Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lit On Fire...My Favorite Poet, Emily

Ella, at Real Toads, has asked us to write or tell about that poet and poem which first sparked a love of poetry in us. For me, that would be "I Cannot Live With You", by Emily Dickinson. I have it featured on a stand-alone page here at Word Garden.

It was in high school English that we studied this poem, and it took my breath away then and still does today. At the time that I first read it, there were things that I wanted really badly in my life, and I saw others having those things without even trying. I wondered, "Why is the deck stacked? Why am I denied what I want so much?" It came as a revelation to teenage me, that someone else had felt the same way, and written it down so passionately. It was one of those moments when a life turns, and I have loved poetry ever since.

As for Emily, she remains my favorite poet. No pale fraidycat, she. First, she was a redhead. 


She had the guts to say, at college, in a time and place where belief was a given, that she was not sure she believed in God, though her subsequent poetry is full of spiritual questioning. She wrote in a style that defied poetic conventions of the time, in both form and content. And she loved another woman...her brother's wife, Susan Huntington Dickinson, who lived next door at The Evergreens. What exquisite torment that must have been! Her heart's desire so close, and yet as removed as the moon. That pain is all through "I Cannot Live With You." (To read Emily's letters to Susan--often passed by hand or through servants--read the excellent book "Open Me Carefully".)

I had the good fortune to visit the Dickinson homestead in Amherst, in August of 2007. I stood in the very room she composed in, and saw where she kept all her poems. I felt her there, in a personal way that floored me. I sat outside in the garden for a long time after. I felt that she knew I was there, and welcomed me. I felt her encouragement of my work. It was no subtle thing...she was there and she spoke to me. I'll never forget it.

I wrote a poem about it, a little while after returning home. Here it is:


Were you waiting for me?
Did you find me in your garden,
And speak my secret name?
We are wicks
Twinly lit;
Darling, we hold
The flame.

Did you press an oak leaf to your lips?
Wishing for her lips
That never softly came?
We are women
Who burn for women;
Darling, we hold
The flame.

Did you see me?
Another bound in books
That fair divinity contain?
We ache for night
And fever bright;
Darling, we hold
The flame.



Mary Ann Potter said...

"We are wicks, twinly lit" is one of the most evocative lines I've read in a long time! Impressive poem to Emily, who would no doubt write back to you if she could.

Brian Miller said...

nice...really enjoyed your verse shay...and enjoy emily as was much later in life that the poetry bug bit me so i am playing catch up when it comes to exploring poets....

Lolamouse said...

Fabulous tribute to Emily! Your flame burns bright, Shay.

hedgewitch said...

I knew of this incident in your life and how much meaning it had for you, but had never read your tender and evocative poem. I can almost feel Emily standing over you, smiling because you write so differently but also with so much of the same deep feeling and disregard for/independence of convention. Glad I got to read this.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Oh this is so beautiful and poignant. I am certain Emily recognized her kinship with you when you were there. You are as wildly talented as she. What a wonderful story, and what a beautiful heartfelt poem you wrote for her. Sigh. I am going to track down the book you mention. Wow. This all fills my heart so full. Thanks, kiddo.

Mama Zen said...

"We are wicks
Twinly lit"

That really is exquisite. And, I love the way you responded to the prompt.

Cloudia said...

Surely she smiles on you!

Aloha from Waikiki

Comfort Spiral

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Grace said...

A beautiful tribute to Emily.

And thanks for sharing this with us ~ no wonder you write so beautifully.

HermanTurnip said...

It can be overpowering to be in the presence of the thing that calls out to your heart. Amazing write-up. Having strong ties to certain creative outlets,I can relate, and actually got a bit misty eyed reading this post. :-)

Marion said...

Ah, the first poet love...your post is so eloquent and I, too, love that poem.

But I think my first love was Edna St. Vincent Millay. I memorized all 214 lines of "Renascence" in jr. high school. I still love that last stanza:

"The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,—
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat—the sky
Will cave in on him by and by."

Ella said...

I'm am amazed and jealous that you were able to visit her room. I believe you did feel her presence and this poem, proves it to me!
Thank you for sharing your gift!
"We are wicks, twinly lit" captures and reflects the mood of your poem!

Kerry O'Connor said...

Shay, I really love this entire post, with your story of discovering a love of poetry through Emily Dickinson, and your journey to her room. (I have only looked at the pictures and felt the strong presence of that reclusive soul.) In my youth, I suffered from what I call the 'mermaid complex', in that I was (am, okay)addicted to unrequited love. I blame it on the classics: Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations etc, so the poem 'I cannot live with you..' is like my mantra. Your words in poetry, so freely expressed here, have moved me to tears. These are the gifts I am talking about, so I will say, "Thank you".

Lynn said...

That's so wonderful that you had such a powerful experience with poetry in high school. That's the way life should be. And I'm glad you got to stand in her rooms.

I grew up about a mile away from where Flannery O'Connor was writing her fiction and when I stood in her house finally just two years ago, I marveled that those words were written right there.

Sioux said...

"...wicks twinly lit...lips that never softly came..." What gorgeous lines. The whole poem: exquisite.

Too bad you've now revealed your secret. You don't have a whole attic full of spirits writing for you. No. Instead, you have only ONE spirit guiding your hand--Emily Dickinson.

I really enjoyed the small window you opened up; hearing about some of your experiences in high school, and then your trip to Emily's home made me feel priviliged. Writing is risky--we bare our souls through our lines, but we can always hide between the lines. When we write about ourselves--bare ourselves--undisguised by metaphors, it makes us even more vulnerable.

Thank you, Shay.

nene said...

I echo the words of Brian Miller, here, that my appreciation of how tender, passionate and symbolic words can paint with 'small brushes'. 'Small brushes' is my symbolism compared to how sometimes points to be made, things to be said require many words, 'large brushes'. Great paintings are sometimes tiny spechs of paint created by 'small brushes'.

Thank you to artists like yourself and emily, shelley, byron, etc. who have introduced the art of 'sometimes small is better'.

Gracias, mi amiga.

Daryl said...

Did you press an oak leaf to your lips?

I bet she did.

TALON said...

It's amazing the connection that races between poetic hearts...

Marian said...

"we are women who burn for women" indeed, sigh.

Caty said...

Honestly, Shay, you've always reminded me of though you're one of her long lost relatives or something :) you both are brilliant...loved your verse to her also.

ellen abbott said...

I don't write poetry but you are my favorite poet.

Anonymous said...

This is superb!

Mary said...

Shay, I am coming to your entry late. I was always fascinated with Emily Dickinson in high school as well. I think I also felt an affinity to her in some ways, as if she spoke for me too. Sounds like you felt the same. Your poem to her was just beautiful. I know Emily would have loved it!

Anonymous said...

"We are wicks twinkly writ." I love your words ... each poem is filled with passion that spills all over the page. Your poems are always a delight to read. Thank you!

Helen said...

There is aching beauty in your homage to Ms. Emily ...

Anonymous said...

that must have been an amazing experience!

love your poem ~ so tender.