No one like Dickinson captures a sheer sense of delight in the natural world. Her poetry also shows her keen, introspective nature. Her are some of my favorites by one of America’s greatest poets.
In a Library
A precious, mouldering pleasure ’tis
To meet an antique book,
In just the dress his century wore;
A privilege, I think,
His venerable hand to take,
And warming in our own,
A passage back, or two, to make
To times when he was young.
Here Dickinson describes an old book like a kindly grandfather, taking your hand and telling you what it was like when he was young. When it comes to old books, nothing beats finding a piece “In just the dress his century wore” – browned pages, worn jacket, maybe a note or two in the margins. Her poem continues with their contents: it’s like stepping back in time to read of “When Plato was a certainty. / And Sophocles a man; / When Sappho was a living girl, / And Beatrice wore / The gown that Dante deified / Facts, centuries before”.
An old book doesn’t just look like old times, individuals, and cultures; it transports us to when and where such people and places were as commonplace as our own.
Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea –
Past the houses, past the headlands,
Into deep eternity!
Can the feeling of joy really be captured? Here, she describes a mere emotion in two ways: in terms of immersion in nature, and in terms of the divine. In this way, she puts her finger right on the odd mysteriousness of exultation in its most complete and total sense: it’s as bewildering as a first experience of the sea after a lifetime spent in the mountains, and yes, it’s got a dimension that is undeniably sacred in providing a sense of the eternal. It’s almost as if we were made to appreciate beauty (in nature or otherwise), and to experience this rich kind of joy that Dickinson writes of here.
A route of evanescence
With a revolving wheel;
A resonance of emerald,
A rush of cochineal,
Oh yes. The most delightful of little birds deserves a poem as delightful as this.
‘Tis All I Have To Bring Today
‘Tis all I have to bring today,
This, and my heart beside,
This, and my heart, and all the fields,
And all the meadows wide.
How is it that the spaces we inhabit become rooted in our very marrow? My graduate studies may have taken me out of the Bay Area, but California – its dramatically rocky coastlines, rattler-infested gold country, and ethereal redwoods will always be a part of me.
Every part of this poem – opening with the epically creative “The cricket sang / And set the sun” – simply is an evening spent outdoors.
The low grass loaded with the dew,
The twilight stood as strangers do
With hat in hand, polite and new,
To stay as if, or go.
It’s this kind of personification that so endeared Dickinson to me as a child. Poems like The Moon and Dear March, Come In! were read and re-read. And here, it acts not only as a charming poetic device, but as a bridge into the next stanza, describing moments of stilled reverence as the first stars coming peeking out.
I love the way Dickinson uses language, and treats the outdoors like an old friend. There’s plenty more from her we could look over today. But for now, I want to re-read these poems and sense her ability to see joy, life, love, and eternity in the natural world around her.