Tag Archives: feminine

No Day At the Beach

When Emily goes for a walk to the sea, this is no simple day at the beach.

#520, c. 1862

I started Early — Took my Dog —
And visited the Sea —
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me —

And Frigates — in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands —
Presuming Me to be a Mouse —
Aground — upon the Sands —

But no Man moved Me — till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe —
And past my Apron — and my Belt
And past my Bodice — too —

And made as He would eat me up —
As wholly as a Dew
Upon a Dandelion’s Sleeve —
And then — I started — too —

And He — He followed — close behind —
I felt His Silver Heel
Upon My Ankle — Then my Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl —

Until We met the Solid Town —
No One He seemed to know —
And bowing — with a Mighty look —
At me — The Sea withdrew —

First the mermaids emerge from her basement, these otherworldly, non-human creatures that live in her subconscious. Just looking. They have nothing to say. Neutral, silent, fantastical bottom-dwellers down there in the basement of her soul, come to the surface occasionally just to freak her out. Able swimmers, who may live either in air or water. Both fish and woman. Travelers between the realms. Translators between the species.

Then the sailboats in her attic. The wind-driven vessels of her upper mind. Dreams made of vapors, thoughts, ideas. These try to save her from her watery fate. Emily’s sharp and airy mind may want to make sense of the vast emotions that engulf her from time to time, but she doesn’t accept this help. Emily wants to drown.

So instead, she returns to her old lover, the sea who takes a slow inventory of her person from shoe to bodice. She is nearly overtaken and then . . . she reaches safety, solid ground. My goodness, we almost lost you there, Em. What would have happened to you? Something more than love, but less than what you thought? We’ll find out eventually because that “mighty look” is a promise. The sea will return. It always does. The tide comes in, goes out, and comes in again. On that we can rely.

I notice she has the influences arranged so that no man moved her until this tide came over her. She contains this ocean. These tides are her own. She properly identifies the source of this vast oceanic feeling as commencing within her rather than giving credit to someone else for “making” her feel this way. Or at least she knows she’s having a private relationship with an archetype first, not a man out there. Whatever it is that happens for her out there among humans, originates with her own nature. Smart girl, Emily.

Now here is the part I cherish the most in this poem. Her dog accompanies her on this foray into the oceanic chaos of feeling. Why? He is the guide or the touchstone, perhaps? That sturdy, warm, fur-covered fellow traveler, who doesn’t ask questions. Doesn’t demand anything. Accepts her completely, no matter what. Doesn’t care if she is good or smart or successful or pretty. Still her dog wants her and loves her. Hmm . . . how like a deity is Emily’s dog. Therefore, he is the perfect companion to take with her on this borderline dangerous engagement with the unknown realm of emotional tumult. With her dog as her co-pilot, Emily can go anywhere. His wordless presence beside her is all the proof she needs that she exists in a meaningful way, and that her life matters to someone. Her dog is the anchor that keeps her steady in knowing her life is worth saving, keeping and living. Emily is never lost in the chaos of being human as long as her dog stands with her.

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Dark Sunshine

Today Emily writes to her brother, Austin. #2, c. 1851

There is another sky,
Ever serene and fair,
And there is another sunshine,
Though it be darkness there;
Never mind faded forests, Austin,
Never mind silent fields —
Here is a little forest,
Whose leaf is ever green;
Here is a brighter garden,
Where not a frost has been;
In its unfading flowers
I hear the bright bee hum;
Prithee, my brother,
Into my garden come!

She invites her brother into her garden where all is ever green. Nothing fades or dies.

Emily tells us what a spectacular world exists inside her head.  She’d like to share it with someone she loves, her brother, someone who not only appreciates it, but needs a glimpse of this garden.

I get the sense that Em is comforting her brother with this poem.  Also giving herself something.  The pleasure for Emily is to share the wonders of her imagination.

Yeah yeah, the deal with her is that she wrote in solitude.  But not really.  She wanted someone to read what she wrote.  She wanted someone to know the glories that she could “see” with her mind’s eye.  Otherwise why commit any of it paper at all?  And why send that batch of poems to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, asking for his opinion on whether her poems “breathed”?

Why?  Because Emily Dickinson, infamous recluse and dog lover (these often go together), skinny, flat-chested, dour, long-nose Yankee bluestocking yadda, yadda, yadda—you’ve heard all the usual de-sexualizing stuff about our sweet Em—asked to be seen and heard through her words.  She was an artist and yearned to be felt in the world.  To have an impact.  To exist.  To move people with her words, make them think and react.  She wanted to make something happen.

Now, I am savoring the paradox of “another sunshine/Though it be darkness there.”  I want to hold that sunlight in the darkness behind my eyes.  I am sitting on my porch.  That damn bird has stopped singing finally.  Lance has propped his chin on the lower porch rail.  He’s keeping an eye on the squirrel in the crape myrtle because you never know what a squirrel might do.  Now there is someone, Lance, who is happy not to be famous.  If we ignore Lance forever, he won’t care.  As long as someone puts food in his bowl at the right time, he’s content.

Another bird joins the song.  More modulated.  she moves up and down the scale with more grace and style than her predecessor.  The more complex answer to his blunt announcement.

The darkness behind my eyes is illuminated by a light invisible to anyone else.  This morning, I woke from a dream, brightly lit, even though it moved from day to night.  The strongest image I took from the dream is a cluster of giant, ancient pine trees in a park at night.  The wind moves their branches as I walk up the hill toward them.  Although it is summer, the air is cool.  The trees are lovely and mysterious.  They stand near each other, as if in close counsel, holding their wisdom.  They present themselves and defy understanding.  They are alive with their own nature but give nothing away.

I recognize these trees.  They grow in rocky soil in New England.  They are strong, impervious to winter.  Emily could have walked beneath these trees.

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