I don’t know if I can really do this, or will want to after a while, but I had the idea of reading an Emily Dickinson poem each day, reading them in order (as set in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson). If I never missed a day, it would take close to five years. No doubt I will miss many days, and also come to poems that I want to spend a few days contemplating before I fill my mind with the next one. I also won’t try to write about every one. But I must write about this first one, because it’s the first, it’s unintentionally (?) funny and, well, let’s just say that if it were a typical example of her poetry, I would not be setting out to read all 1,775.
It is headed “Valentine week, 1850” and appears to be an exhortation to her brother Austin to get married already (he finally obeyed seven years later). Her argument is that “All things do go a courting,” and she lists examples, and I do mean lists. It gets a little tedious, and the hexameter takes on a singsong quality in too many lines. It also doth seem that every noun doth verb, instead of just plain verbing; it reminds me of what I think of as flight attendant-speak, in which the speaker says things like
We will be showing an in-flight movie.
We do ask you to keep your seat belt on while the aircraft is in motion.
We do offer complimentary soft drinks and juice.
and on and on with unnecessary emphasis, as if contradicting an earlier assertion, until I want to take off my seat belt, leap from my seat, hurl my flotation device, and scream, “No one’s arguing with you! Stop being so damn defensive!” I guess in ED’s case, it’s a scansion issue, but still.
ED even lists a half a dozen candidates for lucky bride (one of whom he did marry, if the Susan of the poem is Susan Gilbert). Still, it’s far from doggerel, and it has its moments, like “The wave with eye so pensive, looketh to see the moon.” I also notice that she is already spinning gorgeous images of death:
“The worm doth woo the mortal, death claims a living bride.”
Here’s the whole thing. I am also glad ED doesn’t do quite so much underlining in future poems; Johnson preserved it, and the italics don’t survive a copying and pasting from other websites, and are very tedious to put back in.
Awake ye muses nine, sing me a strain divine,
Unwind the solemn twine, and tie my Valentine!
Oh the Earth was made for lovers, for damsel, and hopeless swain,
For sighing, and gentle whispering, and unity made of twain.
All things do go a courting, in earth, or sea, or air,
God hath made nothing single but thee in His world so fair!
The bride, and then the bridegroom, the two, and then the one,
Adam, and Eve, his consort, the moon, and then the sun;
The life doth prove the precept, who obey shall happy be,
Who will not serve the sovereign, be hanged on fatal tree.
The high do seek the lowly, the great do seek the small,
None cannot find who seeketh, on this terrestrial ball;
The bee doth court the flower, the flower his suit receives,
And they make merry wedding, whose guests are hundred leaves;
The wind doth woo the branches, the branches they are won,
And the father fond demandeth the maiden for his son.
The storm doth walk the seashore humming a mournful tune,
The wave with eye so pensive, looketh to see the moon,
Their spirits meet together, they make their solemn vows,
No more he singeth mournful, her sadness she doth lose.
The worm doth woo the mortal, death claims a living bride,
Night unto day is married, morn unto eventide;
Earth is a merry damsel, and heaven a knight so true,
And Earth is quite coquettish, and beseemeth in vain to sue.
Now to the application, to the reading of the roll,
To bringing thee to justice, and marshalling thy soul:
Thou art a human solo, a being cold, and lone,
Wilt have no kind companion, thou reap’st what thou hast sown.
Hast never silent hours, and minutes all too long,
And a deal of sad reflection, and wailing instead of song?
There’s Sarah, and Eliza, and Emeline so fair,
And Harriet, and Susan, and she with curling hair!
Thine eyes are sadly blinded, but yet thou mayest see
Six true, and comely maidens sitting upon the tree;
Approach that tree with caution, then up it boldly climb,
And seize the one thou lovest, nor care for space, or time!
Then bear her to the greenwood, and build for her a bower,
And give her what she asketh, jewel, or bird, or flower—
And bring the fife, and trumpet, and beat upon the drum—
And bid the world Goodmorrow, and go to glory home!
Courage. It won’t be long before we get to the seriously good stuff.