Friday, August 24, 2007

"Hope" is the thing with feathers -- a Poetry Friday post



I have been remiss in talking about one of the foremost poets of the 19th century, and one of the best American poets of all time: Miss Emily Dickinson. Thank heavens, has made up for my negligence with all his lovely images, many of which are for sale as notecards and art prints, and some of which are still in progress.



As I confessed in a prior post, I sometimes have a hard time parsing Emily. Or in not "singing" her poems to the tune of either Amazing Grace or the Theme Song from Gilligan's Island. But lately, I've been taking another look at the lovely Miss Dickinson's poems. And truly, I find her lovely -- not just because Slatts has made me look at her in such a way, but also because there is something marvelous about her use of language. Also, my realization that the ONLY way to read Dickinson is aloud has made her poetry so much more accessible to me. All those dashes that visually clutter her poems make perfect sense if you read them as a brief pause in the spoken line. I suspect that she was such a control freak that she didn't want to use commas, which might only be proper punctuation, when what she was seeking to control was pausing and line stops.

In today's poems, she actually uses the comma in the penultimate line, but I don't believe she means for the reader to pause there. I think she put it in to set off the word "never", so that the reader would land on it a wee bit harder (or in mild isolation), without actually stopping mid-line. And, again, if one reads Miss Dickinson aloud and only pauses where she has her em-dashes, then the hymn-tune construction doesn't quite hold, and the last two lines of the second and the third stanzas merge to be one, long, sentence (save for the last dash in the last line of the poem).

"Hope" Is the Thing with Feathers
by Emily Dickinson

"Hope" is the thing with feathers——
That perches in my soul——
And sings the tune without the words——
And never stops——at all——

And sweetest—in the Gale——is heard——
And sore must be the storm——
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm——

I've heard it in the chillest land——
And on the strangest Sea——
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb——of Me.

1 comment:

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

In college, a friend of mine did a project where he wrote out the nursery rhyme "Jack be nimble, Jack be quick," as if different American poets we'd studied in class had written them out. Walt Whitman waxed lyrical about the wonders of the candlestick and how Jack was going to celebrate it, etc. It was followed by Emily Dickinson's "Jack. Stick. Jump." I laughed out loud when I read it. (As a sideline, the Gwendolyn Brooks version was particularly good, i.e. "That Jack he/be nimble he/be quick he/jump stick.")