About Emily and Me

As of today, 30 July 2018, I’ve made interpretive comments on 44 of Emily Dickinson’s poems. My first, If your Nerve, deny you —, was posted on 5 February 2016. It’s high time Emily had a Category of her own. Scroll down to the bottom of every post and you’ll now find an Emily Dickinson category. Click on her name, and you’ll wake up in Emily country!

My relationship with Emily’s poetry happened almost by chance. D and I were visiting his sister and her husband. We stayed overnight. In the guest room was a small bookshelf filled with tempting titles. On the top shelf, lying there by itself, small and unobtrusive, was a Shambhala Pocket Classic titled “Emily Dickinson Poems.”

I picked it up, began reading, and couldn’t put it down. David’s sister kindly told me to take it home and keep it! I was, and still am thrilled.

Emily isn’t an easy read. Dipping into a poem here and there convinced me that, like the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, I would get to know Emily the hard way. That means reading silently and out loud, pondering and paying close attention to every word, every pause, every abrupt combination of words or structure.

No, I’m not an Emily scholar. But I am a better scholar of my life than I was before I began reading her enigmatic, sometimes off-putting poetry. It isn’t all pretty. Truth, when it follows life, isn’t all pretty.

And so Emily has become an interpreter of me. Not in place of, but not unlike the way Hebrew and Christian Scriptures interpret me. She helps me make my way from here to there without giving up hope or losing my strong voice.

I taste a liquor never brewed –
From Tankards scooped in Pearl –
Not all the Vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of Air – am I –
And Debauchee of Dew –
Reeling – thro endless summer days –
From inns of Molten Blue –

When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove’s door –
When Butterflies – renounce their “drams” —
I shall but drink the more!

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats –
And Saints – to windows run –
To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the – Sun –

c. 1860

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

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 July 2018