September is really here. Pluto goes direct in a week. We are foraging in the basement of the soul. Emily is in a brown study this morning.
#522, c. 1862
Had I presumed to hope —
The loss had been to Me
A Value — for the Greatness’ Sake
As Giants — gone away —
Had I presumed to gain
A Favor so remote —
The failure but confirm the Grace
In further Infinite —
‘Tis failure — not to of Hope —
But Confident Despair —
Advancing on Celestial Lists —
With faint — Terrestrial power —
‘Tis Honor — though I die —
For That no Man obtain
Till He be justified by Death —
This — is the second Gain —
So, to summarize: Emily, the artful dodger, alludes to her sense of loss and failure in her life here on earth. She maneuvers a way to take victory from defeat. All that requires is that she die. There is a suggestion here that if you expect too much of your earthly life, then you have misunderstood something vital, which is that the gain that is really worthwhile only comes after death.
Emily is making lemonade. I don’t buy it. Sorry Emily, but I don’t believe in the Great Reward after death. Maybe you do believe it . . . occasionally. You flip flop on this subject, to be honest. I know you are always honest.
Lately, I have been asking the questions that should have been obvious when I began this meditation and writing practice three months ago. Why these poems now? Why this conversation with Emily? The struggle for me lies in the contemplation of her bare-knuckled thoughts. She is an artful dodger and yet also an intellectual pugilist. Her right hook is a killer.
For the past week or so I’ve been having an argument with the poems. That’s why I have not written in a few days. Yes, it’s a bit of a tantrum, but not unproductive. My resistance flares up whenever I feel myself pulled into a world view, her world view, that feels too cool, too demanding, too dazzling for ordinary living. I just want an ordinary life. (Okay full disclosure here: When I first typed the previous sentence, taking dictation from my own handwritten entry in my notebook, I accidentally mis-typed, “I just don’t want an ordinary life.” So which is it? Don’t ask me. I obviously can’t decide.) Outwardly Emily’s life probably looked ordinary. Inwardly, though, all was dire, extreme, jagged. No quarter. No hiding places. No rest. I feel exhausted when I imagine what it must be like to live within a mind and a world view like hers.
I shared these concerns with a friend of mine recently. She is a poet. Her idea was to see the process as a continuation or an evolution of the groundwork set in place by Emily. “Try to pick up where she left off,” she said. “Maybe live out what she didn’t. Complete what she left incomplete.”
Oh, my god! What hubris! But yeah, sure. Why not? I can do that, I thought. I had come to these poems as an acolyte. Instead I could approach them as a friend.
So now, what remains incomplete? Still working on it. Feels like this has to do with integrating the uncompromising life of the mind with the ordinary life in a coat of flesh.