Thick and fast, these brief notes come flying out of the dark. Emily shoots bullets from the hip on love and other difficulties. First, the following came to hand.
Why make it doubt — it hurts it so —
So sick — to guess —
So strong — to know —
So brave — upon its little Bed
To tell the very last They said
Unto Itself — and smile — And shake —
For that dear — distant — dangerous — Sake
But — the Instead — the Pinching Fear
That Something — it did do — or dare —
Offend the Vision — and it Flee —
And They no more remember me —
Nor ever turn to tell me why —
Oh, Master, This is Misery —
This could be one of her “Master Letters”, that direct address to the person she calls, “Dear Master”. Never identified, this faceless, nameless object of her love provoked great passion in the poet and as we see here, misery as well.
The “it” of the opening lines, I read as Emily’s love-filled heart. Its “little bed” is her breast. This delicate organ grows sick and dies if tainted with doubt. The “Pinching Fear” that kills her poor dear heart is the shock of seeing her own bold offering (“it did do — or dare—”) of love refused. No passive flower, Emily asserts her will in this love drama. This Master is the ruler of her heart because she anointed him. She hands him the keys to the kingdom and then holds him accountable when he brings it all to rubble. Understandable. A failure is still a failure even if he didn’t exactly ask for it. Besides . . . what is he . . . nuts?
I have been carrying around this poem for a couple of days because it bothers me. I didn’t feel like writing about it. (I’ve been at this long enough to know that I should not trust my own resistance to a poem. Now I wait with the poem and let it uncurl itself to me.) This is such an old story, yadda, yadda, yadda. Then this morning, I picked up my book, and the pages fell open to the following four-line sledgehammer.
#826, c. 1864
Love reckons by itself — alone —
“As large as I” — relate the Sun
To One who never felt it blaze —
Itself is all the like it has —
Emily boomerangs right back into her power center. Her love is like the star at the center of the solar system. Accountable only to itself, her love is the beginning and the end all at once. The organizing principle, it is both the source of all life and the reference point that shapes all life. All meaning orbits this provenance. This star, this love does not have to explain or justify or answer questions. Everything else has to measure itself against this love, not the other way around. The matter of acceptance or return does not exist for the center of the universe. Finally love doesn’t do anything or go anywhere because it is all that is.
She leaves us with one caveat. All this is true for “One who never felt it blaze —” She would like to be the star at the center of the universe. And she’s big enough to see herself that way, the source of unconditional, life-giving love. That’s not just a foolish idea either. It’s true until she’s hit with a meteor and knocked off her center. Emily is human like the rest of us, perfect in her flaws.