
#1129, c. 1868
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
So, the topic is Truth or a variation on the Truth. Today when I woke up I turned away from a truth coming through in my dream. I assume my subconscious always tells the truth. But I didn’t want it. Perhaps it was too dazzling. The dream already speaks in metaphor. How much more slant could that be? Not slant enough apparently.
In the category of Good News this morning, the gardenia by my front door coughed up a single blossom. I plucked it right away before the midday sun burned it. The weather has been too hot for the gardenia to flower, but we received a whisper of cooler, drier air in the past few days. The temperature went down to 90 degrees! So the gardenia felt brave enough to push out a blossom. I took it. This cultivar is called Mystery Gardenia, selected and planted by me for precisely that reason. I invite mystery in at my front door. You won’t find any bludgeoning clarity in this house.
So . . . Truth! We come circling back around to it again. “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.” Remember all the dream. The truth comes twisted through images.
For a recovering journalist, the idea of telling all the truth but slant is quite engaging. Most people take that for granted. They’ve been doing it all along. Telling partial truths. Or a “version” of the truth. Not me. I tell all the truth and tell it straight on, cold, unvarnished, piece by piece, and I’ll repeat a few pieces in case you missed any. I’m famous for hitting people between the eyes with the truth. (or what I think is the truth.) How boring.
Also those half-truths or versions of the truth won’t do. Emily does not advocate lying. A half-truth is a lie. She says, “All the truth.” But adds, you must bring the truth out at an angle so that it may slide through our peripheral vision. The truth is always more than anyone can bear. She does not suggest slant-wise truth telling in order to protect the teller from some consequence of the truth. That’s usually the cryptic justification for half-truths. No, Emily says you’ve got to ease into the truth at an angle to protect the fragile listener. No one can see it directly without turning away. It’s a kindness to be slant.
They say dogs won’t make eye contact with their humans because that is too invasive, too challenging. Not true in my house. Lance and I look directly into each other’s eyes with no difficulty. He gazes with pure trust and safety into my eyes, and I likewise. He’s not afraid of me or my eyes. And I love his eyes. No slant needed between us.
The other analogy is the solar eclipse. Something so extraordinary that we may not look directly at it or we will be blinded. There’s a solar eclipse tomorrow by the way. Don’t bother watching for it unless you live in China. So it is with the greatest truths. We must receive these by indirection. I’d say all truths come to us by indirection, both great and small. We don’t get anything except by means of a metaphor.
I have spent most of my life asking questions that people didn’t want to answer because the answer, the obvious answer, no one wanted to say out loud. Or being told to shut up because I was saying something no one wanted to hear. The implications of such an answer were more than anyone felt like dealing with. Not because these were so enormous. Only that they’d require some unpleasant acknowledgment of smallness, meanness, or irresponsibility. Some cobweb on the soul.
I’m usually the one dropping the other shoe. Or no actually, grabbing the other shoe from the hands of one who refuses to drop it and then throwing it onto the floor. See, now there’s a metaphor. Compress all the unruly ideas into a nice compact image. The truth by indirection.
My point being, of course, that I am a klutz when it comes to the truth. I crave the truth and am maddened by its deliberate absence. But I approach the truth as a predator, not a poet. I do love Emily’s dazzling grace, but I don’t have her ability to render the truth with such elegant precision. She is a gymnast. I take out the garbage.
One day I’ll get it right. In the meanwhile, this much I know is true: I would sit with Emily’s indirection and be happy for all of my life.
2 responses to “Truth Must Dazzle Gradually”
This poem carries particular heft for me, given my line of work. I’m a (soon to be licensed) clinical psychologist.
No one, I’m convinced, can handle the whole truth about themselves. Not all at one time. That which we find fascinating frequently veils this self-knowledge from us. It’s only when what gratifies us most fails us that truth’s whithering light flickers briefly on who and what we are and have become.
Emily seems to be playing around with the motifs of light, vision, and insight here, and employs threatening, dangerous imagery to do so. Why is it that almost every Judeo-Christian narrative of the angel of the Lord is constantly asking the protagonist in that narrative to “Fear not?” I suspect that Emily would say that there is a terrible unearthly self-discovery that happens when you encounter the divine, and its light shows you yourself.
Obviously I’m reading religion into her work here, when she’s only talking about Truth. Yet given some of her other work, is this so far of a stretch?
Hi Phil, thank you for reading and commenting. I think you are right about Emily’s suggestion that the “truth” (whatever that is) is often frightening. I believe she lived in acute awareness of the essential, cold and spacious darkness at the center of consciousness. It was never meant to be comforting. And yes, we all of us do a lot of equivocating with ourselves to avoid a direct apprehension of that core truth. That’s why we need therapists! Emily could be a great co-worker in your practice . . .