Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Interpretation of Poetry

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

Sunrise | Mary Oliver

You can
die for it—
an idea,
or the world. People

have done so,
brilliantly,
letting
their small bodies be bound

to the stake,
creating
an unforgettable
fury of light. But

this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought

of China,
and India,
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun

blazes
for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises

under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter
fire.

c. 1992, Mary Oliver
New and Selected Poems, Volume One, pp. 125-126
Published by Beacon Press

Dear Mary,

The deep breath at the end of your poem got me. No, make that the repeated deep breaths you would take for all of us. Not just for yourself.

There’s a dearth of deep breaths these days. Instead we seem to prefer eruptions of hot anger, fury, disbelief and righteous indignation. They’re often carried out via Twitter.

Sadly, there’s plenty to die for these days. Things haven’t advanced that much since you left us. Still, I’m intrigued by your additional way to enter the fray. Instead of offering ourselves up as martyrs, or turning others into martyrs, we might try taking a deep breath and entering the fire by way of ‘fiery’ happiness.

There’s still something to be said for fury. Especially when we’re being deceived by many of our leaders. I fear we have a long way to go, especially here in the USA, before we’re skilled in happiness that knows how to enter the fire.

If you read this anytime soon, we would be honored to have you take some deep breaths for all of us on this planet. I think we need a jump-start on happiness that creates “an unforgettable fury of light.” The other plan, social media burnings at the stake, isn’t working for us, despite the raging fury.

With gratitude and hope,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 March 2020
Photo found at pexels.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

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper | Poet and Abolitionist

Thanks to Poem-a-Day for introducing me to Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s poetry. And thanks to Black History Month for bringing it to mind. My comments follow.

Aunt Chloe’s Politics

Of course, I don’t know very much
About these politics,
But I think that some who run ’em
Do mighty ugly tricks.

I’ve seen ’em honey-fugle round,
And talk so awful sweet,
That you’d think them full of kindness,
As an egg is full of meat.

Now I don’t believe in looking
Honest people in the face,
And saying when you’re doing wrong,
That “I haven’t sold my race.”

When we want to school our children,
If the money isn’t there,
Whether black or white have took it,
The loss we all must share.

And this buying up each other
Is something worse than mean,
Though I thinks a heap of voting,
I go for voting clean.

First published by Ferguson Brothers in Sketches of Southern Life (1891), now in the public domain
Published online by Poem-a-Day on 23 June 2019, by the Academy of American Poets

“Honey fugle” means to deceive by flattery or sweet talk, to swindle or cheat. Click here to see the full definition.

I love Aunt Chloe’s straightforward language. Rigged voting machines and gerry-mandering didn’t begin yesterday. Nor did pie-in-the sky promises and ‘street money’ handed out to influence our votes. As Aunt Chloe points out, it doesn’t matter what color your skin is if the money isn’t there to fund those lovely promises. Everyone loses, no matter the color of our skin.

Aunt Chloe nailed it decades ago. Her words are presented in a no-nonsense voice that invites us to believe her and do something about it. Maybe it’s as simple as getting off our political bandwagons and taking a look at ourselves.

So….The next time you hear politicians making promises too good to be true, think of a flugel horn (profuse apologies to lovers of flugel horns). It may sound sweet and mellow. Nonetheless, sweet music and stars in our eyes won’t buy groceries, pay for medical bills, or turn manipulation into truth. Instead, the cost will continue falling on all of us.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 February 2020
Image found at Wikipedia.org

A Visitor | Mary Oliver

This haunting poem by Mary Oliver comes from a 1986 collection called Dream Work. My comments follow.

A Visitor

My father, for example,
who was young once
and blue-eyed,
returns
on the darkest of nights
to the porch and knocks
wildly at the door,
and if I answer
I must be prepared
for his waxy face,
for his lower lip
swollen with bitterness.
And so, for a long time,
I did not answer,
but slept fitfully
between his hours of rapping.
But finally there came the night
when I rose out of my sheets
and stumbled down the hall.
The door fell open

and I knew I was saved
and could bear him,
pathetic and hollow,
with even the least of his dreams
frozen inside him,
and the meanness gone.
And I greeted him and asked him
into the house,
and lit the lamp,
and looked into his blank eyes
in which at last
I saw what a child must love,
I saw what love might have done
had we loved in time.

c. 1992, Mary Oliver
New and Selected Poems, Volume One, pp. 116-117
Published by Beacon Press

Mary Oliver left home early in life to get away from an abusive situation. Now, years later, wild knocking in the dark of night reminds her of what she ran away from. If she opens the door, she must confront the man she remembers having a “waxy face” and “a lower lip swollen with bitterness.”

She ignores the pounding on the door. The knocking persists at all hours of the night. And so she “stumbles down the hall,” and the door “falls open.”

In an instant, Mary Oliver knows she has nothing to fear. In fact, it seems she’s surprised to discover her father is “pathetic and hollow.” Even his smallest dreams have frozen, and his meanness has vanished.

She greets him, invites him to come into her house, lights a lamp, looks into his “blank eyes” and sees what was needed when she was a child, plus what might have been “had we loved in time.”

The poem isn’t about Mary Oliver’s father; it’s about Mary. In the end, It affirms her decision to leave home, and acknowledges the high cost she and her father paid. With grief, and without apology.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 February 2020
Book cover image found at amazon.com

Everlasting | Mary Oliver

In this poem, Mary Oliver tells us clearly what she wants to accomplish when she writes poems. It’s a high order. Some might say impossible. My brief comments follow.

I want to make poems that say right out, plainly
what I mean, that don’t go looking for the
laces of elaboration, puffed sleeves. I want to
keep close and use often words like
heavy, heart, joy, soon, and to cherish
the question mark and her bold sister

the dash. I want to write with quiet hands. I
want to write while crossing the fields that are
fresh with daisies and everlasting and the
ordinary grass. I want to make poems while thinking of
the bread of heaven and the
cup of astonishment; let them be

songs in which nothing is neglected,
not a hope, not a promise. I want to make poems
that look into the earth and the heavens
and see the unseeable. I want them to honor
both the heart of faith, and the light of the world;
the gladness that says, without any words, everything.

© 2005 by Mary Oliver in New and Selected Poems Volume Two, p. 4
Published by Beacon Press

The lovely photo at the top is deceptive. It omits the everything of those fields Mary Oliver is crossing. In particular, it should include “daisies and everlasting and the ordinary grass.” What is this thing called everlasting? Think invasive pest, cudweed, or more properly, American everlasting. In case you haven’t met up with it yet, here’s the other photo I might have put at the top.

When I read this poem about writing poetry, I hear Mary’s emphasis falling on beauty. Everyday beauty that wants to be seen just as it is, not dressed up. Unfortunately, this includes beauty that doesn’t always strike us as beautiful. We prefer words like ‘invasive’ and devote time to keeping them out of our fields and gardens.

Just as creation includes everything, so Mary Oliver wants her poetry to honor everything, no matter how beautiful or invasive or downright ugly we think it is. Hope and promise, hearts of faith and the light of the world point to the unseeable, never to be underestimated or second-guessed due to our timebound, limited sight.

I wonder whether Mary Oliver knows her poem begs to be preached. She sets a high bar for herself and for us–whether we write poetry or not.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 January 2020
Top photo found at pinterest.com; invasive American everlasting photo found at http://www.invasive.org

No Coward Soul Is Mine | Emily Brontë

This poem from Emily Brontë resonates more each time I read it. Here we have a woman of great intellect who daily faced the male-dominance of her generation. Not that things have changed that much. In fact, because dominance can be rather polite these days, it can also be more difficult to maintain a clear female voice.

Dominance doesn’t mean domination. Rather, it’s an invitation to step up to and into full humanity, in full voice, with full right to my own open and informed outlook on things theological.

Saying this is easier than living it. In addition, I don’t know all the ins and outs of Emily’s life. I do, however, know this poem grows more powerful for me every time I read it.

One note on Emily’s use, in the third stanza, of a male pronoun. I suggest this was intentional, given the overall theme of the poem, and her life as the daughter of a clergyman.

No Coward Soul Is Mine

No coward soul is mine
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere
I see Heaven’s glories shine
And Faith shines equal arming me from Fear

God within my breast
Almighty ever-present Deity
Life, that in me has rest
As I Undying Life, have power in thee

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men’s hearts, unutterably vain,
Worthless as withered weeds
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by thy infinity
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of Immortality

With wide-embracing love
Thy spirit animates eternal years
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates and rears

Though Earth and moon were gone
And suns and universes ceased to be
And thou were left alone
Every Existence would exist in thee

There is not room for Death
Nor atom that his might could render void
Since thou are Being and Breath
And what thou art may never be destroyed

From selected poems of Emily Brontë, pp. 40-41
Published in Everyman’s Library by Alfred A. Knopf, 1996
© 1996 by David Campbell Publishers Ltd., sixth printing

Praying for each of you a spirit-animated Sabbath rest, and vision as immense as Emily’s “Almighty, ever present Deity.”

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 January 2020
Image found at wikipedia.org; from a portrait of all three sisters, painted by their brother Bramwell

Tell me tell me | Emily Brontë

Here’s a Monday poem from our other Emily. My comments follow.

Tell me tell me

Tell me tell me smiling child
What the past is like to thee?
An Autumn evening soft and mild
With a wind that sighs mournfully

Tell me what is the present hour?
A green and flowery spray
Where a young bird sits gathering its power
To mount and fly away

And what is the future happy one?
A sea beneath a cloudless sun
A mighty glorious dazzling sea
Stretching into infinity

From selected poems of Emily Brontë, p. 28
Published in Everyman’s Library by Alfred A. Knopf, 1996
© 1996 by David Campbell Publishers Ltd., sixth printing

In this little poem, Emily Brontë asks and answers three questions, each from her childhood point of view. Emily was the 5th of 6 children. She was 3 years old when her mother died of cancer. I don’t know what age she had in mind when she wrote the poem.

The first stanza is about her past. I’m surprised she’s smiling. Yes, the answer points to a lovely ending to a beautiful Autumn day. At the same time, she hears the sound of mourning, already in the air. Winter is coming.

The second stanza is about the present (her childhood present). I’m not sure whether the ‘spray’ is water, or the combined effect of leaves and flowers shooting up from the ground. Perhaps she’s in a meadow or beside the sea (which appears in the final stanza). In either case, a young bird is getting ready to leave the nest and fly away. No hint of mourning in the air.

The third stanza is about the future. By now (in the poem), the child is happy. No hints of mourning, regrets, or the agonies of adult life. And yet this seems the most painful stanza of all despite its happy ending. Perhaps it’s a small window into the hoped-for trajectory of Emily Brontë’s life, and a cautionary note?

I identify with this childhood dream. Once I flew the nest, I believed all would be well. Even the ‘small’ bumps in the road would, in the end, seem like nothing. Little did I know….

And yet this poem isn’t morose. It invites me to remember and hold close my childhood dreams. Not all will come true. Yet there’s that “mighty glorious dazzling sea stretching into infinity.” Who knows what yet will be? In life or in death.

Cheers!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 January 2020
Photo found at wickipedia.org

Landscape | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver’s daily walk around the pond offers a small sermon of sorts. My comments follow.

Isn’t it plain the sheets of moss, except that
they have no tongues, could lecture
all day if they wanted about

spiritual patience? Isn’t it clear
the black oaks along the path are standing
as though they were the most fragile of flowers?

Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead.

Every morning, so far, I’m alive. And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky—as though

all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.

c. 1992, Mary Oliver
New and Selected Poems, Volume One, p. 129
Published by Beacon Press

Imagine you’re part of a sheet of moss covering the ground. Often small and unassuming except to students of mosses. Some might say you’re hardly worth noticing, even though the pond and the woods wouldn’t be what they are without your patient presence. Doing what you do best.

Or maybe you’re one of those towering black oaks offering food and shelter, in life and in death, to birds and small animals. Part of an ecosystem as fragile and beautiful as spring flowers.

Does nature have a heart? Mary suggests the crows have been thinking all night about the kind of lives they would like to live. Perhaps imagining “their strong, thick wings” and then bursting into flight at daybreak. Doing with gusto what they’ve already imagined they might do.

Life isn’t simply about the way we imagine ourselves. It’s also about keeping the doors of our hearts open, and going for it every day of our lives. Welcoming each day no matter what it brings. Doing what we do best, with spiritual patience, fragile humility, and hearty gusto.

Looking to the New Year, I want the doors of my heart to be open—no matter what each day brings. I know it’s a tall order. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be worth much, would it?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 December 2019
Photo found at etsy.com

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