Posts Tagged ‘Emily Dickinson’

Posterity

June 17, 2017

O heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
     Earth’s returns
For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
     Shut them in,
With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
     Love is best

Robert Browing, Love Among the Ruins

What has posterity ever done for me?
Groucho Marx

You did it
For the People
Is what you
Told yourself

You thought
You were
Bigger than
Everybody else

You ruled
You conquered
You told people
What to do

Now you’re just
As dead
As everyone
You knew

Time
Gurgles on

It’s gonna
Wash away

Everything
We ever do
And everything
We say

Existence
Is a gift
Will you squander
Your ration?

Or will you
Live your life
For love
And compassion?

by Richard W. Bray

Man Enough for Me

December 29, 2016

xxxmancookseggs

Great Spirit — give to me
A Heaven not so large as Yours,
But large enough — for me

Emily Dickinson

He cooks me eggs
When I wake up
He never needs
To act tough
He just feeds the family
That’s Man enough
For me

He’s home for supper
Every night
He loves the kids
And treats em right
Isn’t really hard to see
He’s Man enough
For me

He don’t write sonnets
To sing my praise
He warms my night
And fills my days
Always keeps me company
That’s Love enough
For me

by Richard W. Bray

Crybully

August 28, 2016

XXXXXbullyface

To fight aloud, is very brave–
But gallanter, I know
Who charge within the bosom
The Calvalry of Woe–

Emily Dickinson

I’m damaged and I’m blue
And I’m gonna damage you
The grief that grew and grew
Is the damage I can do
But I know it hurts me too
When I spread my hurt to you

Don’t wanna look within
At the hurt inside my skin
Or see the monster that I’ve been
Abusing kith and kin

Anger is my cage
But there is comfort in my rage

by Richard W. Bray

The Little Toil

July 23, 2016

VVVILOVEEMILY

If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,

Emily Dickinson

Some folks hide their hurt
Under a carapace of cruel
They’d rather be an asshole
Than be anybody’s fool

It’s easy to give up
It’s easy to despair
It’s easy to bamboozle
And pretend you just don’t care

It’s scary to acknowledge
We’ll never find a cure
It’s daunting to consider
All the hurt in the world

Focus on the little toil—
Cool one pain
It’s all that I know
To keep one sane

by Richard W. Bray

Walt Whitman is the Poet We Deserve in the Age of Trump, but Emily Dickinson Reigns

May 28, 2016

wwemily

There are several reasons why Emily Dickinson does not inhabit her rightful position as the greatest writer our culture has yet produced—she sedulously avoided publicity in her own lifetime (“How dreary – to be – Somebody!”); a comprehensive scholarly edition of her poetry was not compiled until almost seventy years after her death (long after the cannon had been established); she is often celebrated for her winsome poems that find their way into the high school textbooks like “I Shall Not Live in Vain” which represent only a tiny fraction of her output; she wrote short poems. (There is an absurd bias among critics in favor of “epic” poetry). Finally, we cannot overlook the obvious fact that Emily Dickinson was a women and most of our cannon-selectors have been men, many of whom no doubt shared Nathaniel Hawthorne’s contempt for that “mob of scribbling women”

Moreover, elevating Emily Dickinson to her rightful place atop the pantheon of American poets would call into question the singular supremacy of Walt Whitman. Whitman, who sees himself as the great champion of democracy, claims to “contain multitudes” in his writing, but he merely embodies mountains of self-regard:

If I worship one thing more than another it shall be the spread of
   my own body,
or any part of it.

It is his intrepid endeavor to displace God with Self rather than the actual quality of his work which makes Whitman the darling so many humanist critics. As Alfred Kazin notes in God and the American Writer, for Whitman

There is no one supreme Deity, no hierarchy, no heaven. It is on earth and nowhere else that we live out the divine in ourselves to which we are called. We are as gods when we recognize all things as one. Spiritually, we are sovereign—entirely—thanks to our culture of freedom. As we dismiss whatever offends our own souls, so we can trust our own souls for knowledge of the infinite.

Like the self-deluded subjects who claim to see the Emperor’s New Clothes (and like the editors at Social Text who published Alan Sokal’s intentional gibberish) few critics today are able to discern this manifest truth—Walt Whitman is an overblown, narcissistic, self-worshipping buffoon. (“In all people I see myself.”) Of course, in so many ways, Whitman’s solipsism makes him precisely the national icon we deserve, particularly in the Age of Trump. (It is not at all surprising that Bill Clinton gave his girlfriend a copy of a book by Whitman, although we might have expected him to choose “Song of Myself” rather than Leaves of Grass.)

Walt Whitman’s poetry delivers much music but very little sense, irony, or wit. Despite his gargantuan reputation, the words of Whitman taken together hardly amount to a single metaphorical dead white blood cell inside the metaphorical pustule existing inside the metaphorical pimple on Emily Dickinson’s glorious metaphorical backside. Dickinson proves again and again that she is capable of saying more in fewer than thirty syllables than Whitman ever gets across in page after page of his rambling jingle jangle.

One of the wonders of Emily Dickinson’s capacious mind is her ability to entertain opposing thoughts. As Richard Wilbur notes in “Sumptuous Destitution,” his splendid 1959 article on Emily Dickinson, she is “not a philosopher.” This is precisely why she can embrace paradox in a manner that would be difficult for a philosopher, thus expanding our understanding of our bizarre universe.

In “Faith Is a Fine Invention,” for example, Dickinson seems to ridicule the tendency to cling to faith in our modern age.

“Faith” is a fine invention
When Gentlemen can see–
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency.

Note the irony of calling faith (rather than the microscope) an invention. And what is it exactly that gentleman can see? Evidence of an invisible God, perhaps? But she is also lampooning those whose superstitious faith prevents them from seeing what wonders science reveals. One is reminded of Christian Scientists who would deny her children medical attention on religious grounds.

In “I Never Saw a Moor,” however, Dickinson defends faith entirely for its own sake. If you will pardon the tautology, she knows because she knows.

I never saw a moor;
I never saw the sea,
Yet know I how the heather looks
And what a billow be.
I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in heaven.
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the checks were given.

Paradox is not a manifestation of reality; it is a consequence of the limitations of human perception. As Kurt Vonnegut notes in the novel Deadeye Dick, birth and death amount to the opening and closing of a “pinhole.” Great poets enable us to slightly expand the boundaries of our pinhole. That’s why my favorite philosophers are mostly poets.

by Richard W. Bray

There Are No Little People

April 8, 2015

Why swagger, then?
The Gnat’s supremacy is large as Thine —

Emily Dickinson


I’m an influential person
I’ve got important things to do
I have a giant office
And I don’t have time for you

I’m an influential person
I am big and you are small
I have a slew of little people
Waiting at my beck and call

I’m an influential person
People do the things I say
If you aren’t here to serve me
Then please just go away

Pardon my existence
I don’t mean to waste your time
I’m here to serve some papers
You’ve been accused of heinous crime

Some of your endowments
Are certainly excessive
But your wisdom and compassion
Are not at all impressive

It’s a silly, silly man
Who does not realize
There are no little people
And souls don’t have a size

by Richard W. Bray

Crazy Fools for Love

February 13, 2015

I had no time to hate, because
The grave would hinder me,
And life was not so ample I
Could finish enmity

Emily Dickinson

You can hate away your days
Disparaging the ways
Of the wicked

You can while away your time
Pondering the crimes
Of the sickest

You can multiply your spite
But it won’t make nothing right
For the wretched

And your dreams of retribution
Only cultivate pollution
In your heart

You might find more success
Fighting hate with tenderness
And compassion

Plant a flower in your heart
It’s the perfect place to start
Your garden

Hope will be our only tool
Let’s all be crazy fools
For love

by Richard W. Bray

Too Big for Our Own Good: Kurt Vonnegut on the Human Brain

February 8, 2015

 

So far the human episode has been a brief chapter in the story of life on Earth—about two hundred thousand years.  That’s not very long compared to the dung beetles who feed on rhinoceros droppings, which are the hearty descendants of bugs that were frolicking in dinosaur poop at least forty million years ago.  And sharks have been around for over 400 Million years.

Although it’s fun to fantasize about a time long ago when giant monsters roamed the earth, it’s much more painful to imagine a point in the future when Mother Nature says: “Time’s up, humans.  You had your chance, but you blew it.”   Indeed, as the poet Richard Wilbur notes, it’s almost impossible to imagine a future on this planet without us:

Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.
How should we dream of this place without us?—

The novel Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut describes a future where evolution has altered humanity beyond recognition.  A million years hence, we have mutated into a furry, seal-like creature with flippers and a much smaller brain encased in a “streamlined skull.”  Our future progeny is no longer equipped to build skyscrapers or compose Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  And these new creatures exhibit an immense moral superiority over modern-day humans because they lack the intellectual and physical tools to harm one another on a grand scale.  Besides, “how could you ever hold somebody in bondage with nothing but your flippers and your mouth?”

According to the Ghost of Leon Trout, the narrator of Galapagos who witnesses the million-year transformation of our species, this reduction of endowment is all for the better because humans

back then had a brain weighing about three kilograms!  There was no end to the evil schemes that a thought machine that oversized couldn’t imagine and execute.

Trout’s Ghost concludes that the human brain “is much too big to be practical.”  A practical brain would never “divert” people from “the main business of life by the hobgoblins of opinion.” The main business of life, of course, is survival and procreation.  Yet by some freak of evolution, human beings are capable of so much more.

Trout’s Ghost laments how our “overelaborate nervous circuitry” is responsible “for the evils we [are] seeing or hearing about simply everywhere.”  Furthermore, such self-inflicted horrors as war, famine, slavery, and genocide are “as purely a product of oversized brains as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.”

Trout’s ghost confides that, “A million years later, I feel like apologizing for the human race.”  He also describes “the most diabolical aspect” of the oversized human brain:

They would tell their owners, in effect, “Here is a crazy thing we could actually do.”….And then, as though in trances, the people would really do it—have slaves fight each other to the death in the Colosseum, or burn people alive in the public square for holding opinions which were locally unpopular, or build factories whose only purpose was to kill people in industrial quantities, or to blow up whole cities, and on and on.”

Here’s another disadvantage to having too much brain power for our own good:

Big brains back then were not only capable of being cruel for the sake of cruelty.  They could also feel all sorts of pain to which lower animals were entirely insensitive.

Today the “mass of mankind” is “quietly desperate” because “the infernal computers inside their skulls [are] incapable of idleness.”  The constant din of thought inside our brains that people must bear is akin to having “Ghetto blasters inside our heads.” And there is

no shutting them down! Whether we had anything for them to do or not, they ran “All the time!  And were they ever loud!  Oh, God, were they ever loud.”

Like Brick in Tennessee in Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” humanity craves to hear a “click in the head” which renders life “peaceful.” In Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut suggests an evolutionary solution to the plight which ails us.  And perhaps it is the most plausible solution.  As Emily Dickinson notes

Narcotics cannot still the Tooth That nibbles at the soul

by Richard W. Bray

Flinging our Souls

December 24, 2014

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I’m goofy for words. And I will happily read and read and read until I find a combination of words which “strikes like a chime through the mind.” Then I will read some more.

Thomas Hardy forges a concoction of meaning, sound, and feeling when he tells us that a singing little bird

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

Of course, every line of “The Darkling Thrush” is a work of art.

Poetry and language are the same thing. Perhaps the people we call poets live the music inside the words with greater intensity than the rest of us do, but all words are music.

Consider the first line of a poem by Emily Dickinson:

From Us She wandered now a Year,

There are a thousand less lovely ways to tell us that a woman has abandoned her family. And the beauty of the sound and rhythm of this line is assaulted by the sadness it conveys.

Here’s the entire poem:

From Us She wandered now a Year,
Her tarrying, unknown,
If Wilderness prevent her feet
Or that Ethereal Zone

No eye hath seen and lived
We ignorant must be—
We only know what time of Year
We took the Mystery.

There are so many things we are not told: Who is this woman? Whom did she abandon? Where? Why? The reader is left to fill in the blanks.

Robert Pinsky proffers a handy metaphor: Novelists wade through words while poets skate on their surface.

by Richard W. Bray

The Circumference of the Heart

October 25, 2014

Perhaps you laugh at me! Perhaps the whole United States are laughing at me too! I can’t stop for that! My business is to love.

—Emily Dickinson

Can’t weight it on a scale
Can’t plot it on a graph
The tremors won’t be measured
On a seismograph

You can do a million surveys
You can fill in all the bubbles
But you’ll never find a theory
To eliminate your troubles

Sooner if not later
Every statistician found
You can process all the data
But the variables confound

It can’t be quantified
It won’t fit on your chart
Your methods cannot measure
The circumference of the heart

by Richard W. Bray