Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

It’s all here

For each ecstatic instant
We must an anguish pay
In keen and quivering ratio
To the ecstacy.

You can’t help but wonder if Ms. Emily was telling herself just then that she should never have climbed out of bed. It was one of those mornings when every last glass on the shelf looks half-empty.

For each beloved hour
Sharp pittances of years--
Bitter contested farthings—
And Coffers heaped with Tears!

For every sweet spot in our lives, she says, we pay, big-time. On an all-day bike trip I took years ago, a fellow traveler, my age, insisted, all day long, that if we measured our trek in time not distance, we’d spent four hours pedaling uphill for every one we coasted down. Sure seemed that way.

Often does. Makes us quiver, Dickinson says—that kind of realization.

Our tears vastly outnumber our smiles. Life just isn’t fair. (Softly, a background violin.)

But then there are other Dickinson poems, like #214: “I taste a liquor never brewed,” probably the closest Ms. Emily ever came to sheer bacchanalia. She's drunk as a skunk all the way through, and thrilled to be three sheets to the wind, as if her saving grace were her snootfull. Not only that, she says, she won’t stop drinking until she stumbles off to heaven:

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats—
And Saints—to windows run—
To see the little Tippler
From Manzanilla come!

In #214, the brew of choice is the air she breathes; nature, she says, sets her “reeling—thro endless summer days.” She’s as high as kite, higher than Emerson ever dreamed, her ecstasies of no small moment.

In #214, the glass is definitely half full.

You never know exactly what you're going to get with Emily Dickinson. How human.

I spent a year’s worth of mornings in the Psalms not long ago, and it seems to me that one of the reasons those poems are the finest songs in all of literature is the staggering openness they offer to every reader. In them, we feel every last human emotion, even some we aren’t proud of. In them, we experience everything any of us has ever felt or and ever will, everything.

I’m sure scores of good English profs can say far more erudite things about Ms. Emily, but, reading through her work again this morning, what strikes me is something I’ve felt also in the book of Psalms: that it’s all here—everything we can feel or own, touch or desire, every bit of joy and sadness, every inch of anger and good will. It’s all here.

The fact is, there’s room enough for all of us in Emily Dickinson, despite the fact the woman rarely left the house. Never did a human being travel so far in Amherst, or Concord, or Sioux Center.


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