Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Hour of Lead

Browsing in a bookstore, I came across a tiny pocket-size collection of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, selected by poet Brenda Hillman. She chose the poems she “loved the best”…and “a few [she] learned to love in rereading Dickinson’s complete work.” Hillman also wrote the introduction, where she offered excellent advice for how to read Dickinson’s poems: “[R]ead them quickly and let them shock you. If a line stays, read it again until you feel it is yours, and let the strange capital letters and the dashes carry the poems to the place in your unconscious that won’t worry what they mean.”

Since I’ve always revered Dickinson -- whose work I return to year after year -- I bought the book to carry in my bag. As I read it, it continues to amaze me how modern Dickinson seems, how precise, yet mysterious and expansive. How intense. How deeply dark, yet strangely reassuring. Somehow I trust her to steer our ship through the fog, through the long night, prow slicing a sure path following her unfailing intuition.

Here’s a piece that Emily Dickinson wrote in 1862. It perfectly captures the numbness that encases us following loss or trauma:


After great pain, a formal feeling comes --
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs --
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round --
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought --
A Wooden way

Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone --

This is the Hour of Lead--
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow --
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go--

Emily Dickinson Poems is a Shambhala Pocket Classic, edited by Brenda Hillman. The photo was taken this evening on my hill. Click on image to enlarge.

2 comments:

Vesper de Vil said...

the first poet i fell madly in love with was Poe, followed shortly by Dickinson...

Christine said...

Good choices! Thanks for writing!