I dwell in Possibility —

by Elouise

Emilio Magistretti, il Duomo, General exterior view from the east, 1921.

~~Emilio Magistretti, il Duomo, General exterior view from the east, 1921.

Do you remember They shut me up in Prose – ? Here Emily proclaims the superiority of her fairer House. That would be Poetry, of course! Here’s her poem, followed by my comments.

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of Eye –
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

c. 1862

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

Several things catch my eye immediately.

  1. This poem isn’t directly about Possibility and Impossibility. It’s about ‘the fairer House than Prose.’ That would be Poetry.
  2. Emily’s sequence of thought moves from the concrete to nature, and on to Paradise! Nothing small or narrow in her vision of Poetry.
  3. Within this House, Emily’s internal Chambers allow total privacy—‘Impregnable of Eye.’ Perhaps unnumbered Chambers of fragrant Cedar make sure no prying Eyes (like moths) intrude to eat or destroy their contents.
  4. Above this ‘fairer House than Prose’ lies no ordinary gambrel (a type of roof), but the Sky itself. Higher than high, spacious, deep, wide, unbounded.
  5. Emily doesn’t even bother with a formal front door, lock or key. Instead, this dwelling place is already filled with light, vistas and Visitors. Who are these ‘fairest’ Visitors?
  6. It seems Emily doesn’t need to go outside to practice her Occupation. Instead, she makes a simple gesture—“spreading wide my narrow Hands To gather Paradise.”

At first, Emily’s simple gesture irritated me. As though this Occupation (writing poetry) could be like falling off a cliff into magic land. But I don’t think that’s her meaning.

Emily says her Hands (perhaps literal, certainly figurative) are narrow, and must be spread wide to catch a bit of Paradise. There’s humility and expectation in this gesture. An acknowledgment that ‘something’ is out there waiting to be gathered. And so she spreads her narrow hands wide and receives an overflow of Paradise.

Emily also acknowledges her ‘fairest’ Visitors. Maybe they’re poets, or their inspiring poetry resides on the bookshelves of her fairer House than Prose. Perhaps they’re also birds, bees, butterflies, sunsets and sunrises. All creation great and small. No matter their identity, Emily welcomes them into her fairer House than Prose.

I suggest Emily herself is the ‘House’ in which she dwells. A House that’s both narrow (limited as any of our bodily houses are), and exceptionally open to what lies beyond her limited capacity to discern with her eyes.

And so she spreads wide her narrow Hands to gather Paradise into her cryptic, hesitant, enigmatic and captivating Poetry. And we are the happy recipients–now politely, of course, visiting her Poetry.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 February 2017
Image found at thewinedarksea.com