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The poems of Emily Dickinson, published in a series of three volumes at various intervals after her death in 1886, and in a volume entitled "The Single Hound", published in 1914, with the addition of a few before omitted, are here collected in a final complete edition.
In them and in her "Life and Letters", recently presented in one inclusive volume, lives all of Emily Dickinson - for the outward circumstance matters little, nor is this the place for discussion as to whether fate ordained her or she ordained her own foreordination.
Many of her poems have been reprinted in anthologies, selections, textbooks for recitation, and they have increasingly found their elect and been best interpreted by the expansion of those lives they have seized upon by force of their natural, profound intuition of the miracles of everyday Life, Love, and Death.
She herself was of the part of life that is always youth, always magical. She wrote of it as she grew to know it, step by step, discovery by discovery, truth by truth - until time merely became eternity. She was pre-eminently the discoverer - eagerly hunting the meaning of it all; this strange world in which she wonderingly found herself, - "A Balboa of house and garden," surmising what lay beyond the purple horizon. She lived with a God we do not believe in, and trusted in an immortality we do not deserve, in that confiding age when Duty ruled over Pleasure before the Puritan became a hypocrite.
Her aspect of Deity, - as her intimation, - was her own, - unique, peculiar, unimpaired by the brimstone theology of her day.
Her poems reflect this direct relation toward the great realities we have later avoided, covered up, or tried to wipe out; perhaps because were they really so great we become so small in consequence. All truth came to Emily straight from honor to honor unimpaired. She never trafficked with falsehood seriously, never employed a deception in thought or feeling of her own. This pitiless sincerity dictated:
"I like a look of agony
Because I know it's true
Men do not sham convulsion
Nor simulate a throe."
As light after darkness, Summer following Winter, she is inevitable, unequivocal. Evasion of fact she knew not, though her body might flit away from interruption, leaving an intruder to "Think that a sunbeam left the door ajar."
Her entities were vast - as her words were few; those words like dry-point etching or frost upon the pane! Doubly aspected, every event, every object seemed to hold for her both its actual and imaginative dimension. By this power she carries her readers behind the veil obscuring less gifted apprehension. She even descends over the brink of the grave to toy with the outworn vesture of the spirit, recapture the dead smile on lips surrendered forever; then, as on the wings of Death, betakes herself and her reader in the direction of the escaping soul to new, incredible heights.
Doubly her life carried on, two worlds in her brown eyes, by which habit of the Unseen she confessed:
"I fit for them,
I seek the dark till I am thorough fit.
The labor is a solemn one,
With this sufficient sweet -
That abstinence as mine produce
A purer good for them,
If I succeed, -
If not, I had
The transport of the Aim."
This transport of the aim absorbed her, and this absorption is her clearest explanation, - the absorption in This excluding observance of That. Most of all she was busy. It takes time even for genius to crystallize the thought with which her letters and poems are crammed. Her solitude was never idle.
Her awe of that unknown sacrament of love permeated all she wrote, and before Nature, God, and Death she is more fearless than that archangel of portentous shadow she instinctively dreaded.
Almost transfigured by reverence, her poems are pervaded by inference sharply in contrast to the balder speech of to-day. Here the mystic suppressed the woman, though her heart leaped up over children, - radiant phenomena to her, akin to stars fallen among her daffodils in the orchard; and her own renunciation, chalice at lip, was nobly, frankly given in the poem ending:
"Each bound the other's crucifix,
We gave no other bond.
Sufficient troth that we shall rise -
Deposed, at length, the grave -
To that new marriage, justified
Through Calvaries of Love!"
Her own philosophy had early taught her that All was in All: there were no degrees in anything. Accordingly nothing was mean or trivial, and her "fainting robin" became a synonym of the universe. She saw in absolute terms which gave her poetry an accuracy like that obtained under the microscope of modern science. But her soul dominated, and when her footsteps wavered her terms were still dictated by her unquenchable spirit.
Hers too were spirit terms with life and friends, in which respect she was of a divergence from the usual not easily to be condoned.
It was precisely the clamour of the commonplace exasperated by the austerities of a reserved individuality, that provoked her immortal exclamation:
"Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye.
Much sense the starkest madness;
'T is the majority
In this, as all prevails.
Assent and you are sane -
Demur - you 're straightway dangerous
And handled with a chain."
Her interpretation demands height and depth of application in her readers, for although her range is that of any soul not earth-bound by the senses, she does not always make it immediately plain when she speaks out of her own vision in her own tongue. In spite of which, beyond those who profess her almost as a cult, she is supremely the poet of those who "never read poetry." The scoffers, the literary agnostics, make exception for her. She is also the poet of the unpoetic, the unlearned foreigner, the busy, practical, inexpressive man as well as woman, the wise young and groping old, the nature worshipper, the schoolgirl, children caught by her fairy lineage, and lovers of all degree.
Full many a preacher has found her line at the heart of his matter and left her verse to fly up with his conclusion. And it is the Very Reverend head of a most Catholic order who writes, "I bless God for Emily, - some of her writings have had a more profound influence on my life than anything else that any one has ever written."
Mystic to mystic, mind to mind, spirit to spirit, dust to dust. She was at the source of things and dwelt beside the very springs of life, yet those deep wells from which she drew were of the wayside, though their waters were of eternal truth, her magnificat one of the certainties of every immortal being. Here in her poems the arisen Emily, unabashed by mortal bonds, speaks to her "Divine Majority":
"Split the lark and you 'll find the music -
Bulb after bulb, in silver rolled,
Scantily dealt to the Summer morning,
Saved for your ears when lutes are old."
But in what vernacular explain the skylark to the mole - even she was at loss to tell. And for the true lovers of the prose or poetry of Emily Dickinson, explanation of her is as impertinent as unnecessary.
Siena, March, 1924