Emily’s “When they come back — if Blossoms do –“

Having gotten to poem number 1113 in The Complete Poems, I’m beginning to see some differences between what Dickinson seems to have believed and how she’s often presented to the public. The “nun of Amherst,” is quite often presented as supremely confident of her relationship to God and assured of her place in heaven:

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 —

Certainly there is a sense of reassurance, even a sort of comfortable logic, in poems like these. It’s difficult to see these poems in exactly the same light, though, after you’ve been exposed to poems like:

The Soul’s distinct connection
With immortality
Is best disclosed by Danger
Or quick Calamity —

As Lightning on a Landscape
Exhibits Sheets of Place —
Not yet suspected — but for Flash —
And Click — and Suddenness.

Now it might just be my own doubts about death, religion, or immortality, but I find poems like this more moving than the assurance suggested by “I never saw a Moor” Any intimations of immortality I have ever had have been as brief, as sudden, perhaps even as dangerous, as shapes briefly exposed in lightning storms.

At times Dickinson even seems to argue that “want,” and there’s every sign that she had more than enough of that in her life, not “satisfaction,” is man’s real link to immortality:

Satisfaction — is the Agent
Of Satiety —
Want — a quiet Commissary
For Infinity.

To possess, is past the instant
We achieve the Joy —
Immortality contented
Were Anomaly.

Like Emily, I can’t get no satisfaction, and it’s a darn good thing because that forces me to look for real meaning in my life, not to settle for possess-ions, but to long for some more meaningful contact with the universe.

On my worst days, Leslie tells me I even resemble:

The Sky is low — the Clouds are mean.
A Travelling Flake of Snow
Across a Barn or through a Rut
Debates if it will go —

A Narrow Wind complains all Day
How some one treated him
Nature, like Us is sometimes caught
Without her Diadem.

Hey, if you go back a few days, you can probably hear the howling in these pages.

Right now, though, it appears to be Spring here in Tacoma and, thus, I find myself resonating mostly to this poem:

When they come back — if Blossoms do —
I always feel a doubt
If Blossoms can be born again
When once the Art is out —

When they begin, if Robins may,
I always had a fear
I did not tell, it was their last Experiment
Last Year,

When it is May, if May return,
Had nobody a pang
Lest in a Face so beautiful
He might not look again?

If I am there — One does not know
What Party — One may be
Tomorrow, but if I am there
I take back all I say —

Of course, I’m due for a six-months checkup on my throat cancer in the next few weeks, and, despite the fact that I’m feeling the best I have in a year or two, it’s hard to avoid doubts about how long I’m going to still be here to enjoy all of this beauty.

It’s hard to worry too long, though, when sunny skies reign overhead and crocus leaves struggle to emerge from the cold ground. Spring makes me feel like:

My Cocoon tightens — Colors tease —
I’m feeling for the Air —
A dim capacity for Wings
Demeans the Dress I wear —

A power of Butterfly must be —
The Aptitude to fly
Meadows of Majesty implies
And easy Sweeps of Sky —

So I must baffle at the Hint
And cipher at the Sign
And make much blunder, if at least
I take the clue divine “

4 thoughts on “Emily’s “When they come back — if Blossoms do –“”

  1. I think I’ve figured out why I never really warmed up to Emily Dickinson in lit class – although I loved my lit classes, and had a wonderful professor, Anne Hardy, a lady I will never forget. With many poets, I read their lines and I take it in the way I would a painting. But with ED, it’s more like working out a mathematical puzzle. And while I love math also (I was a Math/Physics major/minor, but took extra lit on the side), that isn’t the part of myself I want to engage when I read poetry!

  2. Loren, I love your comparison of yourself to that poem (which is one I hadn’t read, thank you for pointing it out).

    Harry, interesting view on Emily Dickinson’s poems. In some ways, her poetry does tend to traverse both hemispheres of the brain. I wonder, being technically inclined, if that’s why I do like it so much? Other than Emily was kind of stubborn and so am I. At times.

  3. Loren,

    These are simply wonderful. Some of my favorites. The themes in the Dickinson poems parallel–at least on the surface–some of the things I have been writing on my Conscious Living weblog. How interesting!

    Saw your note on the throat cancer check-up. Let me know if we can help. My wife, Mary, is the administrator for the ENT Surgery Dept. at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation here in Cleveland.



  4. Your blog is a delightful. I came across it looking up some online references to Anne Sexton. Re-reading my volume of her Selected Poems, I was feeling that a little Anne goes a long way. The Alanis Morisette comparison made me laugh. Ironically, I was thinking about Emily Dickinson and how much more moving I found her poetry. And voila!

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