Monthly Archives: May 2019

Through lane it lay – thro’ bramble

Dark Wood - from The Inferno, 1861, Gustave Doré
Background Image: Dark Wood – from The Inferno, 1861, Gustave Doré

Perhaps she is referring to Pilgrim’s Progress or to Dante’s journey with Virgil, either way she takes us on a journey by following a straight line from point A to point B through life’s trials and temptations. This is an usual poem in that it has a definite narrative as we are carried along as if she were Virgil and we her charge.

She begins the poem simply with a lane, perhaps alluding to the “straight path” “wandered off” from (1:3) which otherwise is reference to the proper way of living. Yet unlike Dante who is a sinner and no longer lives a virtuous life and thus requires guidance, Emily invents the character of Banditti which is the plural form of the Italian word for bandit. Thus perhaps she is making reference to not just one person, but many people who have “often passed us” along the “lonely road” the way bandits would rob people who were helpless and far from the authorities.

The second stanza ups the tension and gives us the sinister forces of the “curious” “wolf” and “Owl” while a serpent “glid stealthily along”. Interestingly, though the word “glid” was obsolete by Emily’s time – and though she is using it as a contraction for gliding – the 1647 entry in the OED for “glid” means “To look awry, squint” (OED). This slithering coupled with the hunting animals watching and the implied oblique gaze of the serpent is very unsettling and gives the impression of sin and death lurking and watching the way a bandit does for their opportunity to strike.

The third stanza segues into more abstract dangers as the “tempests” blow the “garments” of the travelers while lightning clashes above with her use of the beautifully descriptive “poinards gleamed”. In fact there are elements of synesthesia here in that we not only can see the lighting but we can hear it, too. In fact she is calling on most of the senses in this poem: sight, touch, hearing, and even taste with the”hungry Vulture”. Only smell is left out. And what I think she is getting at is that one must use all of their natural senses to be cautious and alert from every dangers around us less we fall prey to the “Banditti”.

The final stanza stands out from the previous three in that she has moved on from combining the senses into combining the human with the animal. Here the Banditti have become the Satyr, the half beast half man, creatures which it seems Emily is suggesting have been corrupted because rather than being wary of disaster they have fallen victim to it and are now possibly employed by the “serpent” and now act as the tempters to ensnare more travelers from the “road”. The beckoning “fingers” of the “Satyr” is a very ominous and threatening image, with even the implied rape of the victims since Satyrs were known for their erections, and their sexual appetites weren’t limited to humans either. And to complete the synthesis of man and beast and nature the “Valley” itself speaks “Come” as if the “crags” themselves are speaking out from the shadows cast by the “lightning’s poinards”.

The final three lines of the poem are interesting in that whom are the “These”, and “This” she is referring to? The “Satyrs” The pilgrims? It would be easy to say the travelers have successfully navigated the “wood” and can continue on unabated, but it’s possible the Satyrs are the “mates” not just as companions (“Banditti”) but in the sexual sense, too which might further imply sexual violence. The word “road” might also be a clue in that if she is using it not as a noun but figuratively (as in “going down the wrong road” in which the road is the path of ruin) then it’s possible our travelers were captured and killed. Thus these “Children” might be the new bastard race of corrupted “Banditti” and their “fluttering” is not meant to be beautiful, but rather as in no longer having any direction – the “road” has been removed and they are now like the “Valley” which speaks temptation.

There is a word

Dead Soldier, 19th century, Unknown
Background Image: Dead Soldier, 19th century, Unknown

On the surface this is a cheeky letter sent to Sue charging her with not having written in so long that it has hurt her feelings. However, she is also describing how just through the use of words (or lack of them) we can send someone to their death or keep them alive. In a sense she is alluding to John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” in that before there was anything else, there was the capacity for language and without language there isn’t life, the universe, or anything. When Emily writes a poem she is, in essence, creating life (creating art), she is giving her emotions and feelings life through art, yet the absence of the words is the death of life and the death of poetry.

Embedded deep within this poem is a pun about keeping one’s word. Emily is frustrated that Sue has not written and has thus kept her word(s) to her self. Usually when we think of the expression keeping our word we think of someone keeping a promise and acting honorably and when someone fails to keep their word they are acting dishonorably; by keeping her word(s) she is not keeping her promise.

To expand on the idea of being honorable, notice how Emily uses the imagery of a soldier, the “epauletted Brother”. When we think of soldiers we think of men (and now women) who swear an oath to uphold a certain set of values and will do everything in their power to prevent others from disrupting those values. However, it is really words that make up the fabric of honor: an oath is a collection of words, and when a soldier is in battle they will put their lives at great risk all because they were ordered to (through the words of a superior). Thus when a soldier is killed on the battlefield, they are not only killed by the “sword” but also by the “barbed syllables” of their captain’s orders and, more generally, by the propaganda of their nation (and because of the propaganda of the opposing side).

Yet the soldier who dies for the losing side is the soldier who is “forgot”. Their side’s words no longer “Can pierce an armed man” because “Time” has forgotten where the words (and the soldiers) fell on the battlefield. All that remains is a ghostly image, what Emily refers to as “Time’s sublimest target” which can mean to rise “to a great height” (OED) but also can mean to be transformed into a “vapor” (OED). Thus the soldier who dies in defeat is “Time’s sublimest target” in that they are relegated to little more than a ghost memory, while the soldier who is victorious is lifted up and praised. Time is kind to one and forgets the other.

Thus when we keep our words to ourselves, we fail to give life to each other, we cannot inspire or order or declare our intentions, we are basically ghosts, but when we give our words we breathe life into each other, even those who may have died a long time ago such as a soldier who once fell in battle but is now remembered through a poem. The “word” is life and to withhold the word is to withhold the life.

Nobody knows this little Rose

The Lady of Shalott, 1875, John Atkinson Grimshaw
Background Image: The Lady of Shalott, 1875, John Atkinson Grimshaw

Consider that instead of her writing about an actual “Rose” which she has plucked from the bush and now leaves an empty space which only the “bee will miss”, she is instead talking about the impossibility of art (a poem) to accurately depict its subject, which in this case is a “Rose”. All through the poem she talks about how the absence of this “Rose” affects the natural world, but never once does she describe the rose other than to use the adjective “little”. Obviously she knows we all know what a Rose looks like, but she only describes how the loss of a “Rose” creates a sadness in nature while it might bring happiness to the person it was plucked for.

Thus the paradox at the heart of this poem is that when the artist goes out into nature and sees a “Rose” and wants to share their vision with someone else – such as by writing a poem about that “Rose” – it is nevertheless impossible to accurately capture (“take it from the ways”) a true representation of that “Rose”. In nature the “Rose” serves to provide for the “Bee” and the “Butterfly” and is thus beautiful in its place in nature, yet when it is plucked “how easy / For such as thee to die” because it no longer can be supported without the natural world it once inhabited. The “Rose” / poem cannot truly exist independent of its natural setting and thus becomes a wilted corpse whom the “Bird will wonder” where it has gone and the “Breeze will sigh” as if they are both saddened that their friend, the “Rose” has died. The “Rose”, in “Hastening from far journey” cannot survive on its own and lies in repose, the way a flower might be pinned to a dead person’s “breast to lie” for all eternity.

Emily knows there is no way to adequately describe a “Rose” that can come anywhere close to doing it the justice a mere “Bee”, “Butterfly”, “Bird”, and “Breeze” can do and so she has written a poem not about a “Rose” but about the lack of a “Rose” in art. It’s a wonderfully complex and modern trick she’s playing with and my first thought when reading this poem was of Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott. I thought of that poem because when Lancelot finally sees this beautiful woman, she is already dead, she has left her tower (“from far journey” in Emily’s poem) and cannot survive out of context on her own. She is the very essence of beauty, but that beauty can’t exist independent, it requires that this ideal beauty remain in its tower where none can approach it but when it is plucked it immediately dies and all we can do, like Lancelot, is admire the corpse which, though still very beautiful, like a poem about a rose, we know it pales in comparison to the real thing.

And I think the clue Emiy gives us to this meaning is in her line “Only a breeze will sigh” because in order to hear the breeze, there must be something for the breeze to encounter to make any sound at all but if the “Rose” is absent, the breeze has nothing to encounter and thus cannot make any sound. Only in poetry can the absence of something create a sound and this is what Emily has done in writing about the lack of a “Rose”, but the “breeze” is this poem and it is sighing against the nothing that is there. In other words, the poem cannot do justice to the real thing and thus it is impossible to truly appreciate a “Rose” in art / poetry – you have to go out in nature with the “Bee” and the “Butterfly” and the “Bird” and the “Breeze” to truly appreciate beauty. One has to climb the tower and peer in through the window to see The Lady of Shalott in her natural habitat because she can’t survive anywhere else.

Episode 7-11, Parallels

I’m not going to defend myself for loving an otherwise dumb episode, but I think the reason why this worked for me despite how bat-shit insane it is was that Worf nails his performance here and really sells being confused and jumping to new “realities”. I also liked how things gradually got worse and more militaristic as he jumped and I really loved the touch near the end with one of the Riker’s (full on crazy beard and panicked) begging not to go back because their reality has been overrun with Borg. Troi also gives a convincing performance as Worf’s wife and it reminded me of what will come on DS9 with him and Dax. Nutso episode, but I really enjoyed it.

Garlands for Queens, may be

Manessische Liederhandschrift (Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift) - Szene - Der Schenke von Limburg - fol 82v, between 1305 and 1315, Master of the Codex Manesse
Background Image: Manessische Liederhandschrift (Große Heidelberger Liederhandschrift) – Szene – Der Schenke von Limburg – fol 82v, between 1305 and 1315, Master of the Codex Manesse

There is a very subtle piece of wordplay with the final two words of the poem, “Rose ordained”. Usually when we think of the word ordain we are reminded of a priest taking the holy orders, but to ordain also means “to put in order, arrange, or prepare” (OED), in other words, to put in rows. Hence there is a “Rose” / rows connection, but also if we think back to her previous poems where she equates the journey of life with being in a boat (perhaps a rowboat) then she is getting triple mileage from just these two words.

The poem begins with her equating “Gralands” and “Laurels” as being reserved for “Queens” and those who hold “rare degree” (high society, and ever perhaps martyred saints if we read the line “soul and sword” in that context). These are people of great distinction, the 1% who who awarded the highest honors humanity can bestow upon itself. These are people who will long be remembered down through posterity, have books written about them, and be immortalized in marble and bronze.

Yet in line four (and five) she uses the word “ah” to describe her realization that to be remembered does not require such grand gestures, nor is being remembered reserved only for “Queens” and those who hold “rare degree”. “Me” and “thee” also are worthy of remembrance – in fact she is saying we are no worse or better than the 1% because we are all recognized by “Nature” as being children of nature and nature has bestowed upon us the same capacity for “chilvary”, “charity” and, most importantly, “equity”.

Thus her wordplay reveals that she not only ordains a simple person with a “Rose” the way “Queens” would be decked with “Garlands” but that “Nature” has made us all equal (“equity”) and that we are all ordered in the same rows. We are grown like flowers in a garden and we thrive alike in our little rows. No “Rose” is more important than any other “Rose” because nature will care for us equally and none of us shall be forgotten because we are all a part of nature. Nature is chivalrous in that it is the universal code of conduct, and it is charitable in that it cares for the smallest flower the same as the greatest oak, and it is equitable because it does not discriminate. There is no 1% in nature because all things in nature are equal. Some creatures may be more successful than others, but nature loves them all the same.

Thus we live within the rows that nature has given us and if we consider Emily’s metaphor of the boat being the journey of life, then she is equating each person’s voyage as they row as being equal to everyone else’s voyage. We all have the same opportunity in nature’s eyes to thrive and thus we can each be of “rare degree” if we dare to row hard enough. Nothing separates us from a “Queen” because the “Queen” is in the same boat / row as us. “Garlands” might be for “Queens”, but only “may be” (as in maybe).

Episode 7-10, Inheritance

Inheritance was a fantastically interesting episode. At first I thought this was going to be yet another season 7 “hey, it’s a new family member because we ran out of ideas” episode, but this episode subverted those expectations. First of all the act, the actress, Fionnula Flanagan, did a perfect job of being believable but also in a way that made you wonder if she really was Data’s mother. Only a brilliant actor could do this and she nails this performance. And while the B-story of her planet needing the Enterprise to save its molten core was dumb, the final act in which we learn she was another android made after Data but doesn’t know she’s an android is a fantastic idea that gives Data a very difficult decision to have to make: tell her or not. This could have been a really bad episode, but great acting and a really good 4th act make this one of the better episodes of the whole series.

On this wondrous sea – sailing silently

White Salt Boat, 1800 - 1820, Unknown
Background Image: White Salt Boat, 1800 – 1820, Unknown

This poems continues the metaphor from “Adrift! A little boat adrift!” and “Whether my bark went down at sea” of being in a boat with that of the journey of life and of faith to the world after death.

Formally, the poem is broken up into two stanzas separated with a line break and seems to consist of two different speakers. In the first stanza it could be Emily asking the “Pilot” if they know where the “shore” is and how to avoid the “breakers” from the “storm” so that landing will be made easier. The second stanza is the reply from presumably the pilot who will “pilot thee” to the “silent West”. But beyond just separating speakers, this line break is a gulf between worlds: one one side the the person on the journey and the other is the guide who knows the way to the destination. This separation resembles a river and this “pilot” resembles the boatman Charon who carries people to Hades, though here she uses the imagery of the sea rather than the river Styx.

In the first line she refers to her current situation as being on “this wondrous sea – sailing silently”. Here death is “wondrous” and the soft “s” alliteration resembles the soft breeze that is filling her sails as she makes her journey, ghost-like, to the next world. Yet in lines three thru five, she seems concerned with navigation and bad weather. Though the “sea” may be “wondrous”, she seems aware of potential dangers and requires a guide to help her the rest of the way. Thus perhaps she is saying that when we die we still need a little help making the journey to the afterlife and that those of us who are unable to secure such help might wind up being lost forever.

In the “West”, however, there are no storms: it is “silent” and all “the sails [are] at rest” and she has been granted a guide because she asked for one. In the first line of the poem she had been “sailing silently” but in the second she breaks the silence and calls out for help. Perhaps she is alluding to prayer in which one calls out for help from God, or perhaps she is saying that in life a person cannot attain their destination alone and that we all require help from each other.

And the final line of the poem, “Ashore at last” can be read as not just being that she has been guided “ashore at last”, but that she has been assured that she will be guided and that she will find “Land” in “Eternity”. The paradox here, however, is that she uses “Eternity” but then speaks of a finality with “at last”. This is an interesting image to contemplate in that eternity could be a definite place with a definite shore, but when it’s compared to the image in the first line of someone in a boat in the vast “wondrous sea” which is a dreamlike image of being in a definite place surrounded by an eternity of nothingness (sea and sky all around such as in her poem ‘“Lethe” in my flower‘) she seems to be saying that life after death is assured and that our place in eternity is secured if we allow ourselves to reach out and ask for guidance when upon the treacherous seas of life.

Oh if remembering were forgetting

Buljeongdae Rock - Album of Mount Kumgang, 18th century, Jeong Seon
Background Image: Buljeongdae Rock – Album of Mount Kumgang, 18th century, Jeong Seon

Su Shi, an 11th century Chinese poet is thought to have wept as he lamented not having been born in Korea and thus would never see Mount Kumgang, the Diamond Mountains. Though he would not lay eyes on them in his lifetime, they did exist for him in his imagination and perhaps through other artists’ works. Even today it is very difficult for most people to go see the Diamond Mountains because they are located inside North Korea. Thus the paradox is that the poet longs for a place he has never seen and has only ever known through the memories of other people and this has brought him joy, even though he is sad that he can’t experience them personally. Therefore, as Emily writes, “And if to miss – were merry” her sadness is still joyful because as she remembers her grief is turned to happiness even though the actual situation hasn’t changed since the object of whom she misses is still not present. Just as Su Shi finds joy in reading a poem of the mountains he is grief-stricken to never experience, Emily finds joy in picking the flowers that she “gathered” today for her friend Samuel Bowles, whom the poem is addressed to.

In Su Shi’s poem, Dreaming of My Deceased Wife on the Night of the 20th Day of the First Month, he writes:

Ten boundless years now separate the living and the dead,
I have not often thought of her, but neither can I forget.
Her lonely grave is a thousand li distant, I can’t say where my wife lies cold.
We could not recognise each other even if we met again,
My face is all but covered with dust, my temples glazed with frost.
In deepest night, a sudden dream returns me to my homeland,
She sits before a little window, and sorts her dress and make-up.
We look at each other without a word, a thousand lines of tears.
Must it be that every year I’ll think of that heart-breaking place,
Where the moon shines brightly in the night, and bare pines guard the tomb.

As the poet recalls his dead wife of a ten years since, he also describes how he has “not often thought of her” yet is also unable to forget. Though he would not recognize her if she were standing in front of him, the memory of her arranging her belongings would still come back to him, perhaps as a dream late at night. As she arranges her possessions, his memories, which are now more often dusty and “glazed with frost”, would come into focus once again and he would relive this heartbreaking domestic and simple moment again. He has not remembered yet can’t forget.

In Emily’s poem, the first line equates remembering to forgetting and in the second line she proclaims that she will not remember in order to keep from forgetting. How is this possible? How can forgetting be remembering and how can the act of forgetting keep one from ever forgetting? Perhaps it is the turn she makes in lines five and six which are the key. In those lines she turns the act of missing to being “merry” and in line six the act of mourning to being “gay”. To experience the good emotions, she had to experience the bad because it’s what brings her back to her connection to whom she is writing. In other words, had she actually forgotten she would never have been happy because she actually would have forgotten, but she didn’t actually forget, her missing and her mourning brought her back around to being “merry” and “gay” just as Su Shi hadn’t actually forgotten his wife because if he had he never would have remembered her. Only in death would he actually forget because once in the “tomb” he would be like his wife who does not recognize him when they run into each other.

Thus like the mountain range he never saw, he still is brought to a place of joy through the memory of others and of his own imagination. Just as Su Shi might see a scene of the mountains depicted and thus be reminded of his longing for them, Emily plucks some flowers blithely but then the flowers remind her of whom she has forgotten and thus remembers. Just as Su Shi writes a poem about his dead wife who he has forgotten, he remembers her, just as Emily writes a poem about forgetting her friend which causes her to remember.

Episode 7-9, Force of Nature

This was a really cool episode, it’s too bad it was never explored further. The idea that warp travel actually damages space and could cause massive damage is an interesting idea regarding Starfleet’s directive to seek out new life and new civilizations, and to boldly go. The ramifications of other species, such as the Romulans and Cardassians, not sticking to the warp 5 speed limit is also interesting – but as far as I remember from DS9 none of this was ever explored in any depth and things moved on at warp 9 as usual. I also wish the sacrifice Serova made was more dramatic since she was a very important character but was not on screen long enough to establish her sacrifice.

When Roses cease to bloom, Sir

Getreidefeld mit Mohnblumen und Lerche, 1887, Vincent van Gogh
Background Image: Getreidefeld mit Mohnblumen und Lerche, 1887, Vincent van Gogh

This poem was written for Samuel Bowles and also included the flowers mentioned herein, yet beyond just a simple statement of giving him something beautiful with which to remember her, is the idea here that she wants to also be remembered for the poems she wrote.

The first line of the poem not only refers to the day when she will die, but also when the “Roses” no longer bloom anew and the “Violets are done” in her poems. Yet the paradox here is that these flowers will not actually die because they have attained an immortality on the page. For example, though the “Bumblebees” are “in solemn flight” to mourn her passing, this image of the bees flying sadly into a setting sun is strikingly beautiful (and sad), it’s cinematic and just as she has been dead for well over a century, this image persists in the imaginations of the reader.

Thus the final word of the poem, “pray!”, is not just an exclamation, but the whole poem operates as a sort of prayer in which by reading it the flowers once again bloom, and life flows through the hand that briefly “paused to gather” them, and the bees are still sailing towards into the dusk. Emily has very much attained her desire to be remembered, though I wonder how she would feel about the fame she has achieved since her death?

Summer for thee, grant I may be

Canoe on the Yerres River, 1878, Gustave Caillebotte
Background Image: Canoe on the Yerres River, 1878, Gustave Caillebotte

Emily enforces the desire for her to be someone’s “Summer” through the repetition of the rhyme in the middle of a line. For example, in the first line “thee” and “be” form the first rhyme, and in the third and fourth lines “still”, “Whipporwill”, and “Oriole” share a rhyme which creates the effect of bird song on a summer’s day. In fact, this poem might not even be about Emily wanting to be someone else’s “Summer” but that she is writing from the point of view of summer and that “Summer” here is apostrophized through the birds and their songs which are heard all through the poem as a repeated rhyme. Thus summer herself has “flown” in when the “music” of the birds has gone “still” meaning that Emily may be recalling summer during the depths of winter when the “Whipporwill” and “Oriole” have “flown” away.

The second stanza has an element of the fantastic in it with her imagery of summer skipping over “the tomb” and then in the next line summer is in a boat as it rows its “blossoms o’er” to her. These lines might be her memory of rowing on a lazy river without a worry in the world of death or winter. Yet the truly fantastical imagery comes into focus when we combine the image of summer flying in the first stanza with it rowing in the second as if she is combining the images of water and sky into one image, sort of like how the horizon blends into the sky when you look out at the sea, especially on a hazy and hot summer’s day.

Episode 7-8, Attached

Wildly uneven episode. Playing the diplomatic issues between the two alien races as nearly comedic steals away all the emotional impact of an otherwise interesting story line with Picard and Crusher. It’s never felt like a secret that Picard’s and Crusher’s feelings for each other run deeper than friendship, so it was nice to see that explored here, though they went too far – the episode should have just taken them to the verge of admitting feelings and then pulled back. Regardless, the other story line would have been good had the aliens not come off as dopey conspiracy minded dopes. There was a very good story hiding in all this mess that feels like it never got past a first draft and a looming schedule to meet. Too bad; this episode was a serious missed opportunity.

Adrift! A little boat adrift!

The Voyage of Life, Old Age - study, 1839, Thomas Cole
Background Image: The Voyage of Life, Old Age – study, 1839, Thomas Cole

The poem’s formal qualities are interesting. She uses an ABCB scheme for the first stanza, DBEB for the second, then goes to FGHHI in the final stanza where the final line, “And shot – exultant on!” mimics the action of the boat escaping from the poem on its continued adventure. Perhaps she is doing this because the stanzas one and two deal with the affairs of men, “sailors” who have gone “adrift” and “gurgled down and down” (notice how the word down shares a quality with the word drown). However, the final stanza deals with the “angels” who “retrimmed” and “redecked” the wayward “little boat” and sent it on its way and thus a new rhyme needs to be introduced (sort of like a miracle) to represent the saving of the ship, or perhaps guiding the drowned sailors to a new life in the afterlife. The rising action of the rhyme scheme does suggests a rising towards heaven.

One thing that is missing from the first stanza is a lighthouse. With “night” “coming” down, there is no guidance for the sailors and thus there is danger that they will run aground upon the rocks since they have lost control of their vessel. Is Emily suggesting that what she needs, perhaps in regard to her poetry, is guidance? The poem begins with a rather typical rhyme scheme and its central image is that of something that has gotten away from whomever is controlling it.

The second stanza continues the image of a sailor’s danger and in the first line she tells us that the “sailor’s say” there was an accident where a “little boat gave up its strife” which also shares the rhyme with the word life suggesting all hands were lost as they were spilled out into the sea. What’s clever here is she begins the stanzas with the sailor’s speaking, but ends it with them gurgling: they are unable to speak.

If Emily is writing about writing (which she does a lot), the third stanza is quite clever because it suggests another rhyme scheme from an old sailor’s saying: “red sky at night is a sailor’s delight, but red sky at morning the sailors take warning.” She suggests this with the line “dawn was red”, but since she can’t rely on mere sailors to guide her because what they say can lead to panic and ruin just as she can’t rely on mere novices to guide her poetry because what do they know, therefore she needs a lighthouse, a miracle of angles to set her, and her poem free.

Perhaps the end of the poem is her having once again found the inspiration she needs to keep writing poetry and its upward trajectory of the rhyme scheme FGHHI suggests inspiration is found in heaven.

If those I loved were lost

Het Lam Gods, 1432, Jan van Eyck, Hubert van Eyck
Background Image: Het Lam Gods, 1432, Jan van Eyck, Hubert van Eyck

The “Philip” of this poem is from the the 1834 play “Philip van Artevelde” by Sir Henry Taylor which itself is a dramatization of the Battle of Roosebeke in 1382. In the play, Philip’s final words are “What have I done? Why such a death? Why thus?” perhaps because he believes his death will come to nothing at this his efforts to defeat the French army.

Why Emily was inspired to write this poem with Phillip’s “riddle” as the central metaphor is obscure, but she is contrasting his inability to see past death with her knowledge that come spring the “Daisy” will inspire her to know that life is ever renewing and that nobody is truly “lost”. Even in death there is rebirth and renewal so she is arguing that Philip was wrong to consider that his death was the end of everything.

Emily sets up the poem in the first two lines to describe how she would feel if she learned that those she “loved were lost” and she uses the word “Crier” to do double duty in that not only is the town “Crier” the person who announces the death, but she is expressing the act of crying when one hears that someone they have loved has died.

Lines three and four are more celebratory in that she creates a scene where the whole city comes out to honor those who have returned – perhaps from battle – but anyone who misses a loved one knows the joy of when that person returns home because it is like all the church bells of the city ringing, only it’s your heart that pounds with joy. However, she is alluding to Philip’s body being brought back to the city in full honors.

Lines five and six deal with the survivors who stand at the grave in which the body lies in “repose”. And “repose” is a wonderful word choice since it implies a temporary situation, not a permanent one which is what Philip feared. The “Daisy” will bloom again in spring just as the spirit will fly to heaven to live on.

Thus Philip’s riddle is also the riddle of death in that in dying one will still live on, either in the memory of those who ring the bells or come to the grave bearing flowers, or in a spiritual sense on the soul living on after death. Emily’s use of the word “Bore” is related to being born and thus the “riddle” is revealed as being the riddle of reconciling birth from death.

Episode 7-7, Dark Page

On the one hand this is a nice episode for Majel Barrett to showcase some more very fine acting, but on the other it’s an episode that has very little to do with anything Star Trek. True, we learn Troi had a sister who died and this had been kept secret from her all these years, but as the main story line it feels … like they didn’t have any better ideas and wanted to do some more dream sequences. Not that I’m against exploring the character’s personal lives, but this just felt like it was too melodramatic.

So has a Daisy vanished

Sheep in Landscape, 19th century, Charles Smith
Background Image: Sheep in Landscape, 19th century, Charles Smith

This poems immediately follows “Morns like these – we parted” which is about seeing someone pass away, thus this poem feels like a eulogy for that person, but not the kind a person would give at a public service, but what a person might think in private when they are dealing with their grief.

The first word of the poem is “So”, a word which denotes the logical progression of a consequence, but it also has the effect of finality, such as a sentence like ‘so something has finally come to pass’. The word also has the effect of making the noun in the sentence, “Daisy” feel small. What I mean is that one “Daisy” going missing “From the fields today” will probably not be missed in the grand scheme of things because it’s just one flower. I believe this is further enforced by the final line of the poem where Emily asks if her “Daisy” is “with God” in that Emily is not sure if God notices, cares, or perhaps even exists. In fact the question which rets at the bottom of this poem, “Are ye then with God” could be Emily asking herself this question as much as she is asking her “Daisy” is her spirit is in heaven.

And because Emily usually relates people and spirits with flowers and thus she believes in the contentedness of our lives with the natural world, the one thing Emily does seem certain of is that her “Daisy” has returned to nature in some spiritual sense. For example, the “Daisy” “tiptoed” in its “slipper” (a play on a lady slipper) “To Paradise”, and it also “Oozed so” among the “crimson bubbles” of the “Day’s departing tide” (sunset; when life ends at the end of the day). This “Daisy” is part of the cosmic cycle of nature from which all things come and which they all must return again.

And this cycle seems to be alluded to with the line “Blooming – tripping – flowing” in that at birth we bloom, in death we trip, but after death we flow into the stream of nature with all the other living things who have seemed to have “vanished” but are just now reincorporated in a new form, such as a sunset.

The word “tripping” does really stick out in this poem, especially because earlier she describes the act of tiptoeing in slippers to paradise, an image that recalls grace and elegance, not someone tripping. Perhaps then “tripping” is not death, but it the act of living and all the mistakes and errors and problems we run into. Life is a struggle and a labor and things do not always go smoothly for us as individuals, yet on the cosmic scale of things, it is only one aspect of the cycle of life between our “blooming” and our “flowing” like angels among the crimson clouds during the setting sun.

Episode 7-6, Phantasms

They must be saving all the show’s budget for the finale because every episode so far has been filmed on set with very little special effects. Anyway, this was not a bad episode, and I liked how they made Frued out to be an idiot, but they did get the part about the Id wrong. The workmen in Data’s dream were the Superego, the controlling force exerting pressure on the ego, not the id. Also, if I were Troi I don’t know how comfortable I’d be around Data ever again after having him stab her. Yes, he was not in control of himself, but that’s some serious trauma the writers just hand wave away. For a show about deep rooted psychological effects on the psyche – even if they come in the form of dumb, weird alien bugs – they really should not have had Data literally attack Troi with a giant, serrated knife as he overpowers her in an isolated and confined space.

Morns like these – we parted

The Birdcage, 1845, David Octavius Hill
Background Image: The Birdcage, 1845, David Octavius Hill

I want to look at the formal aspects of this poem, specifically its meter. When you read it out loud it has a very sing-song rhythm: “Morns” is spoken with a stress while the next word, “like” is pronounced unstressed. The poem continues like this with a stressed followed by an unstressed, or up then down then up then down. This is the opposite of iambic which is an unstressed followed by a stressed, which has the effect of mimicking a heartbeat: baDUM, baDUM, baDUM. Each line is also a trimeter which means it contains 3 feet: “Morns” is one foot, “like these” is the second, and “we parted” is the third foot of the first line. Finally, beginning with the first line, each odd numbered line contains 6 syllables (thus you would have to pronounce “fluttering” in line 3 as only two syllables, such as flut-ring) while the even numbered lines contains 5 syllables.

Why is this important? Well most interesting is that in writing a poem about someone dying, “we parted” and “this linnet flew”, she is describing the process when a person’s heart finally stops and, during this process, my not be beating properly. There is a sort of tension as if the person is constantly trying to catch their breath at the start of each word, yet their breath gets cut off and thus the person dying is “mute” and even the even number of syllables is cut short (6 in one line, only 5 in the next).

Yet oddly it is us who are experiencing the pain of dying, not the person who is actually dying. The patient is “mute from transport” in that they are in a state of joy as they are about to move on, yet it is the person who will remain alive that is in “agony” that their friend is leaving. Thus the formal quality of the poem could actually be representing the sobs of the poet.

Most unusual, however, is the final line. If you read the poem start to finish and you get caught up in the sing-song quality of it, once you get to “And this linnet” it doesn’t quite seem to fit. When you say “And this” you automatically want to stress “this” and not “And”. It can be read in the same meter as the rest of the poem, but also the flat stress of the second syllable of the word “linnet” makes it sort of unnatural to say it in the meter of the rest of the poem. Yet this is not a mistake in the poem because I think Emily wanted to capture that exact moment of surprise, “transport” and “agony” when death occurs and the linnet escapes its cage (linnets are songbirds kept in cages) and is free to fly to heaven. This songbird which had been singing through the whole poem is now free and so there is a moment of shock when the cage door opens and the bird is now free to leave: the poem almost derails from the meter, yet it still manages to work itself out and by the final word, “flew” and so the poem is back on track and its spirit (as well as the bird’s spirit) lives on in the afterlife.

Episode 7-5, Gambit II

Gambit II was better than part I. I love the scene when Data tells Worf he better shape up as his fort officer or he can go back to tactical but then also worries that he’s lost Worf as a friend. Great scene, and Data kills it when he’s put in charge of the Enterprise. The actor who played Baran, Richard Lynch, did a very nice job in both episodes, and he has a really great voice. Too bad he never got more work in the mainstream as an actor, he’s very cool. Also, the mercenary Klingon in this episode, Koral, played by the great basketball player James Worthy was amazing. Not only were his few lines delivered perfect, but him literally towering over Worf was very funny.

Too bad the whole premise of this two-parter was convoluted and not much of a regular TNG episode. Honestly, it felt like it could have been any old sci-fi episode from any number of sci-fi series. It just didn’t feel like TNG Trek.

It’s all I have to bring today

Landscape at Louveciennes, 1873, Alfred Sisley
Background Image: Landscape at Louveciennes, 1873, Alfred Sisley

The only cure for writer’s block is to keep writing.

The poem opens with Emily telling us that “It’s” is all she has to “bring today”. What this is is, most likely, this poem itself. She has nothing more to offer than “this” little poem, but it is more than enough.By starting out with only being able to offer a few lines of poetry ends with her creating a scene in which the “Bees” “dwell” in the “Clover”. From a distance – and when you sit on the wrong end of writer’s block – it can be difficult to see anything in the field of creativity, yet when you pick up the pen and write, you will discover that the field is full of “Clover” and that there are “Bees” hard at work in there. Just as the “Bees” are hard at work, so too is Emily writing her poetry.

This poem offers some insight into how she writes a poem. By starting small, she allows the poem to open up by including “my heart” in the second line. What starts as just a line of poetry – words on a page – now includes her emotions. In the third and fourth lines, she places her poem and her “heart” in “all the fields” and “all the meadows wide” and then ends the fourth line with a dash to allow the scene to remain open to all possibilities.

The fifth line sees a shift, and I like to read this as her reminding us, the reader of this poem, to keep “count” of each word and each line of the poem, to make sure we keep track of what’s going on less she get lost in the world she left open with the dash at the end of line four. She’s counting on us to see what she sees and it’s up to us to “tell” “some one” else about this little poem which includes her “heart” and “all the Bees” who work “in the Clover”.

In other words, she wants us to read her poem and she wants to share with us what she sees. And “It’s all” she has to bring today, not because she can only offer so little, but because she is offering us the whole world in a poem and she wants us there with her.

Episode 7-4, Gambit I

This feels like the sort of episode they would make after looking at what DS9 was doing and the writers thinking to themselves that they also need some gritty aliens and some mercenary story line to keep the drama up. And it just kind of doesn’t work. Not that it’s poorly made, or badly written, or not well cast – it’s actually a really decent episode, except that seeing Riker and Picard and the rest of the crew play at being mercenaries (or whatever) seems silly; they’re better than that and it’s cringy seeing them act like this, even if it is a ploy. But – the tone is just wrong for a TNG episode.

The feet of people walking home

Barge Haulers on the Volga, 1873, Ilya Repin
Background Image: Barge Haulers on the Volga, 1873, Ilya Repin

My initial reading of this poem reminded me of TS Eliot’s poem, Preludes. In that poem the people are described only by their “muddy feet” and the trash they leave behind as they walk through this wasteland of a life. The final image of his poem is that of lives as being no different than the poor “ancient women” who gather wood scraps for heat in the “vacant lots”. It’s a bleak image and I think Emily’s poem reminded me of it because of her image of the “Bargemen” who, as was the job a long time ago, walked along the shore dragging a heavy cargo boat behind them. It was pure drudgery and hard, unpleasant work, and was made famous by Ilya Repin’s painting, Barge Haulers on the Volga in 1873.

However, unlike Repin and Eliot, Emily’s images are more hopeful, though I believe she has embedded in her poem hints of sorrow, such as a play on the word “bore” to not just mean years of the the “practice” the faithful engage in in preparation for the real thing, but also as in it being boring / rote / repetitive. She also uses the word “Extorted” to describe the labor of the divers rather than use the word extracted. “Extorted” carries with it the image of humanity being extorted by our worldly masters who use us as serfs for their own financial gain, especially in trades such as pearl farming, but the image can be expanded to any labor in which the workers might actually be slaves. This ties back to the singing of “Hallelujah” because there is no other comfort for people who are being “Extorted” and exploited. She even goes as far as to use the word “Larceny”, meaning theft, and it seems as if she is describing our sins as well as how the morning carries away the darkness of the night.

Finally, she describes who her own “figures fail to tell” her how far away heaven really is and that her “Classics” (the bible and other great books) are not forthcoming in revealing when and if “immortality” will be revealed. She describes her “faith” as something that the “Dark” adores, meaning that there is a presence always trying to keep her from faith, to avert her “rapt attention” from the glory of “immortality” and from being able to walk “home”.

However, the poem can also be read much more optimistically than if TS Eliot were critiquing it. For example, she begins with the joyful image of “people walking home” in their “gayer sandals”. This paints an image of the poor and meek who only can afford simple “sandals” but who are free to return to their “home”, a subject she explores in “Water, is taught by thirst“. She also describes the miracle of the “crocus” which blooms right out of the snow, which she explores in “To him who keeps an Orchis heart“. These are both images of the the faithful who, despite hardships, endure the journey towards beauty. And these are the faithful because their “lips” have been praising heaven for “Long years” despite the heavy load they carry – she describes them as “Bargemen”.

The second stanza describes beauty that is hidden or concealed and that one must labor at to find. She describes the prize as a pearl that must be “Extorted” and she also describes the faithful as being like Seraphs whose wings (“Pinions”) are not visible and thus we must walk on our feet until such time as when we can once again soar. Thus she is describing the world we live in as like a “Night” upon which “morning” will eventually paint its picture (like a “canvas”, or dark like underwater where the oysters lay hidden among the rocks. Her movement from describing the “Pinions” to then describing the sky just as morning is about to break is quite remarkable because it literally gives us the sensation of one about to fly.

The final stanza speaks directly of her “faith” that heaven is home and that one day she will grow wings and live as a “peasant” / angel. But it is from her faith alone that “Such resurrection pours”, not from the bible or from her own figuring, there is nothing in this world that she can look at directly and know for sure she will return to any home. She is like the “bargemen” who trudge along carrying a heavy burden with the hope that one day it will be delivered, but that she is not in control of since she is not the owner of the barge or its cargo (perhaps filled with pearls for some wealthy client). She must walk beside the river or resurrection, the river where Jesus baptized the faithful, but also the river Lethe where all is forgotten and thus one must have faith alone that the river will take one home.

There is a lot of beauty and pure faith in this poem, but there is also a burden and a sorrow embedded in it as well. Faith is difficult; life is suffering.

Episode 7-3, Interface

This was a really good episode. Granted, they were riffing on VR and movies like The Lawnmower Man since that was new tech in the mid 90’s (and still kinda sucks 30 years later), but the story was much more focused on the human element and Geordi being convinced not just that what he was seeing was real (the VR), but that what he was feeling about his mother’s disappearance was real. This also had a nice element of Geordi (and Data) disobeying orders, and specifically Data doing so because of his friendship with Geordi.

She slept beneath a tree

The Poppy Field, 1873, Claude Monet
Background Image: The Poppy Field, 1873, Claude Monet

My first reading of this poem was very literal. I imagined Emily watching over an infant sleeping in it’s crib which was outside under the shade of a tree. As she approached the crib and saw the child sleeping she gently placed her foot on the crib to rock it, but upon recognizing that she was being rocked, woke up and, flushed with crimson (“Carmine”) and began to cry.

However, while that is one way to read it, as I researched this poem I learned that Emily might actually be talking about a flower whose location only she knows. When Emily goes out to the tree under which this flower grows, the flowers hears her footsteps (“She recognized the foot”) and pops out of the ground in full crimson (“Carmine”) bloom. Emily this exclaims “And see”! (exclamation point mine for emphasis) as one would out of pure delight to discover something so wonderful happening right before them.

Yet she could also be writing about remembering a pleasant memory which brings her joy, or perhaps drawing a pleasant reaction out of a friend who has been sad or ill, and when the friend hears Emily’s footsteps it brings them both pleasure.

In each case, however, Emily is the one making the first movements. The flower / child / memory “slept” but as Emily comes along “mute” she awakens what was previously dormant and a joy is brought into the world, “And see”. One could then read this as her poetry silently coming up to us and awakening inside us a pure joy at discovering something so beautiful and thus we both share in the act: she creates the art silently and the joy is born inside the reader, “And see”.

Episode 7-2, Liaisons

Not a bad episode, in fact in earlier seasons this would have been quite good, but it doesn’t really do anything new. The aliens trying to provoke a response from everyone was a neat idea, but the episode spent so much time actually showing how everyone was being provoked that it lost sight of the fact that it was for the sake of studying human behavior, something we, the human audience, are quite familiar with. This episode needed a few more drafts to get at something interesting, especially Anna who was a mix between Stands With A Fist from Dances With Wolves, and Cathy Bates’ character from Misery. In other words, she was not a very original character and it didn’t take me long to figure out who she really was.

As if I asked a common alms

Teahouse at Koishikawa, 1890, Katsushika Hokusai
Background Image: Teahouse at Koishikawa, 1890, Katsushika Hokusai

Emily often writes about writing, such as in “Have you got a Brook in your little heart“, and “Flowers – Well – if anybody“. Here she is wondering about where inspiration comes from and she uses the image of “my wondering hand” which conveys the sense of wonder she feels when she imagines a beautiful image – perhaps something as exotic as the “Orient” (I understand this is now seen as a racist term) – but there is also the sense that her hand is wandering about the page and there is a “stranger” pressing her “hand” to create the image.

Her use of the word “Orient” not only conveys a sense of the far-east (the exotic in 19th century vernacular), but also as in position the way one would orient themselves towards something. This word pivots the poem from her imagining an exotic, beautiful landscape and her hoping she has the ability to capture this in her poetry, to actually creating the image in the final four lines of the poem of a “Dawn” when the sun floods over the dark and “purple” landscape playfully like a young woman lifting her dress in a dance (or perhaps even more provocatively).

The “purple” could also be a reference to the “stranger” in that whomever is pressing her “hand” is a sort of king or royal figure who holds majesty over her, but she connects this to the natural landscape and thus implies that it is the beauty of nature which presses her “wondering hand”. Thus as her “hand” (and her mind) wonders at the beauty of the natural world, her mind and her hand become like a “flood” as the ink pours out of her as she is inspired by the light not just of the dawn but also of pure imagination as she crafts a poem about a sunrise. In this way she equates the “Dawn” of the day with the dawning of creation – both artistically and perhaps spiritually and even religiously.

Very clever poem; very modern, too. And one other remarkable aspect here is that she is both humble – she asks for “common alms” and she is “bewildered” by the process as if it comes from somewhere outside of her – yet she has also written a dazzling poem whose imagery jumps off the page and, I believe, she was aware that while she might be in awe of her skill, she also enjoyed it, the way a young woman might kick up her dress and show off, which she does here.

There is a morn by men unseen

La Danse - first version, 1909, Henri Matisse
Background Image: La Danse – first version, 1909, Henri Matisse

My first reading of this poem latched onto the idea that she was speaking specifically of women and that their mourning “morn” was “unseen” by men – in other words that she was writing about a secret life of women that males are unaware of. That is a very current reading since gender is a topic that is explored at depth in much of late 20th and early 21st century literature. Emily was writing about 150 years ago and so ideas of gender were different than they are today, yet I still think a more modern reading suits this poem because she clearly states that it is the “maids” who we see dancing in this poem, not the men. Of course, she doesn’t use the word mourn, she writes “morn”, meaning morning or a world of new beginnings where everything is green and lush, but if we think of this in terms of someone escaping into a world of imagination and beauty – and out of the world of men and pain – then I think the possibility that she is hinting at the pain women can feel in a world of men and the desire to live in a world free of that pain is a valid reading here.

Green is a major motif in this poem, she writes (twice) that the image takes place in “May”, she uses the word “green” twice, and also describes the “Chrysolite” which is the name formally given to gems that are green in color. She also hints at the women wearing a laurel of flowers – “last year’s distaff” which is probably some cloth spun last winter which now flowers are woven into it and worn over “summer’s brow”. All this green is related to life and vitality which she describes with the dancers who “dance and game”, “like thee to sing”, “revel in the day”, and “employ their holiday”. The image is pretty much outright hedonistic, but not in a sinful, overabundant way, but one in which celebrates being alive, and being free from the world of “men”.

Yet the mournful quality of the poem also can be found in the second stanza when she explains that these dancers are all dead because “the feet / which walk no more the village street”, and are not found in the “wood” have gone to this new, carefree, and celebratory land where the “stars” “swing their cups of Chrysolite”. This is a beautiful image which combines the image of dancers drinking from their cups, with the green jewels they wear, with that of the stars themselves which glisten as if wet and green in a dreamy haze. This is one of Emily’s more remarkable images I’ve ever encountered.

The final image of the bells ringing brings the poem to a climax of pure ecstasy and profound longing as she listens to the “fantastic bells” ringing out over the landscape in hopes that they are ringing to call her to her own “mystic green”. Yet these church bells are not exactly the Christian church bells because the heaven she is imagining is unlike the heaven of Milton or Dante, it is a riot of life and dance and reminds me of the Maenads who killed King Pentheus because he forbid them from worshiping Dionysus. Even the image of “last year’s distaff” calls to mind the thyrsus they carried and was wrapped in ivy that they would also wear around their head (their “summer’s brow”). This is not the quaint heaven of Jesus at the right hand of the Father, but an explosion of sexuality, riotousness behavior, and pleasure of the utmost ecstasy. This is her own secret world “be men unseen” and is, honestly, a more compelling heaven then anything some old New England (male) preacher was ever going to come up with.

And this secret world she is imagining is worth noting because even though she lived about 150 years ago, she was thinking what people all through history have thought, her inner life, her imagined worlds were just as vibrant as most people’s can be since the dawn of time, but because it’s not socially acceptable to strip off all your clothes, run out onto the May fields, drunken and hand in hand with your friends, and dance under the sun, then these ideas remain hidden, remain secret, and can only manifest themselves in poetry and art.

Yet I think a lot of people would be quite happy if what Emily is suggesting were the reality, not the fantasy.

I had a guinea golden

American Robin - The Children's Book of Birds, 1901, Olive Thorne Miller
Background Image: American Robin – The Children’s Book of Birds, 1901, Olive Thorne Miller

The first three stanzas begin with the same words, “I had” and overall the poem is speaking about having lost something important to Emily and, though it might be something “simple”, it can’t truly be replaced. Thus she is talking about the value that each individual thing has, a value beyond its monetary value, such as the “guinea golden”, or how common it is, such as the “crimson Robin” or the “crowded” stars in the night sky. What Emily wants is a specific “guinea”, a specific “Robin”, a specific “star”. This is something she refers to (slightly) in “By Chivalries as tiny” in that individual objects hold great meaning to her and that she imbues the objects of her life with an essence of herself: her memories and her emotions.

The first stanza deals with a small amount of money she has “lost”. This is worth noting because her carelessness has led to her losing something of value to her. And even though she recognizes the sum is trivial and and that more “pounds were in the land”, meaning she could grow some more crops and recover the money quite easily, she is “frugal” and is vexed that she wasn’t paying enough attention to something, even though it was somewhat trivial. All things have value for her, and the moment she took something’s value for granted, she “lost” it and now suffers for having been careless.

The second stanza is clearly about the migration of the American “Robin”, but her use of the word “painted” is worth noting because the word pain is embedded in this image of the forests being “painted” with snow. In fact, if we look at the whole poem there is embedded in it multiple mentions of pain, such as “sigh”, “painted” (pain), “Pleiad” (plead), “mournful”, and “solemn”. For Emily, this “mournful” song is her “ditty” because she has lost something, unlike the “Robin” who “sang full” his ballad of springtime. In other words, when the “Robin” has migrated south because of winter’s pain, she remains behind to sing a “mournful ditty” in its place. She has “lost” the springtime and now must endure the pain of the seasons of death without her friend the “Robin”.

She is also writing about a very specific “Robin” because even though next spring a new “Robin” will appear, it won’t be the same as last year’s “Robin”. She enforces this image and how much emphasis she places on the individual with the missing sister of the Pleiades because, even though there are lots of other stars in the sky, it is the one she can’t see (the naked eye can only really make out 6 of the 7 stars of the Pleiades) which she wants. She values this one, lost little star who nobody notices is even missing because there are more than enough left over because it was her star that she failed to heed (she failed to value when it was visible) and thus it “wandered from the same”. Once again she feels responsible for something of value going missing because she was careless.

The final stanza, though it seems to conclude with the “moral” about having “a missing friend” – the word “friend” being important because a friend is someone who we have a unique relationship with, such as a specific “guinea”, “Robin”, or “Pleiad” and not just any random thing – the most interesting aspect of this stanza is about the “traitor”. She describes her eyes filled with tears meeting “the eye of traitor” who is, perhaps, that missing “guinea” and the migrating “Robin” and the wandering “Pleiad” whom she has run into “In a country far from here”. She calls them traitor because they left her, which is ironic because she was clear that, other than the “Robin”, it was her carelessness which caused her former friends to leave and turn traitor.

Yet she is quite adamant that this “traitor” shall find no “consolation” (which has a rhyme with constellation, such as with the Pleiades) because the relationship has been ruined and she hopes that he will forever be solemnly repentant for the rest of his days for having betrayed her. And while this might seem a little hypocritical of her to want a revenge on someone who left because of her own carelessness, the relationships go both ways because if someone values you only because you value them, then it’s not really a relationship based on mutual respect. Was one moment’s carelessness really worth turning “traitor” on someone and leaving for a “country far from here”?

To him who keeps an Orchis heart

Japanese Irises, late 19th century, Alfred Quinton Collins
Background Image: Japanese Irises, late 19th century, Alfred Quinton Collins

The previous poem, “To lose – if One can find again“, she uses the image of the Crocus to describe how even in the dead of winter a beautiful flower an grow. She refers to this hardy flower has having a secret that only “You and I” know the secret of its ability to climb up out of the freezing snow and color the dreary winter landscape. In other words, she is talking about all of us having a potential inside of us which can bloom even during the most arduous circumstances. From death, life grows anew, and though it is short-lived, it is beautiful.

In this poem she uses the image of an “Orchis” (and orchid) which can grow in a swamp, another arduous landscape for anything pretty or delicate to survive in. According to my footnote, she may have been thinking of the Calopogon pulchellus which is a pink flower which thrives in a swamp and marsh. Yet she also imbues this new life struggling out of a difficult soil with a sexual imagery: the life is pink and blooms like a delicate orchid. Even the image of a swamp, which is usually not a pleasant place, is still one where life riots and is full of animals and insects mating, flowers blooming and being pollinated – all images and symbols of how life renews itself so that it can, once again, endure the long winters when nothing can grow.

Ultimately, this poem along with the two preceding poems speak of Emily’s belief in the good that can grow even out of the most troubled ground. As long as one allows for even the possibility of growth and redemption, then one can grow a “Crocus” in the winter, and an “Orchis” in a swamp. One’s garden does not have to be grand, it merely needs to be “gaily” built with a humble “little spade” and the gardener needs only allow for a few “nooks for Daisy / And for Columbine” to flourish. This is a hopeful poem about seeing the best in another person (including ourselves) even when it can otherwise be difficult to get past a rough exterior. But each of us possesses the “secret” potential of being new, of being better, and of blooming in any circumstance.

To lose – if One can find again

The Snowdrop, 1807, Abraham Pether
Background Image: The Snowdrop, 1807, Abraham Pether

In “We lose – because we win“, Emily writes about what is lost when we sin, but here she is talking about the hope that comes from redemption. In the previous, “All these my banners be“, her flowers have all gone back into the earth in winter – “sleeps in state again” – and so here the flowers are seeming lost, the way a soul might be which has sinned. Yet grace known no boundary (there is no “chancel” separating the soul from grace in Christianity) and thus “One can find again”, meaning we can find out way back to grace, as well as the One: Christ / God can also fine those poor souls who live in sin underground.

She uses the language of the sinner in the third and fourth lines: “The Burglar”, “rob”, “Broker”, “cheat” to refer to human behavior at its worst, but also she is referring to Death robbing and cheating us of life. Thus while a person may live in a sinful way, Death cannot cheat someone who leaves open the possibility of redemption, the redemption of growing spring flowers which signify new life and rebirth from bad behavior.

And this rebirth is descried by her in the language of the laborer who with a “little spade of mine” digs and plants a garden, humble as it may be (her “spade” is “little”, but even it is effective enough), and if one at least leaves a “nook” for the “Daisy / And for the Columbine”, then they will grow come spring if you tend your garden well enough.

Yet there is hope even in the dead of winter when the “Crocus” grows through the snow meaning that even when things are at their darkest, when death seems to cover the earth, there is a “secret” buried deep out of sight that can grow and pave the way for rebirth. Thus even the worst of us have the hope of blooming new life even when we are so consumed with death and sin because the “secret” is that the “One” can see past death, through the “chancel” and into the soil where the dormant seeds lay ready for the snows to melt.

The final line thus reads like the chanted prayer of someone who longs for peace and for rebirth. Though it may still be winter and snows cover the earth, we can still “chant it softly – / There is no more snow” to cover our heart’s garden, and that our “banners”, though “plain” now, can grow “train by train” and break free of that which weighs us down into the dark earth where only death awaits.

All these my banners be

Springtime Garden Near Vienna, 1886, Theodor von Hörmann
Background Image: Springtime Garden Near Vienna, 1886, Theodor von Hörmann

My edition breaks up “All these banners be”, “To lose – if One can find again“, and “To him who keeps an Orchis’ heart” into three separate poems. Thus I will consider them first as individuals, but will keep in mind that they are often considered as one unified work.

Emily uses the language of the laborer and the domestic sphere to describe how, in spring (“May”), her “banners”, which could be the flowers in a garden or meadow, are cultivated (“sow”) be her, but also sewn (to sew). She is describing the work that goes into sowing her “pageantry” – the beautiful spring time procession of flowers blooming – which then “sleep in state again” when winter comes.

Yet the image also calls to mind that of an article of clothing she could sew (“sow”), such as a brightly colored dress or gown (with which to display her “pageantry”) with perhaps a “train” behind it, but then becomes the clothing she will be buried in on the winter of her life’s closing – “sleeps in state again”.

The use of “chancel” is interesting because it suggests a very domestic image of the simple fence around a garden as well as the barrier between the congregation and the people who preform the ceremony in a church. Perhaps Emily has cultivated “sow” (as in sown) her own beliefs, “banners” in the spring, “May”, and she watches her little congregation rise “train by train” which perhaps is referring to the use of train as meaning a sequence of people “following, accompanying, or attending on a person, usually one of high rank or importance; a body of attendants, retainers, or followers; a retinue, suite.” (OED, “train” N, 8a).

Yet when winter comes, her “chancel”, which if we again think of this has the little fence around her garden, no longer is adorned with flowers and creeping vines, but now is “plain” – no longer is there a procession (“pageantry”) of the “train”, it is “plain” because all the flowers sleep “in state” (in the earth).

As with many of her poems, the imagery is complex, and here especially since one can feel Emily not only looking at her little garden, but also identifying with the flowers as if her gown (her spirit, her truth, her soul) was made up of the fringes of a flower, and she must spend her mortal life in one of God’s little gardens separated from him by a chancel that she will only get one chance to climb in “May” before returning to the earth.

We lose – because we win

The Soldiers Casting Lots for Christ's Garments, 1800, William Blake
Background Image: The Soldiers Casting Lots for Christ’s Garments, 1800, William Blake

Assuming the story of the Roman soldiers casting lots for Christ’s garnets is true, while Jesus died on the cross for humanity’s sins, humanity remained engaged in sinful activity right at his feet. And what of the soldier who did win the garments? Did he really win anything of value or did he give up his salvation for a good roll of the dice with his friends?

Emily is saying that when we win at sin, we lose at everything else. We are like gamblers who are addicted to winning whatever we can here in this world while remaining ignorant of the gifts being given to us from the next life.

What stands out the most in this poem is her use of the word “recollecting”. She is playing on the idea of “collecting” a debt won while gambling, but she ties it together with memory, as in “recollecting” a thought or idea as well as “recollecting” one’s composure. This is a very unusual connection to make and it does not seem obvious at first what she is attempting to do, but I believe she is playing with the idea of how easily we can forget what game we should be winning at and so we slip back into comfortable / bad habits and thus “we lose” because we forgot what is most important.

Yet she is also expressing the problem with being human and that we are incapable of, from the Christian point of view, to be free of vice and sin. We will always struggle and gamble and lose, but we keep playing the game. From this point of view, it is a testament to our perseverance that we keep playing even though we keep losing. We know the game is rigged – we’re all going to die one day – yet we keep rolling the dice and going on about our day as if the game will never end. There is a sort of simple and idiotic simplicity to this which is, in a way, endearing about human nature.

Flees so the phantom meadow

Lovers in a Wood, 1873, John Atkinson Grimshaw
Background Image: Lovers in a Wood, 1873, John Atkinson Grimshaw

Often this poem is attributed as the second stanza to “Distrustful of the Gentian“, however the source I am using breaks these two up into separate poems and so I too shall consider them as individuals.

The first image that comes to mind is of the night’s shadows racing out across the “meadow” after the sun has set while the “Bee” either chases breathlessly off after the sun which is setting behind the horizon or is “breathless” after its day’s labor in the “meadow”. In either case, the day is over and this is typically Emily’s allusion to life coming to an end.

The rhyme scheme is also unusual in that “Flees”, the first word of the poem, rhymes with “Bee”, the last word of the second line, as well as shares the sonic quality of the “f” in “Flees” with the “ph” of “phantom”, while “so” and “meadow” also rhyme. She also uses heavy “b” alliteration to complete these opening images with “Before”, “breathless”, and “Bee”, and the alliteration is carried over into the third line with “bubble”, and “brooks”. Yet the last word of the fourth line, “lie” stands out in contrast since it doesn’t match anything else in these first four lines; it sort of just “dies”, as if everything that was connected to nature and shares a dependence on the “meadow”, the “Bee”, the “brook” and the “desert” has been upset and broken.

Yet she employs a dash after “lie” to imply that there is something more to come. The “evening spires” might be in reference to the stars, or perhaps a church steeple still visible in the moonlight, but an older (and now obsolete usage since the middle 17th century) definition of “spire” refers to the act of breathing and air (OED, v2: 3a) and this word can be traced back to the Latin spīrāre which means ‘to breathe’. She may be connecting the stars or milky way, with the church steeple, and the last, “breathless” struggles of the “Bee” or of anyone who is dying. And just as the “Bee” sees its “meadow” plunge into evening darkness, so too do the eyes of the dying “burn” with the light of the world to come in “Heaven”.

Finally, and this is such a fun thing that Emily likes to do, is place the grave at the very bottom of a poem or stanza with “To a hand below”. Yet she’s never quite so literal, because the whole poem visualizes movement with “Flees”, “breathless”, “go”, and even “Hangs” that it’s possible she is describing the hand of God or of the angels reaching down to grasp the the spirit of the “dying” and lift them up to “Heaven”.

Distrustful of the Gentian

Vintage Crayon Drawing of Blue Gentian Flowers, 1970's, Unknown
Background Image: Vintage Crayon Drawing of Blue Gentian Flowers, 1970’s, Unknown

Sometimes a poem strikes you ion a way that is probably not the intended reading. For example, I kept reading “fringes” as ‘fingers’, as if she were being beckoned, or even chastised by the flowers for her “perfidy”. I also get the impression that the final two lines are a sort of combined image of her and the flower as each of them will go about their way and, delicate as they may be, will not “fear the snow” because they will come back next year just as resilient.

She begins the poem with the word “Distrustful” and she is referring to these wonderful blue flowers as if they are reminding her, or chiding her, about something she will not reveal. Perhaps the flowers remind her of someone she knew that she hurt and now that relationship has been damaged due to her own fault? Perhaps she told a lie and this is why she uses the word “perfidy”.

And perhaps these flowers are “weary” for the person who they remind her of as much as they are a wearisome reminder of the person she has hurt? The poem ends with storms, in the form of “sleet”, and bad winter weather “snow” so perhaps the whole universe is trying to punish her for the lie she told, but she will remain unrepentant and “will singing go” and “shall not gear the snow” which could be read as the consequences of her actions.

Thus my initial reading of fingers chastising her but her strength to remain resolved might not be so far off base because there is an element of someone who, despite the accusations, will remain steadfast and will continue on. Perhaps then she did not tell a lie which hurt someone, but perhaps she told the truth and that is what hurt them. Perhaps her insistence on braving the bad weather is her being a true friend despite being chided by accusing fingers that point at her and tell her to reform.

A sepal – petal – and a thorn

Sahurs Meadows in Morning Sun, 1894, Alfred Sisley
Background Image: Sahurs Meadows in Morning Sun, 1894, Alfred Sisley

This is a joyful poem, even though there is a very slight allusion to mourning with her use of the wordplay of “morn” when coupled with the rhyme of the “thorn”. She very often mixes emotional states in her poems and so adding a thorn to an otherwise delicate flower gives it a hardiness and an insular nature that is difficult to penetrate. Emily was, after all, a complicated person capable of feeling many different things at the same time and expressing that complex overlay in most of her poetry.

Yet in this poem she is “a Rose” who enjoys “a common summer morn”, the “flask of Dew” collecting in the petals of her flower as if she were drinking the nectar of the gods and then passing on her vitality to the bees who have come by to dine with her.

The most remarkable line – and one of the most imaginative I’ve ever read – is the “caper in the trees”. You can almost hear the “Breeze” rustling through the leaves (an image she has, quite literally, built up in the first line with “sepal” and “petal”), but it’s not just a common breeze, there is joy and even a mischievousness to that breeze as it engages in a “caper” among the tree tops. The simple line transports us from the ground where the rose lives, to the sky where we float along with the bees as we “caper” about and frolic, perhaps even drunk of some of the “dew”.

The final line also contains a hint of word play in “I’m a rose” which can be read (in the Gertrude Stein sense – which, though it’s not related, was published in her work titled “Sacred Emily”) of ‘arose’, as in she is risen, not just with joy, but right up into the sky to be carried upon the “breeze”. Emily loves to imagine transformations, especially as nature relates to the spiritual world, and here she combines the two into an ecstasy that seems to exist somewhere in the currents of air between heaven in earth.

Frequently the woods are pink

Detail of a miniature of a God creating the world with compasses, 15th century
Background Image: Detail of a miniature of a God creating the world with compasses, 15th century

Emily’s relationship with time is endlessly fascinating to read, and is one of the main reasons I love her poems and her ability to describe movement and time with highly economical language is unmatched.

The first three lines describe a sunset: first the sky is “pink”, then once the sun has dipped below the horizon the woods are darkened as the “brown” trees gradually “undress” into the shadow of night. And I believe she is imagining a sunset because her line “Behind my native town” makes me assume the sun is setting to the west of town.

The next four lines are playful in their imagery as we can almost see the woodland creatures popping their heads out of their “cranny” to get a look, but quickly dart back into cover leaving only the “cranny” (the narrow opening) visible. This image relates to “my native town” in that she is comparing the forest to the people of the town as night comes and the look out their window one last time before retiring back inside for bed.

She ends the poem on the cosmic scale as the earth makes it’s rotation “on its axis” in increments of “twelve” as a clock does. This “twelve” is important because a clock is not a natural phenomenon, but is something made by humans and thus the way we interact with the world is as much natural as it is mechanical. The woodland creatures may rely on the sun and the moon, but humans can get by just fine with a clock too.

Yet she is not saying one is better than the other, she celebrates all of it and she paints a very charming scene of a quaint New England town nesting down for a pleasant night’s sleep.

In the name of the Bee

Trinity, 21st century, BenWill
Background Image: Trinity, 21st century, BenWill

Instead of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, she uses the nature imagery of the “Bee”, the “Butterfly”, and the “Breeze”. Each image is significant and is an avatar for the holy trinity, but one grounded in the world we live in.

First, God is replaced with the “Bee” who is that which pollinates all the flowers and maintains all life. A famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein but which can’t be proven that he said it goes “If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live” meaning that the bee is central to all life, and, like God, has a stinger that can hurt you.

Second is the “butterfly” which stands in for the son, Jesus. Jesus is he who transformed and transcended death, just as a butterfly seems to do when it goes through its metamorphosis. Just as well all must die and, hopefully pass onto to a better world, the butterfly is, for her, this symbol of moving on (and it’s a very common image to this day as it has been all through history).

Finally the “breeze” is the holy spirit, the mysterious essence of the trinity which connects both Father and Son, and here it’s the air and life-force of which both the bee and the butterfly require for life and which must contend with when the breeze is strong. All things require the breath of life which God and the Bee provide.

Yet all this is the prayer she believes in. She does not say God or Son, rather she remains bound to the mortal, natural realm and so these images are for her a trinity of life and a basis of her belief.

A brief, but patient illness

Legend of St Francis, 1337, Giotto
Background Image: Legend of St Francis, 1337, Giotto

The book I’m using to explore Emily Dickinson’s poems breaks up “The Gentian weaves her fringes”, “A brief, but patient illness”, and “In the name of the Bee” into three seperate poems.

There is a narrative to this poem unlike the previous poem which relies on imagery to convey the passage of time. Here she beings with the words “brief” and “hour” and “morning” (which can also be read as ‘mourning’) to set the scene of someone who has died and whom the funeral is being held. Her use of the word “patient” is interesting in that not only is it referring to a patient (someone who is afflicted) but that the “illness” (that from which the patient suffered) was a “patient illness”. Perhaps it was an illness that had lingered undetected and then suddenly killed the “patient” or perhaps it was a long, drawn out “illness” from which the “patient” recently died from.

The third and fourth lines deal with, perhaps, the body recently buried “below” and she juxtaposes this with the “angels” who are normally above, yet she keeps them in the ground. Perhaps this is her emotional attachment to the recently deceased in that she still sees them as an “angel” – as you might call a dear friend – or that a transformation has taken place and the recently deceased has become an angel and is speeding towards heaven. By formally placing the “angel” underneath the the body she is able to express her grief as well as her faith.

The “short procession” relates back to “The Gentian weaves her fringes” when she describes the “obviate parade”. Here it’s a funeral procession, but it could also be referring to the “illness” which was short. However, her image of a procession often refers to life as being a procession, such as in “One dignity delays for all” and she could be writing about how short life is and how little time we have with each other in this mortal realm.

Emily often refers to the world we live in in natural images. Here she paints a pastoral scene with the “bobolink” and the “Bee”, but her wordplay is more sophisticated than just nature imagery. Her phrase “aged bee” can also be read as the aged be, as in those who remain behind and are now old and getting closer to death which is the ultimate “patient illness”.

After she describes them kneeling “in prayer”, she has an unusual line, “We trust that she was willing”. Is the recently deceased the “she” and why is Emily worried if she was “willing” or not? The next line reads “We ask that we may be”, so perhaps she is referring to being willing to go onto the next life, to not cling too long to this one like an “aged Bee”?

She ends the poem with the image of transformation from nature (“Summer”) when all things grow and are alive but is not the thing that itself is alive rather it is that which provides the opportunity for life. She then moves to “Sister”, meaning those we love and who are products of “Summer” but who will one day continue in this “procession” of life towards death (the “patient illness”) until, being willing, we become like a Seraph, which is the greatest of the angels whom Emily believes her friend has become.

She thus ends the poem with the direction that we should “go with thee” meaning go on towards the next life in glory and all become eternal Seraphs.

The Gentian weaves her fringes

Deer and Maples, early 19th century, Mori Tetsuzan
Background Image: Deer and Maples, early 19th century, Mori Tetsuzan

The very first poem of her fascicles shows how adept she is at wordplay, her interest in nature, the complex method in which she weaves a poem, her obsession with death, and even her playfulness.

The first line is remarkable in how she presents the slow movement of time. The “gentian weaves” is a very slow process as the blue flower slowly builds it’s “fringes”, perhaps over the course of many early autumn days before the winter cold comes. This image could also be seen as the image of a blue dress she wears and so she combines this natural imagery with that of her own self image. She might be demonstrating how she has slowly become a woman and that this first poem of her fascicles is the beginning of her weaving her poetry.

The second line introduces a new color, “red” and this giant “Maple” not only looms overhead, it is also the loom which creates the red blanket of leaves above under which the delicate gentian grows peacefully. Yet this tree seems somewhat oppressive (hence the double meaning of the word “loom”) and it fills the sky with the red of the leaves, as if a storm were coming over the horizon.

The third line is a lot of fun in that it could be read as her “blossoms” (in the “gentian” and in the “elm”) are “leaving”, but also that her “leaving” is blossoming. It is in this second sense in which the ominous red and looming of the oak hints at this “leaving” as perhaps dying, but not death itself because, in the final line, her “parade” is “obviate” in that her procession is being circumvented and avoided. Perhaps she means that the death which comes for us all is forestalled by our “parade” of life, but always overhead are the “blossoms” of our departing.