Jan 6, 2010

Emily Dickinson, Poem 510, "It was not Death"

I was delighted to hear Poetry Foundation say that Emily Dickinson is “a poet who took definition as her province.” I’ve been on the edge of thinking one of her major contributions is her effort to pin down psychological conditions that are too vague, too subtle, too large for definition or conventional thinking. Therefore, she creates analogies.

Poetry Foundation goes on to say her effort was “to make the abstract tangible, to define meaning without confining it, to inhabit a house that never became a prison, Dickinson created in her writing a distinctively elliptical language for expressing what was possible but not yet realized.”

“She saw poetry as a double-edged sword. While it liberated the individual, it as readily left him ungrounded.”

I’ll say more tomorrow, but for now, I think this is a large part of what’s going on in her Poem 510. She’s not sure what “it” is, so she defines by negation; she tells us what it is not.

It was not death, for I stood up by Emily Dickinson : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.


Anonymous said...

I didn't know what you meant until I read the poem.

She defined dread anxiety. At least, she defined mine.

Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?
Paul Varjak: The mean reds. You mean like the blues?
Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you're getting fat, and maybe it's been raining too long. You're just sad, that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid, and you don't know what you're afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?

Breakfast at Tiffanys

Brenda's Arizona said...

Karin, what a analogy!!!
What kind of anxiety? What is that 'anxious'?
I jokingly thought it sounded like Emily had the flu. Bad humour, I know.
I get Emily's felling confused with a sinking heart. But it isn't a sinking heart she is describing. It's more death like.

PJ said...

Now I know why Dickens is so amazing. You're a good wordsmith B52.

AH, isn't that one of your favorite books?

PJ said...

I meant Dickinson. Charles Dickenson.

Anonymous said...

Why yes Paula, it is. One day I'll write a post on how hard I am on the books I love, leaving them in the rain, sloshing them with wine, and such. B @ T is one of those. But then, so it is with my Dickenson collection.

Banjo52 said...

AH, I do see the comparison to B/T. Interesting! Someone should write a dissertation on E.D. and the Mean Reds. The first Ph.D. dissertation to become a best seller?

Or, the Mean Reds compared to a panic attack?

Brenda, yeah -- for me, definitely a death component in the poem. "Dread" might be a useful word? But Hovering Giant dread.

We seem to agree that E.D. is anything but obselete.

Paula, hope everyone sees your points in Part Two in tomorrow's post. And maybe it's your compliment that's to blame for my long-windedness there. Glad you stuck with the poem--nice payoff for the rest of us.

Lovers' Lane