Friday, May 15, 2009

In Memory Of Emily

Emily Dickinson
December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886

'T was just this time last year I died.
I know I heard the corn,
When I was carried by the farms,--
It had the tassels on.

I thought how yellow it would look
When Richard went to mill;
And then I wanted to get out,
But something held my will.

I thought just how red apples wedged
The stubble's joints between;
And carts went stooping round the fields
To take the pumpkins in.

I wondered which would miss me least,
And when Thanksgiving came,
If father'd multiply the plates
To make an even sum.

And if my stocking hung too high,
Would it blur the Christmas glee,
That not a Santa Claus could reach
The altitude of me?

But this sort grieved myself, and so
I thought how it would be
When just this time, some perfect year,
Themselves should come to me.

…and yet she died in the season she didn’t list in the above poem. Spring. Today is the anniversary of Emily Dickinson’s death in 1886. On May 15, 1886 Emily Dickinson died at the age of 55. Her brother Austin wrote in his diary that "...the day was awful ... she ceased to breathe that terrible breathing just before the whistle sounded for six."

She could see West Cemetery from her window in that room she never left. The funeral was held in the library of her family home. The service was short. A favorite poem by Emily Bronte, “No Coward Soul of Mine,” was read, and Emily’s coffin was carried out the back door and across a field of buttercups, where she was buried, laid in a white coffin with vanilla scented Lady’s Slipper heliotrope (a popular Victorian flower) and “a knot of blue field violets placed about it.” There she lies in the family plot on Triangle Street in Amherst, Massachusetts.

In the poem above, she speculates if her father would still lay out her plate at Thanksgiving, or just how she would be missed within her small social circle, but still her place in the world. I know she has haunted me for years, and I’m not sure “haunted” is the right word, but I have definitely felt an “affinity,” which seems a more appropriate and Emily-like word. I searched her poems, and apparently she never used it. She should have. I'll use it for her:

A field of yellow
Under coffin white
Petaled in varied purple hue
Lady’s slipper in wooded shade
With shy faced violets, too
Blooms that shrink
From sun of day
Have been my affinity
Now see me on my way

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Blogger Phil said...

An uplifting week it's been.

I've been watching the Alzheimer's Project on HBO this week, so I am extra-depressed.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

My mother died of Early Onset Rapid Progression Alzheimer's, Phil. I absolutely could not go through watching one thing in that show. Why peel the scab off that wound, and what could it teach me I didn't have to learn the hard way and first hand.

10:50 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

It's extraordinarily sad, but I'm always curious as to how other people cope with the disease.

It also has some extremely touching segment titled "The Last Show" featured a former children's television star (like a "Buffalo Bob", but of the local variety) - he was sort of at the worst part of the disease - really out of it...except for the shows he used to do. And shortly before he died, the closed out his piece with him lying in his hospital bed, talking to no one in particular "Thanks for tuning in. I hope you all had fun, and I'll see you next time." A great sign off, if I ever heard one.

12:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a complex and completely modern woman. I've been meaning to read White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. She sought him out as a sounding board and friend.

I loved Jule Harris in The Belle of Amhurst -- what a great play.

Let's think about her life and work, not her death.

-- grince

2:31 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

What a beautiful poem and tribute, Cube. Wow. I salute you - brought a tear to my eye.

Thank you.

10:31 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Phil - wow. I've read about studies in which certain pieces of music, or paintings, seem to lift people out of Alzheimers at least briefly. The brain is completely mysterious.

BTW I dreamed last night that you, Hammer and I were playing poker. I think you won.

10:32 AM  

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