Sunday, May 26, 2013

from the miscellaneous notebook jottings of William Blake
Every thing which is in harmony with me I call In harmony--But there may be things which are Not in harmony with Me & yet are in a More perfect Harmony

from Emily Dickinson's Poem 1290
The most pathetic thing I do
Is play I hear from you--

from A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson
On the the tenth of February, 1675, came the Indians with great number upon Lancaster. Their first coming was about Sun-rising. Hearing the noise of some Guns, we looked out; several Houses were burning, and the Smoke ascending to Heaven. There were five Persons taken in one House, the Father, the Mother, and a sucking Child they knock'd on the head; the other two they took, and carried away alive.

from Denise Levertov's The Sack Full of Wings
When my father was a little boy in Russia an old pedlar used to come by from time to time, carrying a big sack over his shoulder. Sometimes he would be seen in the streets and outlying districts of the town of Orsha, my father's home; sometimes when my father was taken to the larger city of Vitepsk to visit his grandparents and uncles, there again he would glimpse the pedlar, trudging along, always carrying his bulky sack. My father did not wonder what was in the sack, for he believed he knew: it was full of wings, wings which would enable people to fly like birds.

from Robert Frost's notebook 19
Your Fist in your hand. A great force strongly held. Poetry is neither the force nor the check. It is the tremor of the deadlock.


Christopher said...

Thanks, as usual.

I didn't know "The Most Pathetic Thing I Do," so I looked into it.

E.D. wrote the poem on the flyleaf of one of her father's favorite books, having cut out the page with scissors. Her father's signature and "1824" was on the scrap remaining, and before she inscribed the poem she turned the page upside down so that the signature was lying on its back underneath the poem looking up at it, so to speak.

The poem is dated 1874. The book was a collection of Washington Irving's stories, including "Rip Van Winkle."

Polly Longsworth, the Archivist at the Emily Dickinson Museum at Amherst, describes the final effect like this:

"The death of her father was an irreparable loss to Emily Dickinson. One can only speculate that in cutting the fore-pages from one of his favorite books and using them to send a tumble of words down the page to where her father’s name lay looking up at her, she was finding a way to solace her great grief."

Which is what I guess you meant in "Mrs Dickinson Waits in the Car," as you put it. It's certainly what I meant.

Dawn Potter said...

Thanks for digging up that background. I forget if I told you my in-laws used to live in the Emily Dickinson Museum.

Christopher said...

I also found out that a lot of research has been done as to when the fly-leaf was cut out of the collection of Washington Irving's stories, and of course why. Considering the enormous respect people at that time had for books, what is more father's, it must have been a momentous occasion.

It had been assumed that "The Most Pathetic Thing I do" was written in 1873, but the most recent hand-writing analysis has changed that date to 1874. I haven't come across anyone who has thought to subtract Edward Dickinson's hand-written "1824" from that 1874, which might suggest an even more charged moment, so charged that Polly Longsworth's hypothesis might have been an actual apotheosis!

And with Emily Dickinson, truly, anything is possible -- though goodness knows how she had time for so much drama between the baking, her garden, her chores, her music and the family.

Christopher said...

In my excitement I didn't say there were, of course, two fly-leaves as there were two volumes to the edition. Edward was 21 when he purchased it -- he died on June 18th, 1874!

For those of you who don't know it, as I didn't, here is the poem in its entirety:

The most pathetic thing I do
Is play I hear from you—
I make believe until my Heart
Almost believes it too

But when I break it with the news
You knew it was not true
I wish I had not broken it—
Goliah—so would you—

And here's Emily herself as David:

I took my Power in my Hand—
And went against the World—
'Twas not so much as David—had—
But I—was twice as bold—

I aimed my Pebble—but Myself
Was all the one that fell—
Was it Goliath—was too large—
Or was myself—too small?

Which is a wonderful way of looking at the Frost quote just above as well, and probably what Dawn meant. I would say that "the tremor of the deadlock" is even more powerfully experienced in unpublished poetry as well.

Imagine doing all this completely alone upstairs in your bedroom!

Christopher said...

The collection in question is called Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, and nobody can find any trace of it in any of the Dickinson libraries or in any other records or archives. I strongly suspect the volumes went directly into Edward's coffin after the fly-leaves with the signatures were removed. The scissored edges are rough cut -- this was desperate, this was final.