Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Emily Dickinson

The Wind took up the Northern Things | Covid-19

Emily Dickinson’s poem rings eerily true, given the current pandemic. How will we pick up our pieces? What, if anything, will we have learned about ourselves? And how many of us will be present and accounted for?

Winds of change overtake us every day. Natural and unnatural disasters intrude. Emily Dickinson invites us to take a closer look. My comments follow.

The Wind took up the Northern Things
And piled them in the south –
Then gave the East unto the West
And opening his mouth

The four Divisions of the Earth
Did make as to devour
While everything to corners slunk
Behind the awful power –

The Wind – unto his Chambers went
And nature ventured out –
Her subjects scattered into place
Her systems ranged about

Again the smoke from Dwellings rose
The Day abroad was heard –
How intimate, a Tempest past
The Transport of the Bird –

c. 1868

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

The calm before a storm is nothing compared to the calm after a storm. Wind, dust, earthquakes, locusts, famine, fire, floods. Devastating, destructive, unpredictable. Then it’s over. Deadly silent. Until nature ventures out, surveys the damage and begins reclaiming her rhythms, colors, textures and stunning beauty.

There’s nothing romantic about the destructive forces of nature. No one who has survived their fury can forget the terror. Or the people, animals, natural resources and futures gone or changed forever.

Nonetheless, I hear Emily inviting us to consider the other side of the storm. What happens following unpredictable upheaval? What happens when everything is different and nothing can be taken for granted?

Healing and rebirth don’t happen overnight. Nature will take its time just as it always has. We can count on her subjects and systems doing their thing, even though everything will be different, changed in some way.

As for us, life changes immediately in the aftermath of major upheaval. Belongings and people we took for granted or undervalued yesterday are suddenly precious. Whether missing or found against all odds, each person and each item becomes the subject of conversation, tears and thoughts shared around fireplaces. Personal and intimate.

This everyday hearth fire, unlike a firestorm, warms our hearts. We’re not alone. A bird sings. Was it blown here by the storm? I don’t know. Still, its simple song says I’m not forgotten, even though my small world just got turned upside down.

I hear in Emily’s poem an invitation to think about the value of human life as well as the value of our planet. Both seem under siege right now. Not just by politicians or corporations, but by people such as you and I. I don’t have answers. I do, however, have hope that we’ll wake up before it’s too late.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 June 2017, reposted 22 April 2020
Photo of recent storm damage in the South found at washingtonpost.com

I wonder if when Years have piled | Emily Dickinson

Here’s an older post that’s relevant to our current situation. When the pandemic is over, what will we do with all that Grief and Pain?

I don’t wear a crucifix around my neck, yet I find myself in the company of those who, like Emily Dickinson, can’t escape Grief. It doesn’t matter how many years have lapsed. My comments follow her poem.

I wonder if when Years have piled –
Some Thousands – on the Harm –
That hurt them early – such a lapse
Could give them any Balm –

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve –
Enlightened to a larger Pain –
In Contrast with the Love –

The Grieved – are many – I am told –
There is the various Cause –
Death – is but one –and comes but once –
And only nails the eyes –

There’s Grief of Want – and Grief of Cold –
A sort they call “Despair’ –
There’s Banishment from native Eyes –
In sight of Native Air –

And though I may not guess the kind –
Correctly – yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary –

To note the fashions – of the Cross –
And how they’re mostly worn –
Still fascinated to presume
That Some – are like My Own –

c. 1862

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

Emily begins by wondering whether Harm that has Years “piled on” it might be like a Balm. Perhaps like piling ice or heat on an injury? Some would say time heals all wounds.

Does it? Perhaps the passing of Time simply multiplies the Pain of this Harm. Especially in contrast to Love lost, withheld or betrayed.

Emily does a brief roll call of various kinds of Grief. She names Death first, yet doesn’t dwell on it since once it arrives, it simply “nails the eyes” shut. She may have in mind the person who dies, not the survivors.

She then points to other forms of Grief. They’re examples of the barely recognized yet obvious Grief humans carry every day. She names Grief of Want, of Cold, and of Despair. This is the kind of Grief that doesn’t nail the eyes shut. It’s the Grief of being invisible, shunned, ignored, banished from sight in full view of others. Not allowed to breathe air that supposedly belongs to everyone. Native Air that makes one a ‘real’ person.

In the last two stanzas, Emily imagines Grief as a crucifix, a fashion item. Something like a personal Calvary. She observes an assortment of styles and ways of wearing them.

I imagine some are barely obvious; others weigh the bearer down like a heavy wooden cross. Some are flaunted like medals of honor; others hidden beneath bravado or bullying. Yet each is real, whether acknowledged or not.

Emily finds ‘a piercing Comfort’ in her observations. Perhaps she isn’t as alone as she sometimes feels. Perhaps some Crosses are like her own.

When I was growing up, no one told me that grief could be an asset. It was something I would eventually get over. Not a strange gift that could connect me with others.

I don’t want to know everything about each person I meet. I do, however, need to take into account the reality of human grief. There’s nothing so isolating as having one’s grief overlooked or ignored. Or making it a personal problem to solve or get over–as quickly as possible.

Jesus bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. Surely as his followers we can do a bit of this for each other, if not for ourselves.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 August 2017
Image found at wallcrossesandmore.com

She sights a Bird — | Emily Dickinson

Here’s a fun Emily Dickinson poem written early in her poetic career. My brief comment follows.

She sights a Bird — she chuckles —
She flattens — then she crawls —
She runs without the look of feet —
Her eyes increase to Balls —

Her Jaws stir — twitching — hungry —
Her Teeth can hardly stand —
She leaps, but Robin leaped the first —
Ah, Pussy, of the Sand,

The Hopes so juicy ripening —
You almost bathed your Tongue —
When Bliss disclosed a hundred Toes —
And fled with every one —

© Emily Dickinson, #507
Found at wikisource.org

Reading this is a hoot. An almost perfect picture of our housecat Smudge (above) stalking a mouse or cricket. I love the part about running “without the look of feet.” To which I might add (having watched Smudge stalk prey), not a single muscle ripples through his furry coat. Not even one toenail clicks on the floor. Not a whimper of excitement gives him away. All antennae are 100% engaged, even though this takes hours, not minutes.

Perhaps the excitement is the chase and stalk. This could be unnerving for an outdoor cat. Regardless, the excitement of the hunt seems as wondrous as actually catching prey. Patience is called for. Many times. Plus persistence.

So here our Pussy of the Sand glides silently in on his prey, already salivating with anticipation and high on adrenalin. Followed by nothing to show for it but Robin’s hundred Toes, all present and accounted for, disappearing into thin air.

Wishing you a Happy Friday!
Elouise and Smudge♥♥

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 March 2020
Smudge in Kitchen Window taken by ERFraser, March 2019
Photo of outdoor cat found at i1.wp.com

Did Our Best Moment last — | Emily Dickinson

Have you ever had a Best Moment? When did it come, and when did it go? Did it change you? My comments follow

Did Our Best Moment last –
‘Twould supersede the Heaven –
A few – and they by Risk – procure –
So this Sort – are not given –

Except as stimulants – in
Cases of Despair –
Or Stupor – The Reserve –
These Heavenly Moments are –

A Grant of the Divine –
That Certain as it Comes –
Withdraws – and leaves the dazzled Soul
In her unfurnished Rooms

(c. 1862)

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

Have you known Despair from the inside out? Emily doesn’t promise a Best Moment for each of us. She does, however, acknowledge that sometimes we need a Best Moment. Not to hoard, but to encourage us to keep going.

Some may Risk trying to obtain a Heavenly Moment. Perhaps to lock away and show off from time to time.

Instead, Our Best Moment is a rarely given temporary gift, a Grant from the Divine. Not because we ask for it or earned it, but because we’re in danger of falling into Despair. Or, just as heavy, walking around in a Stupor wondering what to say, do or write next.

While each Best Moment is beyond wonderful, it’s also a sign. It appears unbidden. A small Grant of the Divine we didn’t expect to receive. For a Moment it dazzles us, and then withdraws. Leaving us to make do with our everyday unfurnished Rooms.

Emily’s image of our unfurnished Rooms might sound empty and hollow, On the other hand, perhaps our unfurnished Rooms are invitations to furnish them. Just as we furnished the Room that became our temporary Best Moment, a gift that dazzled our Soul.

We aren’t alone in our efforts. What we say and do makes a difference, though we don’t always know or see how it plays out. Still, from time to time, the curtain is drawn back to dazzle and encourage us.

Praying these uneasy times will yield Best Moments that let each of us know we’re not alone, or left to figure things out on our own. No matter what happens next.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 February 2020
Image of Victorian Era Kitchen in America found at pinterest.com

Night falls gently

Night falls gently
Without fanfare
Draping earth in shadows

The night train’s whistle
Sings a lullaby
Down by the riverside

My cat comes creeping
Onto my warm lap
For a last evening cuddle

That was last night. My favorite time of day, and, as it happens, my last day of being 75 years old! I almost always spend a little time writing in my journal before I go to bed.

Last night I wrote this, among other things:

Smudge just visited me — sitting on my lap quietly, as though he needed one last cuddle. I can’t imagine the last 6 1/2 years without him. Thank you for this small reminder of how important he is in my life. Along with David and the rest of our family. Tomorrow I’ll be 76 years old — hard to believe.

So now 76 is upon me, and I feel more than a little lost. Not within the core of who I am, but out there, when I look up and around. Where do I belong in this sea of humanity?

Many markers for what’s considered good and true have morphed into something else. Sometimes this is good riddance. Still, I’m not sure what’s going on right now, especially within our nation. I feel more at sea than ever, more guarded when I talk or write about current events, and less certain how to make a difference.

One of my Emily Dickinson posts, There is a pain — so utter, has had more than 1,000 views since I posted it in February 2018. It’s about living in Trance. A state in which we in the USA seem caught in endless loops. We refuse to look at reality, choosing instead to step over and around it. Pretending all is well when the ground is shaking beneath our feet. And has been for unnumbered years.

The Good News is that we can live in Truth. Maybe not the full load all at once, but at least in small, potent doses that begin to wake us from our national Trance. The kind that blinds us to what’s happening in the present moment. Whether personal or national.

So here’s my wish for today: I want my life, including my writing, to be part of the solution, not part of perpetuating the problem.

Blessings to each of you.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 November 2019
Photo found at pinterest.com

We never know how high we are – revisited

These few words from Emily Dickinson still bring tears to my eyes. Given current events, we could use some kingly and queenly risk-taking right now. No matter how small or fear-filled our steps may be. Happy Monday!   

Dear Emily,
I have one small suggestion to make about your poem below. Please add ‘or queen’ to your last line. Just in case that’s not possible, I’m going to do it for you every time I read it. You’ll find my comments below your lovely poem.
Respectfully,
Elouise

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies –

The heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing
Did not ourselves the cubits warp
For fear to be a king –

Poem #1176, written about 1870
Found on Poets.org

Dear Friend of this World,
I’m sending you this little poem today from Emily Dickinson. Maybe you never heard of her. I think she was a bit shy and bashful. You know, like many of us who don’t want to become a public ‘thing,’ even though we do enjoy being noticed and appreciated.

I think that deep down, Emily wanted us to know about her little poem. Or at least to notice it. So please read it over, and over again. Once is good, five times is better.

Do you know how important your words and deeds are? Perhaps you’re tempted to water them down by over-thinking. Or you get stuck in fear. Especially fear of failure, or fear of going against expectations–your own or those of others. I do.

Sometimes I wonder whether Emily understood her own queenly power.

If you have any doubt about yourself, look and listen to what you already do every day. Just getting up in the morning is a big deal. Or smiling and offering to help a friend or stranger. Or doing what you know will honor your body and spirit or someone else’s.

The way I see it, God gave us our selves, each other, and this world with its unnumbered inhabitants as our earthly home. We’re the only caretakers God has on this earth. We’re a big deal, individually and together.

In fact, God loves nothing more than watching us step up to our full kingly and queenly stature. Especially despite our worst fears, and without expectation of payment, reward or even a ‘thank you.’ Sometimes it takes an emergency to jumpstart our royal blood. But we don’t want to wait for that, do we?

Thank you most kindly for visiting and reading.
Elouise 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 September 2017, reposted 11 November 2019
Image found at pinterest

With thanks to Emily

Pierless Bridge - pinterest

Something about aging. I don’t know what it is. I only know what it feels like. A journey into mists, slow and sometimes laborious. Wondering where all that energy went. And how I ever accumulated so many bits and pieces from my past.

Today it’s about clearing the bits and pieces out. Getting to something else, beyond the false fog of my fortressed life.

For decades, I relied on bits and pieces. Every carefully sorted, filed and piled item was a bit of insurance. Proof of my value, resources to be used next term, a hedge against false charges, reminders of why I was here and what I had agreed to do. Plus gems stashed away for later perusal.

Then, in April 2016, I fell and broke my jaw. Life changed. Immediately.

Out of that anguish, I wrote a post that has become one of the top ten posts visited on this site, with 589 views as of today. It’s my commentary on Emily Dickinson’s lovely poem, Faith — is the pierless bridge.

I read it several times in the last few weeks of chaos and confusion about many things.

There’s fog and then there’s smog. Fog is good. Smog is rotten–the stuff that hung in the air in the late 1940s when I lived in the Los Angeles area. I don’t mind a bit of fog, though it sometimes puts me on edge. I think of all the accumulated clutter of my life as smog. Things and attitudes about ‘things’ that throw me off balance. That keep me from living and dying to each day.

So here’s the last paragraph of my comments about Emily’s poem, reformatted a bit to catch the heart of the matter for me then, now, and tomorrow. The question is how do I get from here to there? And whose faith really matters?

Before my faith and before my birth
there was something else

The Source of my life greets me
from within the Veil
to which Faith leads

Here waits the One who birthed me
Who boldly and courageously watches for me
from the other side of my human life
spinning out a fragile steel-buttressed thread of Faith—
my Creator’s Faith in me
Faith that leads me home
just as I am and yet will be

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 October 2019
Image found at pinterest.com

Within my Garden, rides a Bird

Here’s a fun riddle-like poem from Emily Dickinson, followed by my note to Emily. Today is the anniversary of my sister Diane’s birthday. She lived with ALS for ten years before dying in 2006. Diane was 61 years old. One of her greatest joys was watching hummers feast in her back yard garden. A garden created in her mind, and in reality by her family and friends. A magical place where anything could happen.

Within my Garden, rides a Bird
Upon a single Wheel –
Whose spokes a dizzy Music make
As ‘twere a travelling Mill –

He never stops, but slackens
Above the Ripest Rose –
Partakes without alighting
And praises as he goes,

Till every spice is tasted –
And then his Fairy Gig
Reels in remoter atmospheres –
And I rejoin my Dog,

And He and I, perplex us
If positive, ‘twere we –
Or bore the Garden in the Brain
This Curiosity –

But He, the best Logician,
Refers my clumsy eye –
To just vibrating Blossoms!
An Exquisite Reply!

c. 1862

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

Dearest Emily,

What a fun riddle! Of course the answer is obvious, at least to your Dog. What isn’t so obvious is how your nimble mind creates miniature stage productions from fleeting, everyday realities.

I don’t remember one single occasion when a tiny hummer elicited in my mind’s eye a complete and detailed account of what was going on before my wide-open eyes—all in the space of 5 seconds max.

I see a gorgeous hummingbird. You see an entire stage production played out impromptu on the canvases of your Garden and your fertile imagination.

Actually, spectacular is too weak for whatever is happening in your imagination. And then there’s your super-observant Dog who figures it all out!

I fear we’re losing our capacity to see things with lively imagination. Not just in the natural world, but on the streets of our towns and cities. And in each other.

What might happen if we could be inquisitive young children again? Or get caught up in the wonder of other human beings, or the keen observational skills of our pets?

Just a note to let you know how much I enjoyed your poem. Happy Wednesday to you from me, your erratic pen pal and sometime follower.

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 April 2019
Hummingbird and Roses artwork found at pinterest.com

It’s all I have to bring today —

Here’s a poem from Emily Dickinson in celebration of our hearts, the fields, the meadows and the bees. Appropriate for Valentine’s Day and every other day of the year.

It’s all I have to bring today —
This, and my heart beside —
This, and my heart, and all the fields —
And all the meadows wide —
Be sure you count, should I forget —
Some one the sum could tell —
This, and my heart, and all the Bees
Which in the Clover dwell.

Emily Dickinson, in Poetry for Young People: Emily Dickinson
© 1994 by Magnolia Editions Limited, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

The sum of love is beyond comprehension, beyond the capacity of a heart to understand. Wider and deeper than meadows or the sky. Elusive as bees hiding in clover and pollen drifting through the air.

Is there a way to capture it? I think Emily’s answer is No. Perhaps because we don’t own it, and thus can’t hoard it? The only option left, it seems, is to give it away. One heart at a time, expanding out beyond itself. As large and as small as nature’s unnumbered wonders ‘hiding’ right outside our doors.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 February 2019
Photo found at sureastheworld.com

through fading light

She drifts through fading light
Heavy with good old days
And nights of celestial fare
When aging memories signified
Faded minds and shrinking lives
Cemented in the here and now
Reliving ghosts of yesterdays
Remnants of fruit gone sweetly sour
With age and bitter longing

Written on the airplane after reading yet again Emily Dickinson’s poem “These are the days….”

My poem is a comment on aging and the conceit of the young. I’m thinking of the way my own young eyeballs used to roll in their sockets when the “old” folks got going. Relentlessly they recalled and relived their happiest, most longed-for yesterdays. How silly! Don’t they know the past is gone? And then there are all those not-so-longed-for yesterdays.

To my mind these aging relics were out of touch. Couldn’t they see the relentless coming and going of life’s seasons? Yet even then I was already collecting and hoarding my own memories. Preparing for days when I, like all those old folks, revisit the glories and not-so-glorious memories of yesterday that hover just beyond my grasp.

We can’t relive the past, We can, however, go back the way a short Indian summer takes us back to a bit of warmth and beauty before cold winter sets in. We can take that brief, spectacular look into the rear-view mirror of our lives and connect with ourselves yet again. This time with eyes more forgiving and content than we ever dreamed possible.

This week we’re on the West Coast, visiting our daughter and her husband. Being with them reminds me again that life is short and precious. I pray for you and for all of us the courage to stop and look back from time to time.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 December 2018

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