Monday, October 5, 2009

Emily Dickinson

While the American Civil War raged a reclusive women poet, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) lived in obscurity in Amherst, Massachusetts. She became increasingly eccentric, for the last twenty years of her life she hardly ever left her parent’s house. She wrote nearly 2,000 poems, never published in her lifetime. It was not till the 20th century that her merits were recognised. I consider her one of the greatest. Her spare lines are packed with meaning and sensitivity. Here are two examples.


A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him--did you not,
His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb,
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun,--
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature's people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.


A Burdock-clawed my Gown—
Not Burdock's-blame—
But mine—
Who went too near
The Burdock's Den—

A Bog-affronts my shoe—
What else have Bogs-to do—
The only Trade they know—
The splashing Men!
Ah, pity-then!

'Tis Minnows can despise!
The Elephant's-calm eyes
Look further on!

Humanity has a long tradition of snake fear. A narrow fellow in the grass sums up that feeling. We do not feel cordial about snakes. The common sense of the burdock poem confronts our human presumption that we are the centre of the universe. A minnow and an elephant – what a fabulous juxtaposition.

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