Saturday, January 27, 2007

Revisiting II

I'm still rediscovering poetry--verses I read years ago, but they ring all the more true for having gained some age and knowledge and experience.

This Emily Dickinson poem is read quite a lot. I think I actually encountered it as a child. Some of you will know it, I'm certain:

If you were coming in the fall,
I'd brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.

If I could see you in a year,
I'd wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.

If only centuries delayed,
I'd count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen's land.

If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I'd toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.

But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time's uncertain wing,
It goads me, like the goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.

--Emily Dickinson


Dickinson's direct and straightforward style couches powerful human emotion in simple terms that might tempt readers to underestimate her. One online biography points out:

"At times characterised as a semi-invalid, a hermit, a heartbroken introvert, or a neurotic agoraphobic, her poetry is sometimes brooding and sometimes joyous and celebratory. Her sophistication and profound intellect has been lauded by laymen and scholars alike and influenced many other authors and poets into the 21st Century. There has been much speculation and controversy over details of Dickinson’s life including her sexual orientation, romantic attachments, her later reclusive years, and the editing and publication of various volumes of her poems."
Emily's personal history mostly lays completely outside my consideration of the poem, honestly. If we just look at the text without speculating about who she might have written about or for, there are a couple of things I really, really like about this poem.

I love her appreciation for simple things--always have. This is a woman who finds beauty in the everyday, and that's just a lovely way to move through the world. This doesn't have the sort of galloping rhythm that some of her more-parodied stuff does, which is good. It's still structurally very tight, and there's that carefully and strongly-evoked sensation of time and seasons passing while she waits.

There's a sort of logic or reason puzzle built in, as well: if . . . then, if . . . then, if . . . then, if . . . then, if . . . then,

(wait for it)

But . . .

And the progression of seasons, years, even centuries is rational and orderly--and that portrayal of reason, logic, and order defied serves to contrast the emotional poignancy of waiting. She brings us back to that poignancy by the simple means of taking us from a hypothetical season, year, century to the intensely personal with, "If certain, when this life was out"--not just any life. This life. And with that, the more detached and almost amused tone changes to the much more personal and passionate.

But even so, with any poem I'm acutely conscious of the negative space; that is the things unsaid but invoked by the actual text are terribly important, too. So when we think about something like uncertainty and waiting, it really only makes sense in the context of certainty and that sensation of "at last!" and those elements, too, are strongly present in this piece.

So I very much read this as, yes, about uncertainty and waiting--but also very much about the beauty of knowing and the joy of anticipated arrival.

34 comments:

Dawno said...

A beautiful contemplation on a truly exquisite poem. Thank you for sharing it!

Lisa Spangenberg said...

Editors have, until very recently, felt free to screw with Dickinson's meter, punctuation, and even her words. Since the early printed versions of her poems, the ones that were "fixed," are out of copyright, those are the ones that are on the Web and in most anthologies. Here's what she wrote; I've restored her dashes, her capitals and asterisked the lines that were changed.

If you were coming in the Fall,
I'd brush the Summer by
With half a smile, and half a spurn,
As Housewives do, a Fly.

If I could see you in a year,
I'd wind the months in balls—
And put them each in separate Drawers,
*For fear the numbers fuse—

*If only Centuries, delayed,
I'd count them on my Hand,
Subtracting, till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen's Land.

If certain, when this life was out—
That yours and mine, should be
I'd toss it yonder, like a Rind,
*And take Eternity—

*But now, uncertain of the length
Of this, that is between,
It goads me, like the Goblin Bee,
That will not state—its sting.

Anonymous said...

It’s funny that you mention the whole anonymity thing here. I wrote asking the operator and owner of this site and absolute write to identify herself or himself. No such luck, she comes off in an earlier entry with a smokescreen of superfluous language all high and mighty like a turkey buzzard ready to descend on the bones.

Like you people are anonymous, standing behind your little electronic button icons, false names and probably, even fictitious photos. Absolute Write is a joke!!!

You’re a bunch of bottomfeeders if there every was a bottomfeeding group of vermin in this industry. Like hyenas around the kill you band up on those brave enough to contest you, snapping your ugly jaws in a malicious, horrid way.

Where do you live, Ms. Stone? Who are you? What have you done? What gives you the authority and the credibility to manage and operate a directory for the world publishing industry? How do you qualify? Are you a man or a woman? At least we know about Jenna Glatzer, we know nothing of you.

We know you like we know a shadow. We know you’re fond of cutting and pasting great poetry on your site as a sort of “brilliance by association” badge but for those of us who are really familiar with you, we know you as a henchman, an assassin and a slanderous entity who is intent on bringing anything down that does not fit in with the mainstream publishing industry. Thanks to whores like you, Stone, we have remake after remake of bland, stupid films. You want no competition in the market, that’ s what you’re all about.

There is no factual basis behind most of Absolute Write's entries. There is only hate-filled opinion laced with slander and libel. You offer no real insights into problems or weaknesses in the industry, most of what you do is limited to a series of very nasty personal attacks. What in logic is known as the fallacy of "attacking the man," "setting up a strawman" and the like.

Get off that stuff about me being anonymous on your painted up little site, with Dunne’s poetry and your slanderous remarks. At least Jenna Glatzer was up front about her own merits and all. She was proud of what she’d done and she did a lot in her young life. We don’t know anything about you, you worthless, snaggletoothed old curmudgeon typist.

MacAllister said...

Dude--you seriously need to get yourself on meds.

Seriously.

And, umm, not to belabor the obvious, but I'm hardly inclined to post my home address on the internet, you know? Sorry your google-fu didn't work out better for you.

Actually...no. I'm sorta glad, now that I think about it.

Jean Marie said...

Holy fark, Mac, is there a full moon? And what is it w/ the word, curmudgeon?

I don't think there's state of the art meds for anonymous. Sad case.

I like that Lisa (who's real, as are we all) put up the original poem, punctuation, etc.

Thanks for your lovely insight, Mac. Awesome as usual *G*

Anonymous said...

The fact is, the Pacific Northwest spans from shores of Alaska to Central California. Somewhere here, according to this blog, the operator and the owner of this blog lives and resides.

This coward, this operator, can put exact addresses inside her blog of the people she and her little group slander and libel. All I want to know is hey Stone, what city do you live within? Are you a U.S. or a Canadian citizen? Obviously, this is a big issue with you since you provide very little information on yourself.

Nothing is known of you. And I'm talking the whole Absolute Write rat pack here. You're nothing more than a bunch of losers, a bunch of cowards who are sadistic and sick enough to enjoy beating up on people in your big, bad group.

But I really want to ask, who is the MacCallister Stone? You are a real enigma to us and we just want to know who are you, Stone. So again, M. Stone, who are you?
Where do you live? Tell us a bit about yourself. What is your association with publishing? Are you a writer writing under a pseudonym here? Are you an agent, a former agent, a literature professor? Were you an editor for a publishing house? Were you a journalist? Where did you get your degrees? Do you have advanced degrees or is your writing just, well, what should we say. . . .Lacking?

This blog is not free of contention, of controversy. . . .No, it's a defamatory nightmare for a lot of the people you list on your blog, Stone. And you are nothing but a coward, MacCallister Stone. A big, pathetic loser. You're afraid to show your face, even your nationality. By the way you write, I would suspect you're a woman, but even this is not really factual. You may be a man. Then again, you might be sent here from outer space somewhere, too.

Absolute Write is a joke!!! Sure, you people are going to say, "Guy, you need to get on meds." That's all you do is throw stones as those who don't agree with your philosophies, who are not given the checkmark by the group who really oversees you and governs your every little word on this silly blog.

Why don't you come clean and give your names, your addresses, your backgrounds instead of hiding underneath the front of all those stupid, lame, contrived electronic names and buttons?

Get real, people. You are playing for blood. This isn't any little garden party blog. This is blood, guts and piss.

Call your blog, "Throwing Stones," because that's what you people do - throw stones at anyone who does not fit into your design. This is not some nice, liberal way for intellectuals to voice opinions on writing. Most of us who are familiar with writing and with your blog would never turn to "Stones in the Field" as a researching point for literature. Why? When the MLA's got all sorts of stuff out there, along with many other academic entities who do nothing but study literature and write on it.

You can turn this blog into a pseudo-literary e-zine and it still will be nothing more than a piece of drivel to those who know you best, Stone. This blog is nothing more than a front for the real tools you use to run other companies in the publishing business in the ground.

And you, Stone, you operate an editorial service, the most crass, blatant and perverse of all publishing cons.

Get real, Stone.

Get real.

Mac said...

Look, fella--I'm not inclined for ten seconds to tell you where I live...I'm just not that nuts.

But I think you'll have a hell of a time finding anywhere--anywhere at all--that I've defamed anyone.

This is a normal little blog that a handful of my friends read, and we talk about poetry, or art, or stuff we've read lately, or I make fun of myself for a variety of well deserved reasons.

Tell you what--you tell me what your name is, and what city you're in, if you think it's so very important to know that stuff.

Anonymous said...

I'm laughing so hard I'm afraid I'll pee my pants. My roommate has a crazed stalker. Mac is indeed very real and if you read her archive posts you would know her. She writes about her family, her childhood, her college years. etc etc etc

Jean Marie said...

I've always wanted to part of a rat pack. Far out.

And look, it is a full moon. How about that, Mac. Gravitational pull can create all kinds of havoc, yes?

This is my favorite blog. 'Course, I love AW, too. But then, you're one of my cooler friends, Mac

Btw, I live in the USA :)

Lisa Abbate said...

Gee, Mac. Sorry you have a nutjob stalker sniffin' round your blog.
Whoever the heck he/she/it is doesn't have enough to do in his/her/its own life, apparently. What a jealous little toad. I'll bet it NEVER gets laid. LOL

By the way, I think you are doing terrific things at Absolute Write-- and elsewhere. I've had the pleasure of seeing much of your writing, and think it's absolutely fabulous.

Keep up the great work.

Paula Neal Mooney said...

Hey Mac! You haven't lived till you've had a comment stalker. Consider yourself having truly arrived.

Be blessed,
Paula
http://paulamooney.blogspot.com

Frank Baron said...

I only see one coward here and it ain't Mac.

Cath Smith said...

Beautiful poem, Mac - thanks for posting it.

Joanne D. Kiggins said...

Sorry you have to deal with things like this, Mac. Many of us do use our real names and I’ll be happy to invite this putz to my next Coffee Klatch! Give me your real name so I can send you a personal invitation!

Jen said...

Emily Dickinson has always been one of my favorites. I like her "I'm nobody/are you nobody too?"

I never thought editors would change her stuff. I'm glad the originals are making their way out now.

Oh, and Mac? That dude is obviously not talking about you. I don't know who MacCallister is. *s*

Joanne D. Kiggins said...

Poetry has always fascinated me. Dickinson’s writing is provocative and thought provoking. She forces the reader to transcend thought and see her words through our own experience or intuition. IMO, by capitalizing words she seems to refer to them as objects or generalizations and allows readers to form their own thoughts. Years ago, I read that she didn’t title her poems because she wanted her readers to gain their own wisdom. She conveys the sublime beauty of words.

poetinahat said...

Mac, the poem and your analysis are both inspiring and lovely reads.

I've never read much Dickinson, perhaps because I lumped her in with Jane Austen, and I figured two Austen novels would suffice any man.

But this poem is captivating: direct, heartfelt, beautiful. And who Emily Dickinson was has nothing to do with it; I was thinking that as I read it, and then I saw that you wrote exactly the same thing. I must be learning.

This poem is a wonderful reminder that poetry need not be Poetic. Thanks, Mac. I'll look forward to swinging by here more often.

Victoria Strauss said...

"Anonymous" pontificated:

"Why don't you come clean and give your names, your addresses, your backgrounds instead of hiding underneath the front of all those stupid, lame, contrived electronic names and buttons?"

Right back atcha, guy. Anonymous posters living in glass houses shouldn't throw Stones.

MacAllister said...

Wow! It's a party! Welcome folks. :) Nice to see you here.

I rather think Mr. Anonymous-but-Hostile doesn't actually read anything anyone says.

Nice to see y'all, though.

Anonymous said...

From one anonymous poster to another - I'm a former member of AW forum, and one of the reasons I left is because I got tired of personal attacks such as the one you launched on Mac. There are thousands of ordinary writers, published and unpublished, who joined AW to improve their craft and chat to people who are in the same biz. Yet, over and over, I'd come across posts full of bitter swill about how the whole place was a nest full of vipers ready to attack anyone who disagreed with them. I don't have a lot of time to read that kind of garbage, so I left. [sorry Mac] You could learn something from what I did - if a place does not meet your needs, leave. Don't stay and piss in the water out of spite. I suspect no one at AW will mind if you unsubscribed and quietly went about your business.

Mac, I still subscribe to AW newsletter, because I find it useful and informative, and every week I discover a number of interesting writers whose web sites and blogs I visit when I have the time. Your editorial has a different feel, and why shouldn't it? You're not Jenna; you're you. Write on....

And that garbage about whether you have credentials to run AW or not didn't even deserve an answer.

And yes Anonymous, I too hid behind a screen name and never disclosed whether I am a man or woman. My editors and readers know my real name, what city I live in and how well I write. I have no need to give anyone else my credentials.

Ray Wong said...

Beautiful poem. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

As for the first "Anonymous" -- it's rather ironic for you to question Mac's identity (many of us do know who she is) while hiding behind "Anonymous" -- now who's the coward here?

There are two ways to deal with someone like you: a) ignore or b) squash. Personally, I think it's more fun, more satisfying, and does a lot more good to the world to do B.

Anonymous said...

My choice as well. If only he'd stop hiding closet.

This is rich. Why is this sign in shit getting so complicated?

Mac said...

Hiya, Rich -

It's the Google/Blogger thing. If you have a Google account, they want you to sign in with that, now. Sorry 'bout that. It's buggy and a royal pain.

Anonymous II, I'm so sorry to hear your AW experience was lacking. It is, unfortunately, one of those side-effects of message board culture, sometimes. I do very much hope you'll feel free to stop over here, on occasion.

cheers, everyone!

Jason said...

"Get Real, Stone. Get Real."
What is something said to Keith Richards after he asked yet another 10ccs of Morphine following dinner?

Bette Davis once said, "If everyone likes me, I must be pretty boring." w00t to that.

Great analysis, Mac. Great blog. Thanks.

Pete said...

I think it's important for us all to take a moment and remember...that almost any Emily Dickinson poem can be sung to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas."

Lisa Spangenberg said...

That's ballad meter for you; but Gilligan's Island works well too.

But . . . if you look at the poem as Dickinson wrote it, the meter's not quite as perfect.

Anonymous said...

The AW gang is just as tough as ever, setting up a system of double standards. Not one of the questions was answered. Not one. Your acid-based sarcasm and heavy, heaving words may scare some but you don't scare me.

You have nothing to offer the literary community. Nothing. You condemn businesses in publishing, yet you run an editorial service. You hide behind anonymous tags and rant and rave when someone does the same, hitting with the same force and cheap shot, suckerpunch knock down. Your so-called leader is a "mystery person." Nothing is known of "MacCallister Stone (sp? Well, there's another thing to jump on, swine).

You're hypocrites and liars. You slander and libel others but wince whenever someone calls your bluff and asks you direct questions. Almost everything that is AW is nothing but one non-stop "he-said," "she-said" sort of horrid namecalling, character assassination and ridicule.

I'm done arguing with you flakes. You really have nothing I respect going on with AW anymore. Dark shadows and lies. Anonymous little "perky" buttons and lye. Double standards rule, boy, how they do. . . .

Mac said...

In point of fact, you asshole, I've never charged anyone a single goddamned cent for editing.

Can you say that, Sammy?

I've certainly never charged anyone to, ummmm, "represent" their manuscript--without so much as selling a single one.

I'm MacAllister Stone. You want to talk trash about me, spell my goddamned name right. I live north of Seattle, but south of the Canadian border, less than two miles from salt water.

I'll be in Portland in March, where a great many people who have already met me and could confirm my reality will see me yet again. Stop by the Convention Center during Potlatch you cowardly numbfuck, and I'll even buy you a beer.

Jean Marie said...

Wow, what a twit, Mac. I'm not hiding behind an anonymous name. And I'm sure as hell not a flake. Uh, a bunch of 'em are falling outside my window as I write this, though :)

You're a real person, Mac. And a right friendly and kind one, too. So, it's Sammy's loss not to know/realize that. And it's his further loss to ignore what AW has to offer. Oh well.

To call us liars and hypocrites makes me wonder what he's hiding. I didn't see where any questions were asked.

Mac, if AW weren't around, I don't know what I'd do. My growth as a writer would be stunted. I'd have no compass whatsoever, in the writing world.

'Sides, you're not my leader, I'm waiting for the Mothership...it's overdue...

Shwebb said...

Geezy freakin' cow!

Mac, just wanted to thank you for posting some of Dickinson's work. I'm a fan, but I get lazy and don't ever read enough poetry. Thanks to AW, I'm always prompted to read and write and contemplate.

One of my favorites is "I Measure Every Grief I Meet," and it was when Haskins posted it for discussion.

Thanks for stretching me a bit with that one.

Funny, when I saw the number of comments, I just figured there must be a lot of Dickinson fans. Heh.

Anonymous said...

Nice language, Mac.

Did you major in profanity at the univeristy or is it just something you've mastered over time?

You answered one of my questions. I know where you live. Thanks.

You're a real charmer

Dawn said...

The anonymous one wants to talk about profanity? hmmm

"You’re a bunch of bottomfeeders if there every was a bottomfeeding group of vermin in this industry. Like hyenas around the kill you band up on those brave enough to contest you, snapping your ugly jaws in a malicious, horrid way"... "Thanks to whores like you"..."We don’t know anything about you, you worthless, snaggletoothed old curmudgeon typist."

While there wasn't a single profanity in the examples above, they were certainly full of venom and malicious intent - since when is using *that* kind of language any better than just coming out and saying asshole or numfuck?

All anonymous did was put lipstick on the pig. What Mac said was not only more conscise but had the added attribute of being accurate, while anonymous's diatribe is rather purple and easily disproved.

Anonymous said...

wtf is all of this? what happened to just appreciating poetry??

Anonymous said...

poetry to mac stone is synonymous with slander, libel, assault and being generally, a mean spirited, self serving bitch