I haven’t posted about them since the first few days, but I have continued my practice of reading one Emily Dickinson poem per day, in order as determined by Thomas E. Johnson (The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1960). Today is day 54. Several of the poems over the past week have been about death. How did she ever get the reputation of being all tweeting birds and sweet little flowers? The woman was obsessed with death and had so many profound things to say about it.

53

Taken from men — this morning —
Carried by men today —
Met by the Gods with banners —
Who marshalled her away —

One little maid — from playmates —
One little mind from school —
There must be guests in Eden —
All the rooms are full —

Far — as the East from Even —
Dim — as the border star —
Courtiers quaint, in Kingdoms
Our departed are.

51

I often passed the village
When going home from school —
And wondered what they did there —
And why it was so still —

I did not know the year then —
In which my call would come —
Earlier, by the Dial,
Than the rest have gone.

It’s stiller than the sundown.
It’s cooler than the dawn —
The Daisies dare to come here —
And birds can flutter down —

So when you are tired —
Or perplexed — or cold–
Trust the loving promise
Underneath the mould,
Cry “it’s I,” “take Dollie,”
And I will enfold!

Number 51 combines a theme about death with a tendency that many of these early poems have, which is to read like an old-fashioned riddle: here’s the poem, guess what it describes, like this classic:

In marble walls as white as milk,
Lined with skin as soft as silk,
In a fountain crystal clear,
A golden treasure does appear.
There are no doors to this stronghold,
Yet thieves break in and steal the gold. (Answer below, for those who haven’t read The Hobbit nor sought out lots of this kind of riddle as a child.)

For example, number 25 is:

She slept beneath a tree —
Remembered but by me.
I touched her Cradle mute —
She recognized the foot —
Put on her carmine suit
. And see!

Doesn’t that sound like a riddle? I don’t know what the answer would be–some kind of flower? In any case, the same tone seems to pervade poems like number 51, where she is clearly speaking of a graveyard but refers to it only as a village.

I am loving this practice. I miss a day here and there but make it up the next day, but it’s nicest when I have a daily poem for several days running.

(The answer to the riddle is: an egg.)

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