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August 07, 2007

Blog-a-Book: Enigmatic Emily

Prayinghands Emily Dickinson's entry in The Book of Uncommon Prayer is set up rather oddly. Not surprisingly to those familiar with the often ambivalent poet -- but surprisingly in a book of prayers -- the editors start off with a poem that seems cynical about prayer ("They fling their speech/By means of it in God's Ear/If then He hear"), then go on to one that embraces faith. Then there's a critique of God, then two more poems that express a longing for heaven. (Also, they leave out Dickinson's -- to say the least -- idiosyncratic punctuation, which I find I rather miss. It's one thing when an author can't punctuate properly; it's another when she's just being playful and eccentric.)

So, for example, we go from this:

He fumbles at your soul
As players at the keys
Before they drop full music on,
He stuns you by degrees,
Prepares your brittle nature
For the ethereal blow
By fainter hammers, further heard,
Then nearer -- then so slow
Your breath has time to straighten,
Your brain to bubble cool --
Deals one imperial thunderbolt
That scalps your naked soul.

Directly to this:

This world is not conclusion;
    A sequel stands beyond,
Invisible, as music,
    But positive, as sound.
It beckons and it baffles;
    Philosophies don't know,
And through a riddle, at the last,
    Sagacity must go.
To guess it puzzles scholars;
    To gain it, men have shown
Contempt of generations,
    And crucifixion known.

The biographical note calls Dickinson simply "the brilliant, enigmatic American poetess." Indeed she was.

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