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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

I am full poetry
I am excess busting combustation
tainted love righteous lust and still going
seven of everything true and real
every ironic reclaimed feigned Americanism
every neostic neologism coinage
combs of honey-eyed
eagle eyes memories and memoires
notepadded notorities refluxing
fluctuating presently amamnesis in continuity
of the beautiful…

I am again full poetry
comforts miserable memorable melancholia
sucking inhaled swallowed sorrows at no
extra cost (to health body mind soul
spirit)! but pure joyful joyed elastic
sable ecstasy unstable regarding
consistency stable regarding
handling and the purity opposites reconciled
in history in some faux (logic!) line or
“reconciled” in pure maintenance of their own
opposition

I am full poetry
I never myself acted though am I
acted upon and thereby disembodied
disemsouled in the disinterested open
“freedom” of the plummeting it
disrupts ruptures the oesophageal Riccarton
as of yet not disembowelled Sumner
the Burwood the Halswell Quarry
dictating adulthood a dull thood

I am finally again will ever be full poetry
posing posies bless
you hallowed self and other other and self
shelved in the open All
surprised by some beautiful true Beyond
layer on layer on layer on blessed layer
in some eternal vineyard some anything of everything
propelled and completely present past
and completely to come
upon the restoration of all things!
upon the source – the literal Lamb!
onwards! and withwards – everything “good”!

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Sonnet 29

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

* * *

I haven’t read Shakespeare for a while but I rediscovered this one recently. If you’re unfamiliar with Shakespeare, not only did he write an impressive set of plays with piercing psychological and existential insights into humanity, he also wrote 150 sonnets on love, 150 alluding to the number of psalms in the Bible. Above is sonnet 29, which asserts the narrator’s consolation in love when jealously despising what other people have.

The first line determines the problem: The narrator lacks some fortune (possibly material wealth, or even basic means), and is somewhat looked down on by others around him.¹ This leads to sorrow (2), prayers with the accompanying feeling of being unheard (3), self-debasement (4), and jealously assessing those around him (5-8). There’s possibly a pun on ‘rich’ (5; cf. ‘wealth’ in line 13), although I’m unsure to what extent Shakespeare’s use coincides with our modern association with material affluence. The narrator is jealous of others because of their friends (6), and skills and freedoms (7), to the point that it undermines everything he himself enjoys (8).

When the narrator thinks on his love (9-10), he is like the lark (a type of bird) who sings to heaven in the midst of an imperfect world (11-12). To get to the depth of the metaphor here, Shakespeare’s classical sense of earth = imperfect (bad?) and heaven = perfect (good?) needs to be felt. The sonnet ends with an affirmation of the narrator’s love over the utmost of material and social capital in the metaphor of the king.²

This sonnet is in keeping with Shakespeare’s others which contrast worldly imperfections with the perfection of love. In Sonnet 66 the narrator desires death in light of social evils such as the poor having nothing and the rich having everything, rape, censorship, and general abuses of power, yet concludes he couldn’t because “to die, I leave my love alone.” Peter Rollins said it like this:

“If one believes that the world is meaningful, yet does not love, they cannot help but experience the world as meaningless. Yet if one believes that the world is meaningless yet loves, that person cannot help but experience their world as meaningful.”

Here, love is not affected by any externalities but is of primary importance when assessing life’s value. Regardless of what the narrator experiences, nothing can take away his sole joy, which is love. But maybe this is too simplistic a way of reading the sonnet, and especially assessing love. Here love is reduced to a consolation. Everything else sucks but at least you have love. Compare Sonnet 130: The narrator, quite humourously, and  in defiance of the history of poetry, humanises his female subject by denying her any deific qualifications:

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground

Just on the side, I looked up 'Aphrodite' on Google Images and one of the recommended searches was 'Aphrodite with clothes on.'

Just on the side, I looked up ‘Aphrodite’ on Google Images and one of the recommended searches was ‘Aphrodite with clothes on.’

Yet after this he concludes she is just as good as any woman whose devotee has cast elaborate, poetic, ‘false’ constructions upon. What becomes apparent is that the humanity, even imperfection, of the narrator’s subject is an essential component of their love. She is still ‘as rare’ as any woman who ostensibly commands goddess-like features. The same idea can be found in sonnet 29. Such is the ‘wealth’ of the narrator’s love that the narrator would not swap his state for that of kings (13-14). Of course, ‘state’ here can be read as the state of love removed from any other which-ways of material or social circumstance, but who’s to say the exact nature of the narrator’s relationship would improve or at least remain if he had ‘fortune’ and the attention of other ‘men’s eyes?’ In this sense the narrator’s love is not a just a mere consolation to his circumstances but his circumstances are essential to that love itself. His love becomes a reflection on his circumstances which would not be possible without them.

* * *

¹This quick analysis provides possible parallels from Shakespeare’s life.

²Probably primarily material. Although kings would have enjoyed all the pomp and ceremony of the court they would have had to deal with their subjects! Additionally, being a king did not necessarily meant you had any special ‘art’ or skill (7), but then again Shakespeare may be only construing ‘art’ as valuable as it is a means to freedom.

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Recently I’ve been given to daydreaming. The most decadent fantasy involves my current self inhabiting my body ten to fifteen years ago. My current Pokemon knowledge to then Pokemon knowledge is like comparing Pavarotti to Justin Bieber. I was however, no Bieber. What is more, imagine the nicknames I could have given them! What follows then is a list of Pokemon from the first 150 whose base stats are 469 (Pidgeot) or above, and nicknames according to  their status respectively as Light (protector/redeemer attributes), Nature (particular/character attributes) and Dark (destroyer/deceiver attributes — clearly the most interesting and most appropriate for assembling a competitive team):

Pidgeot confronts Charizard  on tax evasion

Pidgeot confronts Charizard on tax evasion

Pidgeot: Gwaihir, Luftwaffe, Crossbow

Clefable: Elysium, Pixie, Fallen

Kingler: Knight, Mr Krabs, Massacre

Dewgong: Saint, Frostbite, Torpedo

Raichu: Freedom, Cheese, Hangman

Victreebel: Tomorrow, Venus, Savage

Vileplume: Epiphany, Lunar, Alcatraz

Electrode: Genesis, Nucleus, Abaddon

Hypno: Faith, Paradox, Chaos

Golem: Castle, The Rock, Sisyphus

Rhydon: Liberty, Safari, Eschaton

Weezing: Utopia, Jumentous, Yolo

Tauros late for the wedding in "Four Weddings and a Funeral"

Tauros late for the wedding in “Four Weddings and a Funeral”

Tauros: Anima, Tempest, Animus

Kangaskhan: Grace, Skippy, Forsaken

Electabuzz: Vital, Tiger, Scorpion

Alakazam: Nirvana, Socrates, Endgame

Slowbro: Wisdom, Sinker, Styx

Nidoqueen: Esperance, Bella, Jezebel

Nidoking: Soul, Rex, Bowser

Kabutops: Victory, Touché, Katana

Omastar: Friend, Oyster, Arbalest

Magmar: Votive, Grill, Furnace

Scyther: Nimbus, Oddjob, Machete

Muk: Pure, σκύβαλον, Egesta

Gengar and Haunter check out the ladies

Gengar and Haunter on a hot day

Gengar: Martyr, Sable, Purgatory

Pinsir: Halo, Ivory, Vice

Poliwrath: Righteous, Knuckles, Smackdown

Golduck: Glory, Sapphire, Capone

Rapidash: Shadowfax, Pegasus, Kelpie

Machamp: Justice, Beats, Judgement

Ninetales: Promise, Lupus, Anubis

Tentacruel: Elect, Jell-o, Mephisto

Aerodactyl: Ether, Concord, Reaper

Starmie: Rainbows, Galaxy, Death Star

Exeggutor: Absolve, Poached, Mortal

Venusaur: Elixir, Whiplash, Nox

An antiques dealer contemplates the best way to prepare Cloyster for dinner

An antiques dealer contemplates the best way to prepare Cloyster for dinner

Cloyster: Shield, Walnuts, Phantom

Flareon: El Dorado, Bite Me, Consecrate

Vaporeon: Eternity, Pearl, Abrogate

Jolteon: Shepherd, Foxy, Castrate

Blastoise: Sentinel, Slug Gun, Capital

Charizard: Phoenix, Spitfire, Legion

Lapras: Avalon, Nessie, Requiem

Gyarados: Paladin, Volvagia, Tsunami

Snorlax: Epitome, Flesh, Sheol

Arcanine: Aslan, Hound, Cerberus

Articuno: Spirit, Sub Zero, Void

Moltres: Eros, Vulcan, Tartarus

Zapdos flashes some Sunday strollers

Zapdos flashes some Sunday strollers

Zapdos: Light, Supernova, Thanatos

Mew: Panacea, Pneuma, Fate

Dragonite: Seraph, Millennia, Charon

Mewtwo: Swansong, Zeitgeist, Apocalypse

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Through some USB travels, I’ve further re-found two poems written in 2010. Thistles for you, mind the cheese, written after about a five hour trip (if you know Christchurch) across the hills from Sumner to Halswell Quarry, raising the question of why thistles aren’t considered beautiful. Pieces of heart, after an Ocarina of Time renaissance, in which not just me but my whole being experienced again the best game of all time, exploring the possibility that Link and Saria were really into each other but kind of put that aside to take part in something larger.

* * *

Thistles for you

The generations have disdained
you and counted you
among weeds. Do you stab at us
in anger? But
your bite

is not
without beauty. Perhaps
you protect it fiercely. And still
the beholder pierces your heart,
your every intent.

Is that light-hearted
purple the sound of
your laughter? Have I
all this time missed
the bright celebrations on a hillside

of gorse? No midsummer
lavender or joyous yellow ran down
when the spear entered
your side, but a bleeding scarlet
and colourless

water, both more full, more empty; more
deep, more faint. My soul
descried a
“This is for you.” And this all,
your misery, your slaying,

is the highest image of beauty:
The best of us are lost
and the worst of us are
perfect, as a withering thistle
testifies.

* * *

Pieces of Heart

Saria, the woodland peace is here
only by virtue of us;
each fresh shrub, each aged
oak bears our friendship.

And the mist is the breath of
your prayers, and your tears
for the ashen pine humbly drop like
dewdrops. Hope,

Saria, for though the bloodied
kindle under furious flambeaux, hear,
even now in the distance, our rain
song surges

the skies before dawn. On the tip
of this blade I balance all
that is pure, and pommel
time’s shortcomings for us

and freedom, Saria. The heart
is soft and vulnerable, yet it beats
hardest; I am only the air of
a warm exhale, only

a herald for renewal.
When the wind ensuing
my deathstroke reveals to
the world

salvation, I will have glory
but not your love. Your love
for a moment is more
difficult than the gamut

of pallid swords and chilled skin-bags
that afflict our
reality. Yet, I will strive
against fate, though it shatters
our hearts, though we fight

hell.

Link and Saria

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Here’s another marketing ploy for readers to continue reading while I fervently try to box a little bit more of reality with language. Enjoy five sonnets written over 2008 and 2009. I haven’t read them for ages. Twenty-One, written on becoming twenty-one, also had Milton in mind when writing it, mainly lamenting the amount of life that’s gone to waste so far. Making sure, written out of my own cynicism in my inability to live up to my own ideals. Maranatha, disillusionment with my lack of compassion for people the world over, and that any desire I had to help others was actually more of a desire to find my own purpose in life. Poker for communists, on celibacy. A better tomorrow, a nice one to close on, as you can see from this miserable line up of other poems, expressing one of those rare moments in life when you grasp the reality of real hope.

Twenty-One

These formative years:
They are passing
with rapidity,
like a rabbit you would
see running from a gunshot. I shot

again, and the cuddle-wrought
fugitive contracted into a ball

of fluff. If an instant were a lifetime,
then in that instant of this life

one last elastic bound
cast my prize to his safety. And
I walked on dejectedly
into possibility; and I walked on
an empty stomach.

* * *

Making Sure

We’re not falling away
due to adversity,
but we are falling as we rise
in our prosperity. Hear this
new something we have

to complain about: life–
it’s too easy. Our excess is emptiness;

there’s really nothing there.
So we buy books

to make sure we’re saved.
Our Christian friends tell us
Christian things
to make us better Christians
so that one day we’ll be really good Christians.

* * *

Maranatha

When leaden souls burden
my shoulders, or if the blood
of the condemned swells
in my heart, then consecrate
this entire individual to the God who is

love. But between desert mosque and isolated
rainforest, though I could search for a niche to love

people, in searching I search for myself.
This skin envelops the multipartite and immeasurable

being: Bones, ghost,
psyche, etc. Give me some time away from
myself! Jesus will save the nations,
albeit my motivations are
a precedent for my procrastination!

* * *

Poker for communists

The pursuit of
happiness is all pursuit; the yellow
brick road concedes
infinity. Arise, dying body! Life within
continue! You may envy the resting

stillborn, who faced neither despair
nor desire, but we exchange fists

with eternity. Tell me how
Buddha, apostate of world and wife,

grew plump on nirvana. Tell me how
Jesus’ disciples could discount
godly union for fear of divorce. Tell me
how a couple could love to the utmost of human possibility
then forfeit it all to death.

* * *

A better tomorrow

The majestic king of beasts, through bringing
death, lives on flesh, and glorifies
his Creator. The humble plankton
perishes in a whale’s belly, yet sings
praises to his God. Eternity is now, forever

is today, and this breath finds its meaning
when breathed for you. Each moment

is just a reason to know you, and you
make each momentous. Although now the world

is lard in our blood and heavy
in our lungs, each choke
anticipates the coming perfection; and
though now we but know you
in spirit and faith, we will see your face.

Look Jackson, you’re too old for piggy back rides now; someone’s going to lose an eye.

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Before reading, you may find it exceedingly helpful to know that I’ve provided a large number of glosses just after the poem that you can refer to throughout for understanding. It’s not that different from English though and you can usually figure it out!

When the sheep are in the fauld, and the kye at hame, (1)
And a’ the warld to rest are gane,
The waes o’ my heart fa’ in showers frae my e’e,
While my gudeman lies sound by me.

Young Jamie lo’ed me weel, and sought me for his bride; (5)
But saving a croun he had naething else beside:
To make the croun a pund, young Jamie gaed to sea;
And the croun and the pund were baith for me.

He hadna been awa’ a week but only twa,
When my father brak his arm, and the cow was stown awa’; (10)
My mother she fell sick,–and my Jamie at the sea–
And auld Robin Gray came a-courtin’ me.

My father couldna work, and my mother couldna spin;
I toil’d day and night, but their bread I couldna win;
Auld Rob maintain’d them baith, and wi’ tears in his e’e (15)
Said, ‘Jennie, for their sakes, O, marry me!’

My heart it said nay; I look’d for Jamie back;
But the wind it blew high, and the ship it was a wrack;
His ship it was a wrack–Why didna Jamie dee?
Or why do I live to cry, Wae ‘s me? (20)

My father urgit sair: my mother didna speak;
But she look’d in my face till my heart was like to break:
They gi’ed him my hand, tho’ my heart was in the sea;
Sae auld Robin Gray he was gudeman to me.

I hadna been a wife a week but only four, (25)
When mournfu’ as I sat on the stane at the door,
I saw my Jamie’s wraith,–for I couldna think it he,
Till he said, ‘I’m come hame to marry thee.’

O sair, sair did we greet, and muckle did we say;
We took but ae kiss, and we tore ourselves away: (30)
I wish that I were dead, but I’m no like to dee;
And why was I born to say, Wae ‘s me!

I gang like a ghaist, and I carena to spin;
I daurna think on Jamie, for that wad be a sin;
But I’ll do my best a gude wife aye to be, (35)
For auld Robin Gray he is kind unto me.

Auld Robin Gray by Lady Anne Lindsay

The bonny lass who wrote this poem

* * *

(1) kye: kine/cows, hame: home; (2) a’: all; (3) waes: woes, fa’: fall, frae: from;

(6) saving a croun: apart from a croun, a unit of Scottish currency; (7) To make a croun a pund: metaphorically, to make more money, as a pound, a British unit, was worth more, gaed: goed/went; (8) baith: both;

(9) twa: two; (10) brak: broke, stown: stolen;

(19) dee: die; (20) This should be read with quote marks: why do I live to cry, “Woe is me”?

(21) urgit sair: literally, ‘urged it sore’, although sair functions as an adverb so it can be read as ‘urged me sorely’; (23) gi’ed: gived/gave;

(26) stane: stone; (27) wraith: ghost;

(29) sair, sair: sorely, sorely, greet: cry, possibly also a pun on the English word, muckle: much; (30) ae: one;

(33) gang: go; (34) daurna: dare not; (35) aye: always

With huge thanks to the Scots dictionary.

* * *

You have just witnessed one of the most heart-rendingly beautiful occurrences in English literature. Some guy necessarily put it to song a wee while after it was written. I came across this singer when I was trying to figure out how to pronounce the words authentically.

Lady Anne Barnard wrote the poem in 1772, her early twenties. It is unique in the English poetry tradition in that it’s a published work of a female writer (not that there aren’t others, just that others are more exceptions than the rule). Francis Palgrave, the editor of the classic Golden treasury of English verse, was sparse in his notes, yet he tersely records, with unwitting condescension, “There can hardly exist a poem more truly tragic in the highest sense than this, nor, perhaps, has any poetess known to the editor equalled it in excellence” (emphasis mine). Possibly Lady Anne’s success had something to do with her nobility, although the poem is also written in the Scots language, a Germanic origin, close relative of English, which although having a rich literary history bears the burden of being sourced in a people historically oppressed by the English.

The poem was written leading up to Romanticism, when literary figures started placing more emphasis and value on folk traditions. Scots-English relations were on the up and up, as the beginnings of the United Kingdom had been initiated about 65 years earlier. And Robert Burns, Scotland’s most celebrated poet, also wrote around this time.

Check out this site (scroll down to Lady Anne) for more information on context.

* * *

The poem opens similarly to Thomas Gray’s foundational melancholy, Elegy written in a country churchyard, published earlier that century:

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Both contain images of the stock settling down for the night as the world goes to rest, with the narrator, Jennie, left alone to contemplate the sorrows of life. It’s possible that Lady Anne borrowed from the classic, whether intentionally or no, as Elegy was an immediate and ongoing success when released 21 years earlier. In a more holistic sense, the two are similar in that they are both written by well-to-do people, reflecting on the sorrows of the rural underclasses.

Mickey and the Beanstalk, a slightly more modern example

Whatever the case, the blatant irony of Jennie’s situation is doleful: She is alone crying in her bed while her gudeman lies sound by me. As we progress through the poem, we discover the term gudeman does not so much represent an authentic feeling of Jennie towards her new husband. More so she refers to Auld Robin Gray as a good man out of reluctant resignation to her circumstances. He can give Jennie and her family security but he cannot give her the emotional engagement, even ‘love’ that she needs, because her heart was already given to another. Is it possible that this is a reflection of some subtle going-on in Lady Anne’s real life, a subject matter to which she was attracted to write with much more bombastic despondency?

In the second verse we are introduced to the young and hopeful Jamie. He knows nothing of the sorrows that will befall his intended bride-to-be while at sea, and therefore engages in his work with hope marrying her when it is complete. I think it’s almost bad form to speculate who has it worse off here. But I would say Jennie still takes the cake as she must spiral downwards into sadness as she progressively finds it difficult to care for her family and must resign to marriage to someone she doesn’t love, whereas Jamie is actually moving happily closer towards something he desires, albeit deceptively, and is let down all of a sudden when he is reunited with her after going to sea.

In the third verse we get a further glimpse of auld Robin Gray. His age is something that immediately distinguishes him from Jamie. Perhaps he has had some more time in life to ‘get ahead’ and make some financial successes, thus providing a good base for marital/familial support. Note the humour in his last name, Gray. He is given a title, with a full name, whereas Jennie and Jamie are only referred to on a first name basis. Doesn’t this show Jennie’s emotional distance to him, maybe even auld carrying a tone of scorn? The use of a last name could also denote some respectability on Robin’s part, as he is a bit older and carries financial/societal sway. Perhaps we need to be sympathetic to Robin’s situation as well. Was he a lonely old man, rejected in his youth, who was just seeking companionship? Yet he pursues someone who he will not successfully emotionally engage with, making clear the universal tragedy of the poem: No character receives what they sought, perhaps only Jennie’s mother and father, yet at the expense of their daughter’s happiness.

How seriously can we take Robin’s sincerity? In the fourth verse when he pleads Jennie marry him, wi’ tears in his e’e, what does this mean? He had clearly reflected upon the hopelessness of her parents’ situation. But how necessary was his marriage to her? If he really cared for Jennie as much as he did for her parents then maybe he could have continued to provide financial support and let her alone to await the homecoming of her man to be. Robin Gray comes onto the scene just when he needs to, when he knows that Jennie cannot say no. Why didn’t he come a’courtin‘ her a little earlier, when he could’ve given her heart a chance, instead of taking advantage of the position of power he was in? To Robin’s credit, if he was genuinely concerned about Jennie’s parents welfare, and made the necessary steps to provide for them, this may have aroused concern in the neighbourhood that there was some under the table trade-off going on, ie. Jennie. His imploring her to marry him allows him to more blamelessly support her and her family.

In the fifth verse we discover that Jamie’s ship is a wrack. Nature has made a mockery of Jennie’s last inhibition. She now has no reason not to marry Robin. Yet, I think it’s unclear whether or not Jennie knew Jamie was dead. In the next verse she evidently is still reluctant to marry Robin. Perhaps she is holding onto the hope that Jamie is still alive. The main contention comes with her question, Why didna Jamie dee? Is this a present reflection on something that happened not too long ago? Or is this evidence that at the time of hearing about Jamie’s accident, she also heard he was ok? I’d say the former, as it was probably used as a point of argument from Robin and Jennie’s parents to persuade her to marry. Also, when Jamie comes home not too long after, Jennie appears to think it his ghost (wraith). The question is worth more than that though. She seems to say that it would have been better her beloved die than for him to live and the two of them be apart.

In the sixth verse there is a repeat of gudeman, alluded to also in the closing line, For auld Robin Gray, he is kind unto me. As mentioned earlier, this signals Jennie’s resignation to her circumstances. She mourns the loss of marriage to her beloved, yet she must take some consolation, however unwillful, in the fact that Robin is a good husband and provider.

Jamie’s boat

For me the seventh verse is the most tragic of the whole poem. Imagine Jamie, after his hard months at sea, come home to claim Jennie as his wife. Imagine his hopeful smile as he cuts straight to the chase, I’m come hame to marry thee. But at what moment does he realise something is not right? Does Jennie break into tears encountering his wretched deception? Worse, is he blissfully unaware, thinking rather that his forward proposal was received with such joy and emotion that Jennie couldn’t withhold from weeping? Surely he must have an inkling upon seeing her once again, as she is mournfu‘ when he arrives. Perhaps he is so unprepared for her sadness that his assertion of marriage is the only thing can think of to say. He proposes to her out of weakness. Or maybe he is trying desperately to cheer her up?

Now we are left with Jennie in her life without love. It has lost all meaning and colour that her previous affection afforded it. Even simple tasks like spinning are difficult. She has too much of a conscience to dwell on her lost opportunity. And she only desires her death. Well! I hope you enjoyed the analysis! There’s something strangely, deeply appealing to me about the poem. If you have any further questions or speculations, please let me know in the comments section.

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If the foolish, call them “flowers” –
Need the wiser, tell?
If the Savants “Classify” them
It is just as well!

Those who read the “Revelations”
Must not criticize
Those who read the same Edition –
With beclouded Eyes!

Could we stand with that Old “Moses” –
“Canaan” denied –
Scan like him, the stately landscape
On the other side –

Doubtless, we should deem superfluous
Many Sciences,
Not pursued by learned Angels
In scholastic skies!

Low amid that glad Belles lettres
Grant that we may stand,
Stars, amid profound Galaxies –
At that grand “Right hand”!

If the foolish call them flowers by Emily Dickinson
* * *

A mural of Emily in her hometown of Amherst

    This is one of my favourite Emily Dickinson poems. When at first I read it a couple of years ago I didn’t quite see what was going on but I wanted to stick at it because something about the poem kept me coming bamck to it. At the time I could find no decent analysis wherever I looked, possibly because I didn’t look hard enough, but also because this isn’t one of Emily’s more well known poems. This quality blogger’s post on the same poem popped up not too long ago and the rest of her posts are worth a read for Dickinson fans. This particular version of the poem was all I could find across the internet, with it’s intrusive capitals and mocking quotation marks. I thought I’d leave it as is, because I don’t really have the authority to mess with it.
    I was first introduced to Emily by way of watching the Simpsons (the same medium by which I discovered Walt Whitman). Lisa follows Bart to military camp and, being the only girl, finds herself in her only lonely quarters: “Solitude never hurt anyone. Emily Dickinson lived alone, and she wrote some of the most beautiful poetry the world has ever known… then went crazy as a loon.”
    I’m not sure how accurate Lisa’s conclusion is, but Emily certainly did spend a lot more time alone as she grew older. Wikipedia informs me (although I already knew (because I read the read the article ages ago (so Wikipedia is informing me on something it has previously informed me))) that “fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime”.
    Emily asked that her poems be burnt after she died. A bit of wishful thinking there. But this is what makes her poetry so perfect. Emily Dickinson, for me, is the exemplary existentialist. Her poetry is a look from the inside into her life. She wrote most of them with no intention of being published. She wrote a few in some written exchanges with friends. But the better part of her poetry was an assertion of herself against existence, a questioning of God and science, life and death, sexuality, rationality, beauty and everything in between. Because there is no intended audience we have access to the unadulterated leanings of Emily’s introspective heart and mind. Regarding literary movements, she managed to get in before getting tied up in the lameness of realism.
* * *

Emily grew lily of the valley in her garden

    The overall message of the poem is exceedingly simple. And beautiful. If you think you’ve got it sorted upstairs, don’t be overbearing towards other people. Life is so much more than knowing this and that.
    Emily opens the poem with two types of people, the foolish know flowers by their general name, as ‘flowers’, and the wise, or savantswho can tell you the scientific name of each flower, ‘classify them’. Note that she doesn’t say, ‘If the foolish call them begonias and forget-me-nots’, and then compare this to more scientific terms, but that the foolish really only can, like me, say that this is a flower and that is a tree. Interestingly enough, I’d say Emily fell into the latter category, herself an enthusiastic gardener (a constant gardener maybe) who also pressed and collected flowers for a hobby. The poem, although essentially an apology for the underdog, doesn’t seem to have her shying away from defending academics from their naysayers too: ‘just as well’ should not be read in the idiomatic modern sense, ‘Just as well I brought my wallet with me!’ but in a more literal, word-by-word, sense, ‘If the Savants “Classify” them /It is [valid] as well!’ However, we cannot ignore that there may be a sense of self-deprecation throughout the poem, or a criticism of Emily’s own failure to live up to her humble ideals of the simple life and calling flowers flowers.
    Although there is no ‘but’ or ‘yet’ to introduce the next verse, which seems to be a more decisive dig at smug intelligentsia, the contrast is evident and sets up the next point that the poem makes: The learned who can detail the theological idiosyncrasies of Revelations (the last, controversial book of the bible, dealing with the end times, a hot topic considering Emily’s time and geography) need not belittle those who find it a bit more perplexing.
    ‘Could we stand with that Old “Moses”‘… is quite grammatically enigmatic. This verse threw me for a while until I’d read quite a bit more of Emily’s work to understand her style better. If you notice the dashes, you’ll see the sentence doesn’t finish until the end of the next verse. It almost makes sense when you realise this and read the two together, but just a little more imagination is required. It basically reads, ‘[If we could] stand with that Old “Moses”… /Doubtless we should deem superfluous…’ The Old Testament story which Emily is referring to is God allowing Moses to look upon Canaan, the Promised Land (a metaphor for heaven in Christianity and Judaism), but without entering it: ‘”Canaan” denied’. If we, like Moses, could stand before Canaan and look upon it, our vision and purposes in life would be drastically altered; our attention would turn to the sciences which angels engage in, rather than our more earthly pursuits. But remember that Emily’s denouncement encompasses the theological too: ‘Those who read the “Revelations” /Must not criticise…’ Her criticism is not aimed at just one quarter of academia.

I still don't understand Revelations...

    If Emily is calling to attention the relative purposelessness of higher learning then what is she advocating instead? Her conclusion looks forward to the Resurrection (a common theme in Emily’s poems), where the righteous and unrighteous rise to be judged at the end of times. ‘Belles lettres‘, literally, ‘fine letters’ is a French term to refer to literature as an art form. Considering ‘Revelations’ is the only piece of literature Emily mentions in the piece, along with the colourful nature of the book, she’s probably making reference to it. Being ‘Low amid’ the Revelations basically compares the standing of the foolish next to a piece of literature better approached by the scholarly. Emily asks that this be put aside and everyone, regardless of their level of erudition, may stand at the right hand of God.

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