Before Some Great Unutterable Thought

Dickinson
Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

As if the Sea Should Part

by Emily Dickinson

As if the Sea should part
And show a further Sea —
And that — a further — and the Three
But a presumption be —

Of Periods of Seas —
Unvisited of Shores —
Themselves the Verge of Seas to be —
Eternity — is Those —


I aspire to be dubbed an idler.   It sounds like a knighthood for sonnet writers. The Beneficent Society of Idlers strikes a nice cord, maybe with a large pennant on a red velvet cord for worthy recipients. Great unutterable thoughts that somehow are still uttered is what makes poetry a glue that connects people across time and place. Dickinson is the master of the unutterable and letting unutterances exist between the words and yet be completely understood despite each of our understandings different.

Poetry is not a user manual.   It is not meant to be literal or complete.  The best of it it is a glimpse into another’s inner life, hopes, dreams and miseries.  And if the Sea should part and understanding is lying gleaming in the sand, don’t rush in too quick to pick it up.  Let the Sea return to equilibrium and let it soak for a bit.  And then dive down again to revel in your discoveries, holding your breath with excitement.


They Dub Thee Idler

by Henry Timrod (1828 – 1867)

They dub thee idler, smiling sneeringly,
And why? because, forsooth, so many moons,
Here dwelling voiceless by the voiceful sea,
Thou hast not set thy thoughts to paltry tunes
In song or sonnet. Them these golden noons
Oppress not with their beauty; they could prate,
Even while a prophet read the solemn runes
On which is hanging some imperial fate.
How know they, these good gossips, what to thee
The ocean and its wanderers may have brought?
How know they, in their busy vacancy,
With what far aim thy spirit may be fraught?
Or that thou dost not bow thee silently
Before some great unutterable thought?

 

The World Is Too Much With Us

williamwordsworth
William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850)

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.

William Wordsworth

The World is Too Much With Us

by William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

The world has felt too much of late, this year’s mid summer holiday not even registering as a holiday in my mind, it was so completely removed from traditional rituals and celebrations.  I stayed home and social distanced and worked on projects.

Dickinson does have a way of coming up with phrases that register as strangely optimistic in my thoughts;

“Unconcern so sovereign To Universe, or me – Infects my simple spirit with Taints of Majesty, till I take vaster attitudes and strut upon my stem, disdaining Men and Oxygen for Arrogance of them.”

Arrogance was in full regalia this past weekend by Trump in his usual narcissistic ramblings with his absolute lack of empathy for the impact that COVID-19 is having on families, individuals and communities.  I am still energized by the moment that change is happening and pleased to see emblems of white privilege and worse white supremacy under scrutiny, like the names of pro sports teams, finally coming to a reckoning for change.  Let’s hope that it is more than talk and action follows to eliminate symbols of injustice and bias with new emphasis on inclusion and crafting a legacy all can be proud and embrace.  I am hopeful being a patriot is supporting a better, more just path forward.


Of Bronze—and Blaze—

by Emily Dickinson

Of Bronze—and Blaze—
The North—Tonight—
So adequate—it forms—
So preconcerted with itself—
So distant—to alarms—
And Unconcern so sovereign
To Universe, or me—
Infects my simple spirit
With Taints of Majesty—
Till I take vaster attitudes—
And strut upon my stem—
Disdaining Men, and Oxygen,
For Arrogance of them—

My Splendors, are Menagerie—
But their Competeless Show
Will entertain the Centuries
When I, am long ago,
An Island in dishonored Grass—
Whom none but Daisies, know.

In Forgetfulness Divine

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John Keats

I was never afraid of failure, for I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest.

John Keats

On Sleep

by John Keats (1795 – 1821)

O soft embalmer of the still midnight!
Shutting with careful fingers and benign
Our gloom-pleased eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine;
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close,
In midst of this thine hymn, my willing eyes,
Or wait the amen, ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities;
Then save me, or the passèd day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes;
Save me from curious conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oilèd wards,
And seal the hushèd casket of my soul.


A Long, Long Sleep

by Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

A long — long Sleep — A famous — Sleep —
That makes no show for Morn —
By Stretch of Limb — or stir of Lid —
An independent One —

Was ever idleness like This?
Upon a Bank of Stone
To bask the Centuries away —
Nor once look up — for Noon

Over The Land Is April

 

Absent Place—an April Day—
Daffodils a-blow
Homesick curiosity
To the Souls that snow—

Drift may block within it
Deeper than without—
Daffodil delight but
Him it duplicate—

Emily Dickinson

Over The Land Is April

by Robert Louis Stevenson

OVER the land is April,
Over my heart a rose;
Over the high, brown mountain
The sound of singing goes.
Say, love, do you hear me,
Hear my sonnets ring?
Over the high, brown mountain,
Love, do you hear me sing?

By highway, love, and byway
The snows succeed the rose.
Over the high, brown mountain
The wind of winter blows.
Say, love, do you hear me,
Hear my sonnets ring?
Over the high, brown mountain
I sound the song of spring,
I throw the flowers of spring.
Do you hear the song of spring?
Hear you the songs of spring?



A Song of a Second April

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

April this year, not otherwise
Than April of a year ago,
Is full of whispers, full of sighs,
Of dazzling mud and dingy snow;
Hepaticas that pleased you so
Are here again, and butterflies.

There rings a hammering all day,
And shingles lie about the doors;
In orchards near and far away
The grey wood-pecker taps and bores;
The men are merry at their chores,
And children earnest at their play.

The larger streams run still and deep,
Noisy and swift the small brooks run
Among the mullein stalks the sheep
Go up the hillside in the sun,
Pensively,—only you are gone,
You that alone I cared to keep.

 

Dear March – Come In

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Florida Sunshine – Photograph by Rikki Patton

A Light Exists In Spring

by Emily Dickinson

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here

A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.

It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.

Then as Horizons step
Or Noons report away
Without the Formula of sound
It passes and we stay —

A quality of loss
Affecting our Content
As Trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a Sacrament.


The adage; “In like a lion, out like a lamb, in like a lamb out like a lion,”  gives all Minnesotans and Northerners pause when we find ourselves in the high 40’s on March 2, wondering what Mother Nature has in store for us in 4 weeks.

I spent the final week of February in Florida on business with a little fun thrown in at the end. The quality of the light was fundamentally different than just weeks before in Minnesota. There is a sense of serenity that comes with the arrival of March. Bulbs blooming on the kitchen table will soon be bulbs blooming in the front yard.  And though there will be a few more cold days and likely a snow squall or two, the sun is winning the battle and winter is coming to an end.  I agree with Emily – Dear March, come in, come right in and make yourself at home.  We are glad to see you return. 


Dear March – Come In

by Emily Dickinson

Dear March – Come in –
How glad I am –
I hoped for you before –
Put down your Hat –
You must have walked –
How out of Breath you are –
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest –
Did you leave Nature well –
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me –
I have so much to tell –

God Forbid I Look Behind

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The Only Ghost I Ever Saw

by Emily Dickinson

The only ghost I ever saw
Was dressed in mechlin, –so;
He wore no sandal on his foot,
And stepped like flakes of snow.
His gait was soundless, like the bird,
But rapid, like the roe;
His fashions quaint, mosaic,
Or, haply, mistletoe.

Hi conversation seldom,
His laughter like the breeze
That dies away in dimples
Among the pensive trees.
Our interview was transient, —
Of me, himself was shy;
And God forbid I look behind
Since that appalling day!

 


I attended a performance of Amal and the Night Visitors this weekend with James Sewell Ballet in Minneapolis.   A simple tale, an operetta set to motion as a ballet, that reminds us that our lives change for the better when we open the door to the stranger and welcome them inside.  I agree with Delmore Schwartz.  Let Angels be the judge of dogs and children.  Some people believe babies are born with all the knowledge of the world, childhood is unlearning what they already know. Dogs are born with similar knowledge.  They are born trusting.  And in companionship they learn to magnify that trust or it diminishes, depending on the person in their charge.  To howl and dance out our souls sounds like a good plan for dogs, children and adults.

 


Dogs Are Shakespearean, Children are Strangers

by Delmore Schwartz

Dogs are Shakespearean, children are strangers.
Let Freud and Wordsworth discuss the child,
Angels and Platonists shall judge the dog,
The running dog, who paused, distending nostrils,
Then barked and wailed; the boy who pinched his sister,
The little girl who sang the song from Twelfth Night,
As if she understood the wind and rain,
The dog who moaned, hearing the violins in concert.
—O I am sad when I see dogs or children!
For they are strangers, they are Shakespearean.

Tell us, Freud, can it be that lovely children
Have merely ugly dreams of natural functions?
And you, too, Wordsworth, are children truly
Clouded with glory, learned in dark Nature?
The dog in humble inquiry along the ground,
The child who credits dreams and fears the dark,
Know more and less than you: they know full well
Nor dream nor childhood answer questions well:
You too are strangers, children are Shakespearean.

Regard the child, regard the animal,
Welcome strangers, but study daily things,
Knowing that heaven and hell surround us,
But this, this which we say before we’re sorry,
This which we live behind our unseen faces,
Is neither dream, nor childhood, neither
Myth, nor landscape, final, nor finished,
For we are incomplete and know no future,
And we are howling or dancing out our souls
In beating syllables before the curtain:
We are Shakespearean, we are strangers.

Something Greater From The Difference

 

Package

We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.

Winston Churchill

When Giving Is All We Have

By Albert Rios (1952 –

                                              One river gives
                                              Its journey to the next.

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.


 

Before The Ice Is In The Pools

by Emily Dickinson

Before the ice is in the pools—
Before the skaters go,
Or any check at nightfall
Is tarnished by the snow—

Before the fields have finished,
Before the Christmas tree,
Wonder upon wonder
Will arrive to me.

I Am

 

Harold Bloom
Harold Bloom (1930 – 2019)

“We read deeply for varied reasons, most of them familiar: that we cannot know enough people profoundly enough; that we need to know ourselves better; Yet the strongest, most authentic motive for deep reading….is the search for a difficult pleasure.”

Harold Bloom

I Am

by John Clare

I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes—
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky


Harold Bloom, a fellow lover of sonnets, passed away this week.  Bloom was a literary critic of legendary status, who loved words.  Bloom was first and foremost a devotee of reading, though he did suffer from a bit of snobbery on the subject. Someone who enjoyed reading as much as he did, should have promoted reading for reading’s sake regardless of whether he agreed with another’s readers tastes, but Bloom felt all of us needed to be exposed to the genius lying in wait for us between the covers of the great books of literature. Bloom espoused the idea many times that reading was a way to explore what makes us human in ways that go beyond our solitary thoughts, by learning about some of the greatest minds of all time through their art, their ideas.

“It is hard to go on living without some hope of encountering the extraordinary.”

Harold Bloom

Bloom compiled many lists over the years of the essential canon of English literature.  You can find several variations on that theme on the internet with a casual search. However, the best list of his on poetry that I have found is shared on the Floating Library.  I have included a link below.  Check it out.   Of course the two poems today come from his list.  Rest in peace Harold.  I promise to do my part and keep up the good work of reading and making our way slowly through your list of gems, and even add to your list along the way a ripping good limerick or two you might have missed.

Harold Bloom’s Recommended Poems


We Grow Accustomed To The Dark

by Emily Dickinson

We grow accustomed to the Dark –
When light is put away –
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye –

A Moment – We uncertain step
For newness of the night –
Then – fit our Vision to the Dark –
And meet the Road – erect –

And so of larger – Darknesses –
Those Evenings of the Brain –
When not a Moon disclose a sign –
Or Star – come out – within –

The Bravest – grope a little –
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead –
But as they learn to see –

Either the Darkness alters –
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight –
And Life steps almost straight.

And Yet We Guessed It Not

gardening-shoes

At Length

by Emily Dickinson

Her final summer was it
And yet we guessed it not,
If tenderer industriousness
Pervaded her, we thought

A further force of life
Developed from within,
When Death lit all the shortness up,
and made the hurry plain.

We wondered at our blindness,
When nothing was to see
But her Carrara guide-post
At our stupidity.

When duller than our dullness,
The busy darling lay,
So busy was she finishing,
So leisurely, were we!


 

That It Will Never Come Again

halloween 1966

Masks off
Halloween 1966

That It Will Never Come Again

by Emily Dickinson

That it will never come again
Is what makes life so sweet.
Believing what we don’t believe
Does not exhilarate.

That if it be, it be at best
An ablative estate —
This instigates an appetite
Precisely opposite.


I grew up surrounded by girl cousins and two sisters.  I was younger than all of them and all were better athletes.   I spent my entire childhood trying to keep up, whether it was in school and academics or back packing, climbing mountains, skiing, running, playing softball, climbing trees, swimming or tennis, I knew that women were not my equal, they were better. Having grown up thinking this group of women were invincible, its shocking that one of us is gone, a sudden, unexpected death.   It doesn’t fit into the way the world works.  In your mid 50’s we become accustomed to dealing with death; the death of parents, aunts and uncles, but not a first cousin so close in age.  It is a clarion call of how fragile life can be and how to not waste time on trivial squabbles. Instead focus on what is important in our families, love.

Darla was the youngest of the Fritch girls and closest to me in age, sympathetic to both the fun and challenges of two older sisters.  When we were young, she always kept an eye on me and made me feel special when we visited. As married adults, our families went on many ski strips together, my two kids and her two kids close in age. We shared winter vacations where we all crashed together in one cabin, cooked together, played games, went swimming and enjoyed the wonderful playful exhaustion that only comes from a day of downhill skiing.

Darla lived a good life.  She raised two fine sons with a loving husband, contributed to her community, was an excellent professor and mentor to her students.  She was fit and smart and took care of her body.  She enjoyed her life with joy right up until the end, having just come back from a back packing trip in the Big Horns in Wyoming.

Life isn’t supposed to end when we are having this much fun. Isn’t that the hope for everyone of us?  That regardless of our age, our loved ones will say, it was too soon. Darla’s death leaves an impossible void to fill, so unique is her beautiful life and warmth of personality.  Her legacy is as wide as her smile.  Her life and memory are a blessing to all who had the good fortune to know and love her, we shall miss you dearly.

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Darla Baumgarten (1960 – 2019)


Grief Dies

by Henry Timrod

Grief dies like joy; the tears upon my cheek
Will disappear like dew. Dear God! I know
Thy kindly Providence hath made it so,
And thank thee for the law. I am too weak
To make a friend of Sorrow, or to wear,
With that dark angel ever by my side
(Though to thy heaven there be no better guide),
A front of manly calm. Yet, for I hear
How woe hath cleansed, how grief can deify,
So weak a thing it seems that grief should die,
And love and friendship with it, I could pray,
That if it might not gloom upon my brow,
Nor weigh upon my arm as it doth now,
No grief of mine should ever pass away.