Tag Archives: love poems

Baffled at Her Shrine

You won’t believe this, but another giant alligator has appeared in my bayou. This time someone got a photo of him (or her) in the act of capturing a large white duck in his jaws, and posted it on the neighborhood bulletin board. A froth of dead white feathers pushing along the surface of the water with a lumpy snout and set of eyes following behind.

So that settles that. No swimming in the bayou this summer for Lance. Tough luck. And I’ll have to put in another call to Gary-the-Trapper. Bayou safety maintenance is a thankless and endless task.

Here is todays’ poem, one year to the day since I began this practice and one century before the year of my birth.

#506, c. 1862

He touched me, so I live to know
That such a day, permitted so,
I groped upon his breast —
It was a boundless place to me
And silenced, as the awful sea
Puts minor streams to rest.

And now, I’m different from before,
As if I breathed superior air —
Or brushed a Royal Gown —
My feet, too, that had wandered so —
My Gypsy face — transfigured now —
To tenderer Renown —

Into this Port, if I might come,
Rebecca, to Jerusalem,
Would not so ravished turn —
Nor Persian, baffled at her shrine
Lift such a Crucifixial sign
To her imperial Sun.

Emily the shape-changer takes on many forms here, as she takes us on a tour of her love life. Among other things she is at sea in her own emotions. Her response to this man’s touch is so overwhelming, so oceanic, that all her previous flirtations (those minor streams) are obliterated. Her second stanza tells us that love changes her, makes her more beautiful than before. (Blecchh . . it’s true.) This idea strikes me as a girlish view of womanhood that she is somehow initiated into a finer state when her physical life is destabilized by the arrival of a man. She simultaneously ascends to a higher status where she breathes “superior air” and wears a “Royal Gown”, and also comes down to earth. She loses those wandering gypsy ways of hers, when she was only Herself, Alone, Unique. The change that comes over Emily is that she turns toward some notion of herself as Wife, a notion that anchors her in this turbulent sea of feeling. This would be the Port for her, safety and shelter against the rock-and-roll of love without containment.

Yep, that is the inevitable destination for a woman in love, it seems, hence Emily’s comparison of herself to Rebecca, a famous Wife. I confess that I had to look up the story of “Rebecca at the Well.” I am not so conversant in the Old Testament as I should be. Here is a thumbnail version: Rebecca was chosen by Abraham’s emissary to be the wife of Isaac. She received this great honor because she displayed generosity at the well where the emissary rested and waited for a sign. Rebecca came to draw water and when asked by the emissary, she gave him some to drink. Then without prompting, Rebecca also gave water to the camels. This was the magic moment. Rebecca’s humble compassion for the animals was the quality that struck the emissary as the proper requirement to be Isaac’s wife.

It’s important to note here that the office Rebecca was running for was Wife. Not Lover, not Temptress. Not Queen, not Mother. Not Whore, not Mistress, not Schoolmarm, not Afternoon Dalliance. None of these other fascinating roles for women. No, Wife was the role that Rebecca—and by extension Emily—was up for. Unlike these other relatively simplistic roles, Wife carries a vast complex of social, sexual and political identifications that stick to a woman like flypaper, and she doesn’t have a lot of choice about what she’d like to accept and what not. It’s all there, packed into Wife.

The office of Wife contains the sexual aura of lover/temptress/whore, plus all the animalistic, nurturing, soul-defining stasis of Mother, plus the executive power of Queen, plus the requirement to provide wise restriction as Schoolmarm. Wife is a large bundle of duty, glamour, power and privilege all wrapped up in being the other half of a unit called “marriage” that a woman might easily side-step if she wishes by avoiding men. All these duties, etc. will not be hers to bother with if she just leaves well enough alone and doesn’t mess in the business of love. If she doesn’t concern herself with the oceanic feelings aroused in her by men, then she may remain simply Herself. She doesn’t have to run for office or take on the sticky flypaper of identifications that come to her from the outside. She may divine Herself from the inside, tend her garden, write poems, and be perfectly content for all of her days.

Our Rebecca, bless her heart, was elected to this office that radically disrupted her life and determined the future course of history because she displayed simple kindness to dumb animals. No good deed goes unpunished.

There is more to the story. Rebecca was a great choice for a couple of reasons. She was ready to change her life, and she wanted the job. The marriage was arranged by Abraham for Isaac, but the wedding could not happen without Rebecca’s consent. Isaac did not have the power to determine his own choice of wife, but Rebecca could say “no” if she wanted. She said “yes”. God only knows why. There is a certain line of text in this story that scholars have focused on because it stands out as unusual information. When Rebecca and Isaac met the first time, the text tells us, “And Isaac loved her.” We don’t get to hear Rebecca’s feelings for her future husband, but we do get the sense that Isaac fell hard. Rebecca remained opaque. She had a job to do, business to attend to. She spends the rest of her story running her husband’s life, providing him with two sons, securing water rights for her tribe and maneuvering to put her second son Jacob in line for Isaac’s throne, bumping the first-born (and rightful heir) Esau out of the job because he was incompetent. This is not a pretty view of Mother, favoring one child and scheming against the other. But politics is not pretty. Rebecca did what was best for the nation. It wasn’t personal.

Emily is no Rebecca and never will be. In her closing stanza, she also aligns herself with a “Persian, baffled at her shrine”, which is how a Muslim would regard the symbol of Christianity. When Emily regards marriage she says, “This is not my religion. This is not my story.” What begins as a spontaneous, oceanic feeling leads to a consequence, according to the pressures of a Society that Emily inherited and didn’t ask for. (You know, that dreaded Society that so vexed Emily.) Her Society wants to stuff love into a container of Marriage, which places a lot of social, legal and political constructs around what had been a boundless sensation. She rejects her inheritance. The rejection is complicated. She wants to be a Pilgrim of Love, but hasn’t found the story that fits her love. Given the options, Emily prefers to remain in the purity of Herself, Alone, Unique, where the consequences don’t stick to her—and she can know herself as herself.

Emily’s phrase, “Into this Port, if I might come” suggests that she is considering it, this safe harbor. What choice does she have? She has to look at it. Being Emily, she stands on the line and won’t go there without first looking hard at what she loses and what she gains. And does this really serve Emily as she is—Herself, Alone, Unique? We know the answer. She remained aloof because no one had written her story yet. Emily was left to craft that on her own.


Filed under Emily Every Day

Mind Lives On the Heart

Now that Mars in Leo stations direct in the year of the Tiger, things move forward with a roar. You can put out a saucer of milk if you like, but a bloody slab of meat might yield better results.

Emily also wants to ponder this business of eating and feeding.

#1355, c. 1876

The Mind lives on the Heart
Like any Parasite —
If that is full of Meat
The Mind is fat.

But if the Heart omit
Emaciate the Wit —
The Aliment of it
So absolute.

The first time I read this, I thought the word in the second to last line was “ailment” not “aliment”. Very different. In my mistaken reading, the Wit grows sick. In the second reading, the one Emily intended, the Mind starves from lack of food from the Heart. So completely does the Mind depend on the Heart’s nourishment that when deprived of it—following the logical progression suggested by the word “aliment”—the Mind or Wit (now a starved parasite) detaches its hold and moves down the alimentary canal, the intestines, etc., to depart the body through an ignoble exit . . . like any piece of turd.

What a thorough condemnation of intellect uninformed by emotional intelligence. Emily says it’s just shit. Next time somebody wants to characterize her as a decorous Lady Poet, please point that reader toward this poem.

She arranges the power dynamics so that the heart stands above the mind in the hierarchy of who is in charge of what. Not only does the mind depend on the heart to keep it alive, but the heart may, if it chooses, slough off this weaker thing. If the heart grows weary of supporting this parasite, the host may withdraw its food/love, thus starving out the intruder. In such an arrangement, the mind better behave itself, not get too fat or burdensome to this bountiful muscle of heart.

Emily’s hierarchy of power that puts heart above mind is a direct subversion of the stuff I am reading in Plato’s Symposium lately. At times, I grow impatient with this Platonic elevation of the mind without really knowing why. Difficult to articulate how this writing makes me feel boxed in. Something is missing from these lofty perorations on love. In Plato’s dialogues, of course, the element most often missing is the presence of women. Also missing is all that women would most likely bring to a discussion on love, which is that they’re really not all that interested in a discussion of love. That’s like discussing dance or food or sex. You’re kinda missing the point, if you’re discussing it. That’s how it feels when the heart meets too much emphasis on the mind. When something essential has been diminished, then the heart will exercise its superior power to rid itself of the offenders, which can feel like an earthquake. If we are not able to understand this by reading poems, then the earth itself will show us.


Filed under Emily Every Day

Perfect In Her Flaws

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.

#462, c.1862

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.

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