7.16.2008

Wading Grief

'Power is only Pain --
Stranded, thro' Discipline,'
Emily Dickinson, #252

I'm in the middle of Cynthia Wolff's biography of Emily Dickinson, and it's amazing what a bit of Dickinson will do for you. The older I get, (and I'm only 28, after all) the more I realize how much I don't know, will never understand, all the thing Emily Dickinson can tell you.

Now, mind you, that's not neccesarily to say that I believe Ms. Wolff does either - her interpretation of Emily Dickinson has a definite late 20th century Academic filter applied, and while I've never met her, I can't imagine even Ms Wolff would deny that. Reading this book has mostly shown me all the htings that Emily CAN say, if you NEED her to say it.

I was struck particularly by 'I can wade Grief--', poem #252 in the standard numbering of Dickinson poems. I don't even know if I thoguht too hard about this poem when I was younger, but if I did, I know exactly what I read from it, and I just didn't completely understand. The one comment I can applaud Ms Wolff for on this was her pointing out that the meter staggers, like one beneath great weight, or in great pain - read it out loud, you will hear the stuttering steps, the pauses for breath, the triumphant gritting of teeth. It made me understand in a way that I can't quite express (being as I'm not Emily Dickinson!), how tied together 'power' and 'pain' are. When Emily Dickinson takes on pain that she can avoid, it's not just some sort of masochistic self-punishment, it's a sort of divine vision, that responsibility needs power to fulfill, that we should never be content with leaving pain aside. It is not a matter of keeping pain at a minimum, but it's, instead, an art of living all that must be lived to live the life you want, and sometimes, that means pain, and sometimes that means pleasure, but all of it means beauty - the life of a poet is too much to contain in the box of happy feelings, it has to be bigger than that, that's why golden ages always need to melt into silver, that's why spirits consent to be born to the world. It's not masochism, it's an absence of even the slightest trace of hedonism.

Anyway, babble-babble-babble. It's pretty irrelevant, really, as I have no courage of conviction, so the whole story is about someone else. But if you cannot be beautiful, its comforting to see beautiful things.