Jan 03 2012

Winter has a harsh beauty that renders warmth
and snugly comfort all the more attractive.

Whenever I want to feel better about what is going on in my life, I read a few lines of poet Emily Dickinson’s. Considering how somberly pensive she must have been every time she wrote, her words lighten up any situation I’m facing. Whoa, did the woman have a case of the blues! And yet, much like winter, her poems being harsh and resonating with pathos, make a person glad to have intermittent problems rather than feeling maudlin all of the time like she must have felt. Reading Emily Dickinson, at times, is like hitting one’s head against the wall.  It feels so good when you stop. Each poem is a gift, just like winter’s cold is a gift creating the anticipation of warm fires and close friends as welcomed changes.

Emily Dickinson # 258

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons —
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes —

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us —
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are —

None may teach it — Any —
’Tis the Seal Despair —
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air —

When it comes, the Landscape listens —
Shadows — hold their breath —
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death —

Look at that: she turned out so many of these things, she gave up on giving them titles and just started numbering them. The woman was a sorrow factory. The words she chose in the poem above are heavy, encumbered with intent, each one carefully selected to be a weighty pebble added to the reader’s cart. Oh good grief! Make it stop! And yet, don’t you feel what I feel? Aren’t you glad when the poem comes to an end? Don’t you feel better? And yet, the words are so interesting, don’t you go back and read it again to spiral into its deeper meanings?

They say you have to read good literature three times to fully appreciate it.  At least, that’s what my English teacher in High School said.  Three times. Once to get use to the vocabulary and learn new words, if necessary.  Twice, to get the flow of the words, the cadence, as she would say and, finally, a third time to integrate the two, savoring the words, cadence and meaning at all once in a crescendo of literary enlightenment.

The promise of velvet green vistas heralding spring’s return is the
elixir that gets me through winter’s cold and damp.

Now, compare the weight of Emily’s words above in Poem # 258 to this poem she wrote about spring. Why, one might almost consider it a “ditty” it is so much lighter in its tone:

Emily Dickinson # 812

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here

A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.

It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.

Then as Horizons step
Or Noons report away
Without the Formula of sound
It passes and we stay —

A quality of loss
Affecting our Content
As Trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a Sacrament.

See? Here Emily Dickinson is skipping and humming a happy spring tune, as well as she could skip and hum anything. The words are of fewer syllables so they flow more quickly, creating a lightness that seems positively cavalier compared to the winter poem. It’s still heavy with that “trade encroaching upon a Sacrament” image at the end, but oh! so comparatively happy and free, I feel giddy. What a wild trip I’m on with you, dear web site visitor.

If you would like to read poetry with more comprehension so that my English teacher, Mrs. Miller, would be proud, here’s a pdf with points for more effectively reading and understanding poetry.

If you appreciate the great minds of literature and science and desire a contemporary twist to quoting famous sayings, including some of Emily Dickinson’s best one liners, go to Thinkershirts to promote 5000 years of “wearable wisdom” by clicking here.

If you are interested in Emily Dickinson and not above sneaking into her bedroom unannounced, this is a lovely introduction to be enjoyed by clicking play:

Emily Dickinson of Amhurst, Massachusetts was one of America’s
most prolific female poets. Although she wrote 1,800 poems,only
twenty were published in her lifetime, perhaps a big reason for
her being so down in the dumps…all those rejection letters.


This is a lovely volume of Emily’s poems. Hover over the link below to preview:

The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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