43rd ave, north/31st st, east/edmund, south/42nd st, east/river road trail, north
Woke up to several inches of snow on Tuesday. Decided to skip the running and shovel and bike instead. Woke up again this morning to another dusting but noticed the sidewalks and roads were bare so I went for a run. What a run! Not too cold, but not too warm. Not much wind. Not too bright. No one else out. Did I see any other runners or walkers? Only one or two. I wasn’t planning to run on the river road trail but I remembered that a few days ago I had wondered what the river would look like after the snow, and when I saw that no one was on the trail, I decided to check it out. When I reached the river, I stopped to record my moment of sound. I stood closer to the river and admired the grayish-blue water with the white banks.
Listen to those birds! I also like the sound of the cars as they rush by–you can hear the water on the wheels, everything damp, slick.
Before heading north for the last mile, I put in a Spotify playlist and listened to 2 songs I recently added, both by Chaka Khan: “Ain’t Nobody” and “I Feel for You” Yes! So much fun to run right above the river with no one else there to avoid, just me and Chaka Khan and Melle Mel (he raps at the beginning and end of the song–I had to look that up.) Discovered that he was part of Grandmaster Flash and had rapped on “White Lines” the year before. Very cool.
Yesterday I spent a lot of time with Emily Dickinson. First, I finished an episode of Dickinson–in this one, Emily has writer’s block and is trying to decide whether or not publishing her poems is a good idea. Then, I read my ED poem for the day: My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun. After finding a podcast discussing it, and then reading a few articles about it, I decided this poem, considered to be the most complicated and richly layered of her poems, deserved 2 days. Well, it deserves much more than 2 days, but that’s what I’m giving it for this month with Emily Dickinson. Here are my thoughts from yesterday and today:
My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun (764)/ EMILY DICKINSON
My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –
In Corners – till a Day
The Owner passed – identified –
And carried Me away –
And now We roam in Sovreign Woods –
And now We hunt the Doe –
And every time I speak for Him
The Mountains straight reply –
And do I smile, such cordial light
Opon the Valley glow –
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let it’s pleasure through –
And when at Night – Our good Day done –
I guard My Master’s Head –
’Tis better than the Eider Duck’s
Deep Pillow – to have shared –
To foe of His – I’m deadly foe –
None stir the second time –
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye –
Or an emphatic Thumb –
Though I than He – may longer live
He longer must – than I –
For I have but the power to kill,
Without – the power to die –
This poem has taken me down a rabbit hole of fascinating things about Emily Dickinson. The poem itself provides a lot to wonder about but I barely made it that far. I imagine I’ll want to reread this poem many times. My rabbit hole concerns ED’s process of gathering and preserving her poems and the importance of this poem for poet/scholar/historian Susan Howe. Here’s a few things I’ve discovered.
This poem is in a fascicle.
“Fascicle” is the name that Emily Dickinson’s early editor, Mabel Loomis Todd, gave to the homemade manuscript books into which Dickinson copied hundreds of poems, probably beginning in the late 1850s and continuing through the late 1860s. Dickinson constructed the fascicles by writing poems onto sheets of standard stationery already folded in two to create two leaves (four pages). She then stacked several such sheets on top of each other, stabbed two holes in the left margin through the stack, and threaded string through the holes and tied the sheets together. Occasionally she varied this basic pattern by binding half-sheets (cut along the fold) into the stack of folded sheets. “Set” is a term first used by editor R.W. Franklin to describe groups of unbound sheets of similar paper and size that were never bound by the poet. There are 40 fascicles, and 15 sets.
Dickinson herself did not number or label the fascicles. They were taken apart by the first editors of Dickinson’s poetry, and so have had to be reconstructed by various scholars. Within this site, we use the order established by R.W. Franklin, The Poems of Emily Dickinson (Cambridge: Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 1998). Not all Dickinson scholars agree with his reconstruction.About Emily Dickinson Archive
It’s in fascicle 34. According to Susan Howe (in this speech that I was just listening to on the upenn site), there’s some discussion/debate over how ED gathered her poems into the fascicles. Were they chronological? Grouped by theme? And, if by theme, how closely connected were they? Howe seems to think that the connection is a loose one.
Howe makes this poem a primary focus of her book, My Emily Dickinson
I checked this book out from the library 3 or 4 years ago and tried to read it but it was too difficult for me then. I hadn’t read much of Dickinson’s poetry and had not yet studied poetry. Would it make more sense now? Here’s an excerpt I found online.
a new grammar grounded in humility and hesitation
Emily Dickinson took the scraps from the separate “higher” female education many bright women of her time were increasingly resenting, combined them with voracious and “unladylike” outside reading, and used the combination. She built a new poetic form from her fractured sense of being eternally on inteIlectual borders, where confident masculine voices buzzed an alluring and inaccessible discourse, backward through history into aboriginal anagogy. Pulling pieces of geometry, geology, alchemy, philosophy, politics, biography, biology, mythology, and philology from alien territory, a “sheltered” woman audaciously invented a new grammar grounded in humility and hesitation. HESITATE from the Latin, meaning to stick. Stammer. To hold back in doubt, have difficulty speaking. “He may pause but he must not hesitate”-Ruskin. Hesitation circled back and surrounded everyone in that confident age of aggressive industrial expansion and brutal Empire building. Hesitation and Separation. The Civil War had split American in two. He might pause, She hesitated. Sexual, racial, and geographical separation are at the heart of Definition.My Emily Dickinson
I really like this idea of hesitation and humility and aboriginal anagogy as a sharp contrast to progress, aggression, confidence/hubris, and time as always moving forwards (teleology). I tried to find a source that could explain exactly what Howe means by aboriginal anagogy but I couldn’t. I discovered that anagogy means mystical or a deeper religious sense and so, when I connect it to aboriginal, I’m thinking that she means that ED imbues pre-Industrial times (pre Progress!, where progress means trains and machines and cities and Empires and factories and plantations and the enslavement of groups of people and the increased mechanization of time and bodies and meaning and, importantly, grammar) with the sacred. Is that right? Is it clear what I’m saying? I think I need to buy Howe’s book and attempt a close reading. Yes, it’s available as an ebook!
More to read: see Adrienne Rich’s wonderful essay Vesuvius at Home.
The Loaded Gun is not a gun but ED’s dog Carlo?!
In On ED’s 754/764, Susan Stewart discusses how difficult this poem (known in the Thomas Johnson edition of Dickin- son’s work as number 754, and in the Ralph Franklin edition as number 764) is for critics/readers to understand. She suggests that none of the readings are ever complete or fully hang together. Then she adds her own unusual interpretation: the loaded gun is a dog, ED’s dog, Carlo.
What kind of being waits in corners to be carried away to a field where, released, his/her/its power is enacted? One answer is: a domesticated hunting dog.
Now Dickinson had a dog, Carlo, named after the pointer owned by the character St. John Rivers in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Dickinson’s Carlo was also a hunting dog—an enormous Newfoundland hound.
Of course, Stewart’s argument is more involved than simply, it’s about her dog. You can read the article for a deeper discussion. I’m fascinated with this suggestion–Carlo was her walking buddy, he was a hunter, he had a yellow eye, he slept at the foot of her bed and protected her. Rereading the poem, it’s hard not to imagine a dog now.
I’ll leave my exploration of the poem at that, for now. I enjoyed wading into some deeper waters with ED scholarship, and I learned a lot that I didn’t know. I am not interested in going too deep, though. I could (and used to regularly as an academic) get lost in tracking down more articles, more interpretations, analyzing every word and it’s symbolic, political, historical significance. That is too much of a distraction, a derailment. Too connected to my discipline days. I like learning a little and letting that enhance my wonder. Having said that, I am planning to buy My Emily Dickinson and dig into Howe’s dense analysis of ED’s new grammar. The goal: to not seek answers, but more connections and questions and evidence of how poetry moves and bewilders and astonishes me.
As an aside: For some time, I have been very interested in the US in the mid to late 1800s, pre and post Civil War. No serious study, mostly through fiction, some through my investigation of my great grandparent coming to the UP from Finland in the 1880s. I like having the chance to read/learn more about this time.
yesterday’s moment of sound
Walking with Delia yesterday afternoon was wonderful. Everything melting and dripping, so many birds singing. In the middle of this recording, the bird I was trying to identifying a week or so ago called out–the one that I thought sounded like the loon call they play at twins’ games. What is this bird? Maybe if I play it for Scott, he can identify it.