There’s a playfulness but also a frustration here in that she never does find the words for that one thought – she’s like a prisoner in Plato’s cave who has no concept of “Cochineal” (red) or “Mazarin” (blue). But what she’s really getting at is how can a word, like “Mazarin” replace the real thing? We can be told it’s “Of a rich deep blue color” (OED) but what does that even mean?
I thought of Saussure’s work with semiotics, a word itself which originally meant “the interpretation of symptoms” (OED), and how, like Plato’s prisoners (“Races – nurtured in the Dark”), we are deprived of the truth of reality because words cannot replace the real thing.
The first stanza deals with her ability as an artist and also her own limitations. She has “found the words to every thought” she’s had so far except for “One”. In one sense she is trying to put into words some single thought which has escaped her, but her use of capitalization could be that the “One” is the ultimate truth, the ultimate beauty, the good, the beautiful: the One; God, perhaps, and who is the ultimate creator who does not lack words, which she might also be referring to in “I died for Beauty – but was scarce”.
Her image of the “Hand” that “did try to chalk the Sun” is a wonderful image as the futility of our own (mortal) efforts to effectively capture reality in art. A painter may paint a beautiful image of a sunset, but no matter how glorious the painting, it can’t replace the real thing, it can only stand in for it. And her use of “chalk” further enforces this futility in that one’s own “Hand” cannot give free travel to the “Sun”: we are not Helios with a chariot dragging the “Sun” across the sky, we can only interpret what goes on in the heavens as best we can – even the mythology is a poor reflection of reality in that it is only a story.
Yet there is a hint of hopefulness here in that she asks “How would your Own – begin?” as in where do we even start, yet the fact remains that we do create art, we do attempt to represent a “Blaze” in “Cochineal” in a painting or a poem, we make the effort to do our best to be like the “One” (the creator) and mimic creation through our own feeble efforts. Ultimately Emily did write this poem – if she had truly been frustrated she never would have written a word, yet here she is fully knowing that she can’t “chalk the Sun” and yet she tries anyway. And we, the reader, do see her “Blaze”, we do feel the deep blue of “Noon” as the “Sun” races across the sky. The “One” may defy us, but it is not totally invisible to us because there is a light illuminating the world and so we can do our best to appreciate it, and our humble efforts to mimic it bring us, in a way, closer to the “One”. We begin to exit the cave, at least a little.