Echoes of Emily

This morning I was dipping into Emily Dickinson’s Complete Poems, and I found by chance the following poem, which she composed, it is speculated by scholars, in 1874. It is poem 1293 in the Complete Poems.

The things we thought that we should do

We other things have done

But those peculiar industries

Have never been begun –


The Lands we thought that we should seek

When large enough to run

By Speculation ceded

To Speculation’s Son –


The Heaven, in which we hoped to pause

When Discipline was done

Untenable to Logic

But possibly the one –

by Emily Dickinson c. 1874


What is this Heaven that offers rest from both discipline and logic? Is it purely poetry, the house of possibility, in which Emily dwelt, and there found a deeper satisfaction than the plans and possessions of a mere worldly self?

I heard in the first stanza of this poem an echo of a poem I wrote, and while I do not compare myself in skill to the poetess of Amherst, except to declare myself like her only ever of “Barefoot-Rank”, I will set it down here, and let that echo sound. This poem was published in Australian Poetry Journal, volume 5, issue 1 (2015).

Not getting things done

They are evasive – those things

That will not be done.


Like lifting a hero’s burden,

Unravelling mysteries,


Forgetting about money, or

Making sense of your super.


They slide from your grasp

Like an eel to be cut.


Politics freed from corruption.

Emotions made into intelligence.


Power’s maze escaped.

A mentor’s influence overcome.


Secure from lifehackers –

they slow you down like a virus in your boot sector.


They pile in corners, messed up, with no priorities,

But asking you each day to return to their call.


When, after all, will you get around

To relinquishing your youthful strength,


Saying, at last, comfort is attained,

Settling on the meaning of your dreams?


You know you want to spurn productivity,

Refuse luxury, and tarnish beauty’s sheen,


But those undone duties

Make their way to daily lists,


Debts demanding payment,

At the bottom of the diary’s page.


Heartache unmended, dreams undiscovered,

Quests unheeded, pain undressed.


As the day proceeds more futility is added

to the list for ticking off;


In meticulous notebooks they wait,

Expecting never to be.


Whole careers, projects without plans,

Journeys of recovery and feats of weakness


Pile like chaos in the attic

Awaiting defeat


By distraction and habit and boredom and chance:

Four deadly horsemen more real than the rest.


Jeff Rich


In this poem it seems to me today I told my autobiography as a kind of negative possibility, like Keats crossed with Emily.



Emily’s Enigma

Emily’s Enigma

The enigma of Emily Dickinson for me is how she shows that the very act of writing, and then recording that writing in some simple enduring way, if only, as she did, by sewing pages of preserved poems, together into small handmade booklets, is publication enough.

Everything that may happen after that moment – when the writing on the page is given to the world – is not part of the creative process, and is incidental to the purpose of the poet. Of course, recognition in all its forms is longed for – whether that be  prizes or sales or just likes on a blog. But recognition can carry a burden that makes the writing less free.

I am temperamentally reclusive, like Emily, and her example has always strengthened me to write as I will, not as the crowd calls for. So, each time I press these keys and make a thing that endures in the world, despite any fears I may hold, Emily sits at my back and quietly whispers her incantations of possibility.

Here in thanks is Emily Dickinson’s poem 709, which I discovered this morning after borrowing her complete poems from the library.

Publication – is the Auction

Of the Mind of Man –

Poverty – be justifying

For so foul a thing


Possibly – but We – would rather

From Our Garret go

White – Unto the White Creator –

Than invest – Our Snow –


Thought belong to Him who gave it –

Then – to Him Who bear

In Corporeal illustration – Sell

The Royal Air –


In the Parcel – Be the Merchant

Of the Heavenly Grace –

But reduce no Human Spirit

To Disgrace of Price –

Emily Dickinson, c 1863, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed TH Johnson  (public library)

Image source: Emily Dickinson Museum