Deprived of other Banquet

Daily Dash 1789 is a blog I've started keeping my eye on frequently. The premise is simple (the best blogs seem to be...): every day, the author posts one of Emily Dickinson's 1789 poems, and offers her, sometimes very peronal, insights into what the poem is saying. I almost never see the poems the same way, and that's part of what makes the blog so wonderful. More than most bloggers on poetry, I feel like Ms Kackley is sincere about what she's saying, and she writes with a polite courage, that makes me look forward to her daily thoughts. And it helps that it's all Emmy Dickinson, of course ;P. I could probably comment every day, but I imagine I'd probably start seeming creepy. But let me just say that the line I am like an architect that can't find a builder", was probably the funniest, poignantly sad, and completely self-describing line I've read in a blog, ever.

Anyway, Ms Kackley, the other day (don't I sound like I'm telling my mom about something my English Teacher said?), did her analysis on the poem 'Deprived of other Banquet,' a poem I don't think I ever really thought about before - it's difficult to be theme-ish thinker, like me, because you start to overlook things that fit a theme you've already seen elsewhere, and stop looking for the particularities in poems. I thought it was interesting, that her description, of the same poem, could range from Macroeconomics to private sorrow, and I don't say that with any snickering irony. There's something very humbling, for me, very painful but important, about juxtaposing public tragedy with private tragedy. In the grand scheme of things, for me, something like the current financial crisis does not yet mean anything to me, except on a theoretical level. I just haven't 'gotten it' yet, even if I can kind of fumble at the outlines of what's just happened to us all. But, really, my little blue brain clutches at the thought - what can something so banal as an investment portfolio mean, compared to the death of a daughter, or sexual abuse?

That didn't come out the way I meant it. It sounds so cold and theoretical. It was a very empathic experience reading this poem with this review, because I can imagine (though I can't vouch for the accuracy of my brain) this very feeling, I've felt it, of reading a poem, that feeling of simultaneously needing say what you feel about it, and having little idea how to say it, and being terror at the feeling itself (to say nothing of the people who might read the feeling). Emily Dickinson isn't a comfortable poet, and the feelings in her poem are not comfortable. There's a subversive air to what she writes, where poems that seem to be cheerful (like, say this one, or Hope is the thing with feathers, for example), in the end always remind you of the price of happiness. Emily Dickinson is the best sort of friend, the kind that never lies to you, even if she knows you'll leave her.

The poem, for me, has a pretty straightforward 'story' - the speaker finds herself abandoned by those who used to provide her with what she needs (food is a metaphor for, really, just about anything. insert whatever you feel neglected in, in your life. It's a mirror of Erised kind of moment). At first, she has atrophied, from depending so long, but eventually, the experience of starvation drives her to grow into her challenge, eventually producing enough to supply a 'Robin's Feast' (the Robin always, for me, having a certain connection to the secret companion of Emily Dickinson, the debate over whether this companion be physical or spiritual, male or female, romantic or otherwise, left to the biographers, since it's pretty irrelevant). And then, in the great turn of irony, providing enough that she has the berry reserved for charity.

It's the questions that this raises that are uncomfortable. There are several (one interesting one centers around whether charity enslaves the benefactor, and what that means for the giver), but the one that means most to me, is the implication that our moments of great sorrow are not, really, license to simply accept our failure. The starvation, the brink of death, this is what we need, as humans, it's what makes us live. It's the smiling beloved that whispers back to us in our times of pain and strife, a reminder of our own prayers - 'Thou, child, thou asked, if thou might raise your children to be wise - how canst thou, lacking wisdom? I come to fill thy prayers and give thee wisdom', 'Thou, child, thou asked, if thou mightest learn better discipline, how canst thou shriek when thou findest a whip at thy back? I gavest thou the covenant of reward, and thou turned it down, I only come at they request, this is the whip thou requesteth.' God's strange relationship with Emily Dickinson is manifestly clear, here - why is Emily great at the end of the poem? Is it that god has benevolently cursed her? Or is it that she refused blessing out of a perverse courage, and became heroic in spite of God's disapproval?

I'm always struck by the audacity of a woman who can stare quietly through a lonesome bedroom window, and refuse to beg release from God, when, perhaps, God would give it. It's the sort of hopeless hope that is the root of all the sacred souls I've loved (that means you too, my beautiful wife ;) ). Maybe Emily Dickinson stood up just so, and thank you either way. Maybe Ms Kackley stood up just so, and thank you either way.


Lois Kackley said...

Kind words, indeed, and balm. By your blog, your vantage is broader than mine, so value compliments all the more.