Tag Archives: dream

Devil’s Play

Recently I dreamed that the Devil was erasing my words as quickly as I wrote them.  I could see a line of type running across the surface of my eyes and my own hand inscribing them. Before I could grasp the words, they dissolved and evaporated like the morning fog.

Here is what Emily said:

#1287, c. 1873

In this short Life
That only lasts an hour
How much — how little — is
Within our power

 

In the dream, I tried several times to remember and write the closing couplet of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116: “If this be error and upon me proved,
/ I never writ, nor no man ever loved.” Whenever I wrote “never writ” the typeface began to disappear.

The first 12 lines of the sonnet did not appear for some reason. The Devil assumed we knew it already and didn’t need to have it spelled out: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds” . . . yadda, yadda, yadda . . . “It is an ever-fixed mark,” etc., etc. No, we telescoped into the last couplet.

Something that has always troubled me about those last two lines is the double negative: “nor no man ever loved.” If he had written what we expected: “nor any man ever loved,” the iambic pentameter would have gone off beat. He needed a single syllable there. Okay, fine. But then taken literally the double negative cancels itself out. First, he asserts that if love is not the “ever-fixed mark” then he “never writ.” Well, here we are reading his poem, so that is the written proof that his statement about love is true. Then he adds the twist at the end: nor no man. That means if he has loved men then his claims about love are false.

Verily the Devil doth play at tricky grammar! The poet reveals in the end, by way of this fiendish turnabout, that everything he claimed about love in the previous lines is false. Or at least that he has never experienced the idealized love that everyone craves. He tells us that his love for various men is nothing like the vision of unswerving devotion he describes—the marriage of true minds. Instead, we can assume that his love is the more commonplace, crazy-making, erratic philandering that never makes anyone happy. I experience the ambiguity in that last flourish as snarky. It is a bitter and sly denunciation of love’s false promise, masquerading as a tribute to love’s lasting truth.

I am left with only one question: Why does the Devil want to make these words disappear from my mind?

Emily, being perhaps the more gentle soul, hovers over the exquisite dividing line: “How much — how little” The only thing that saves her little poem from the Hallmark dungeon of clichés is the balancing phrase “how little”. There she allows that the truth stands in the paradox of feeling powerful and knowing your own powerlessness at the same time. Being both gigantic and insignificant all at once. Be amazed by yourself! Get over yourself—no one’s looking. Write an extraordinary poem. Throw it in the trash—there are enough poems. Both are true.

Every time you write something, let it disappear. Now there’s an interesting experiment. Why this mania for making an ever-fixed mark? And then demanding recognition. Really? What does that serve?

Emily’s poem brings us back to the central question and abiding mystery of her life and her work, which is that she left behind a lengthy record of her extraordinary artistic vision. That she intended for no one. Nor no man ever to read.

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Waking Is Better

A great soaking and thunderclapping storm this morning. I’ll see how long I last out here on the porch. It’s noisy, and poor Lance can’t take it. I have to dose him with xanax whenever there is a thunderstorm, and even then all he can do is hide and tremble. It’s a sad day, when drugs don’t get you through.

Okay, time for retreat. Notebook is soaked.

#450, c. 1862

Dreams — are well — but Waking’s better,
If One wake at Morn —
If One wake at Midnight — better —
Dreaming — of the Dawn —

Sweeter — the Surmising Robins —
Never gladdened Tree —
Than a Solid Dawn — confronting —
Leading to no Day —

I have had a hard time recalling my dreams lately. I know something is happening, a lot in fact. Then as soon as my eyes open, the scene evaporates. My subconscious is busy. I wonder, though, does it still count if I can’t bring the material up to the surface and make a clear narrative? Does the dream still fulfill its task of informing the psyche, if the content doesn’t survive into waking hours?

There is a middle-of-the-night quality of vision that seems more “awake” than simply not being asleep. The darkness and the hour cloak otherwise familiar surroundings in a way that seems alien only because it’s not visible in daylight. The darkness and the hour do not make our surroundings strange; these only reveal what the light can’t show. The dark side of the moon still exists, even though we can’t see it. That vast continent of rock moves in space and enacts its gravitational pull on us here on Earth, blocked from our sight. We are tempted to say that what we can’t see doesn’t matter, but we’d be wrong.

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Dark Side Of The Moon

The moon is full today in Gemini. Skies sparkle with movement. When Uranus goes direct that means surprise reversals. And good news arrived last night.

I had talked in the afternoon with my friend Shaun, who was distraught. Her parents’ dog—a miniature dachshund named Emily—had been lost in the woods. Intrepid Emily was in the habit of going off by herself, but this time she did not return. Shaun feared Emily had fallen prey to a Great Horned Owl. After searching the woods and leaving messages everywhere, Emily’s human family sank into despair. Days went by with no sign of hope.

“I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,” as my Emily would put it.

The not knowing what had happened, the mystery of Emily’s sudden and inexplicable absence was the cleaver that smashed everyone wide open. Then a few hours after I talked with Shaun, I opened my email to find a message from her. Emily had been found! Picked up on the side of the road by a nice family who had taken her to Banff. Emily, who had been having a rough time of it, would spend the afternoon at a spa, having a facial and a pedicure. Her humans would retrieve her soon. (Okay, I added this last part about the spa.) Shaun wrote: “I don’t know what to say.” I don’t know what to say either. Except maybe: Thank you. For all the Emilies, thank you.

My Emily has this to offer today beneath the Gemini Fool Moon:

#450, c. 1862

Dreams — are well — but Waking’s better,
If One wake at Morn —
If One wake at Midnight — better —
Dreaming — of the Dawn —

Sweeter — the Surmising Robins —
Never gladdened Tree —
Than a Solid Dawn — confronting —
Leading to no Day —

If you are lucky enough to be one of those people who lives in the world of daylight, waking is preferable to dreaming. Because in the daylight, you know what you’re dealing with. Everyone obeys the laws of physics. And the shocks are at least real, rather than surreal.

If you are not one of those people. If you are a poet, say, like Emily, and you are more alive and awake in the dark of midnight, then your reality clicks into place only when you are dreaming. Such a person is actually living on the dark side of the moon. She is more in her skin when her eyes are closed than open. Such an existence, says Emily, is only viable as long as each day leads her to another dream. Her life depends on the continued movement of the earth around the sun. Just like ordinary mortals. The difference is that she cannot grasp what is worthy in those daylight hours. Her hands only know how to pick up the nighttime knitting, when the rules change. Nothing is solid. The dead speak. Her mind stands in many places at once. And she can see through walls into the heart of any question. Furthermore, no one wastes her time with foolishness, lies or fear. No one else lives on the dark side of the moon with Emily. She’s out there by herself. Fortunately for us, she is willing to send us letters from where she lives, so we can know what it’s like over there. And we know she’s all right.

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