June 23, 2021

Emily Dickinson, death won but not oblivion



“I will never find a companion so sociable as loneliness,” says Thoureau in Walden, the remarkable and inspiring essay the American writer and poet published in 1854 on his social liberation, asceticism and solitary life on the occasion of his momentary disappearance from the life of Concord, Massachusetts. “We are in most cases more alone when we travel among men than when we stay in our room,” he continues, “thought is the sculptor that can illuminate the person you want to be.” Perhaps this was also the cause that led Emily Dickinson to her personal confinement, internment of the soul, and separation from society. However, it is not loneliness that we want to talk about; not from that “orderly place for suffering” that Emily Dickinson defines in “I could be more alone without my loneliness”, but from her way of speculating on deep considerations, being: her initiation, her path towards the annihilation of the individual as part of humanity, its primary causes.

Educated from a very young age in Protestantism, Yankee humor, lyricism and the readings that, by itself, she chose as a source of entertainment, Emily Dickinson’s poetry has given rise to many interpretations, doubts about the analytical reasoning of some of her poems and a certain sense of loss when clarifying situations and points of view that help to interpret the intensity of his work. A spike, the tender stem of a plant, the bud of a flower, the branch of a tree, a larva, an insect, a stone, a drop of water …, possess, in our prolific poet, an extraordinarily powerful force at the same time. time to represent the greatness of the world. Other issues of thematic depth such as death, identity, the use of love, the immortality of the soul and the behavior of natural things examined not through science but from their own gaze are part of what we call the spell of his work, a series of inimitable poems in which the narrative “I”, not necessarily that of Dickinson herself, displays a degree of elevation or degradation of the voice according to the property and attributes of his poems. “I felt a funeral in my brain,” he writes in one of his best compositions where the narrator descends, before the reader’s gaze, into the depths of madness. «The assistants came and went», he continues, «crawling – crawling – until it seemed / that the sense was broken definitively / and when all were seated, / a liturgy, like a drum, / began to tremble – to beat – until I thought my mind was mute, / and then I heard them lift the drawer and it creaked through my soul / with the same lead shoes, again, / space began to replicate, / as if all the heavens were bells / and exist , just an ear, / and me, and silence, some strange race, / shipwrecked, lonely, here / -and then a void in reason, broke, / fell, and fell- / and I found a world, in every dive, / and I ended up knowing – then- ».

Short sentences, brief and doctrinal sentences that break into the verses as lessons learned, declarations of principle and definitive appearances about the end of life, the understanding of death and death as something inextricably linked to existence, time, God, music, science and love, make us travel to the English literature of the Baroque, in search of emotion, aesthetic pleasure, the conviction of having to die and, of course, the fleeting nature of human events. . The ingenious association between words and ideas that, as we have appreciated in “A funeral in my brain”, has been pointed out as one of the fundamental characteristics in the work of Emily Dickinson, contributes to the fact that the reading of the poems can be carried out through the senses. Perception, the way in which Emily Dickinson interprets emotions in order to create an impression that is as close as possible to physical reality, reinforces the meaning of her words in relation to the objects represented. “Perceiving an object costs / the exact loss of the object,” he writes, “perceiving it in itself is a gain / that responds to its price. / An absolute object -does not exist- / perception embellishes it ». In line with the baroque aesthetic, even following the poetic sensibility of Ovid, the stoicism of Seneca, the conciseness of Tacitus and the laconicism of Marco Valerio Marcial in Latin literature, the poetry of our author is based on a high rhetorical discipline in the that his thought and everything that, for one reason or another, has been brought into being, is displayed both clearly and briefly.

On the subject of death or the way we start from this life, for example, we have not found verses in which any narrator expresses the desire to avoid it. On the contrary, in Emily Dickinson’s poetic work the transition from this life to the hereafter is imposed with total realism. In the midst of man’s life, moreover, a sovereign God determines the instance of his death and, therefore, of all our deaths. «I have never seen a wasteland», he begins by saying in the poem entitled «Certainty», «And the sea I never got to see», he continues, «but I have seen the eyes of the heather / and I know what the waves must be. / I have never spoken with God / nor did I visit him in Heaven, / but I am sure where I am traveling from / as if they had shown me the path ».

God is, therefore, the one who defines the nature and causes of our death whatever the circumstances. We have not noticed in his poetry any reproach for this, only acceptance, death, and redemption, liberatio a morte, as we read, among others, in the poem that says: «Of created souls / I knew how to choose mine /. When the spirit departs / and life is extinguished, / and Today and Yesterday are like fire and ash, / and the flesh ends / the petty tragedy, / and towards the Height return / all the living brow, / and tear the mist … / I will say: see the spark / and the luminous atom / that I preferred to clay ». God does not free us from dying, as that voice, frank and truthful, tries to explain in this famous composition, but he will watch over us at the hour of our death. «We only know our full height», insists in Haughtiness, «if someone says to our being: Get up! And then, faithful to himself, he grows / until his stature reaches the sky. / Of common life it would be law / heroism in the human arena / if we did not bend to fear / of seeing ourselves and feeling like a king ».

Following in the wake of the metaphysical poetry of the seventeenth-century English baroque poets, most of Dickinson’s passionate and conclusive verses are geared more toward capturing reason than emotions in order to provoke, most of the time. sometimes, a rational discussion on metaphysical questions that have to do with the union of the spirit and the body, the attraction of love, the dialogues with oneself and the immortality of the soul. In this sense, not only Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldon Emerson are among his favorite writers. Other English poets and novelists of various eras such as Samuel Johnson, John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Alfred Tennyson, John Keats, Robert Browning and his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare undoubtedly filled his life with art and literary compositions written in prose and verse. «To escape from the earth», he assures in Ensueño, «a book is the best vessel; / and one travels better in the poem / than in the most spirited and quickest steed. / The poorest can even do it, / he has nothing to pay for it: / the soul in the transport of its dream / feeds only on silence and peace ».

In his phenomenology of daily living, Being and Time -Sein und Zeit-, Martin Heidegger defines man as a “being for death” inviting him to welcome the final transit of his life with full freedom and awareness. In the interplay of relationships that we observe in Emily Dickinson’s poetry between the logical and the irrational, the indeterminate and the precise, the sublime and the denigrating, the ancient and the modern, the distant and the near …, it would not be unfortunate to add the dualism life and extinction or survival and commentatio mortis as man has to understand life as a memento mori, a time to live and another to learn to die since man’s life is mortal in itself. “Death moves like a mole,” writes the poet George Herbert in the fourth stanza of Grace, one of the poems included in The Temple published in baroque England in 1633, “and he digs my grave moment by moment.”

The position, therefore, of Emily Dickinson in the face of life is surprising for its sincerity. Her relationship with death is much more latent, it involves a whole poetic inquiry into the afterlife, knowing herself to be mortal, recognizing herself as a perishable, temporary and ephemeral being. As in the rhymes of Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, the link between the American poet and the Spanish narrator with the end of life is infiltrated in many of the verses and stanzas in which, with certain similarities to the Massachusetts writer, are establishes a romantic connection with transcendence. In the Sevillian poet of Spanish Postromanticism, the concept of death that we appreciate in rhymes is linked to a survival instinct that, at least, during old age, it is known that, sooner or later, will arrive: «Thus, although now die “, he writes in rhyme 32,” I could not say that I have not lived; / That the coat, apparently new on the outside, / I know that inside it has aged ».

Death and life or, perhaps, the alteration or mixture of said duality with God has given rise to many treatments and approaches on this antagonistic relationship between life and death, for example, in “Canto a mi yo” by Walt Whitman seems to be above death, while in “Conversation”, a poem that comes from the dialogue between Truth and Beauty that we find in Emily Dickinson’s “I Died for Beauty”, it seems to be annulled by death. “The weakest offspring proves that there is no death,” Walt Whitman begins in song number six, “and that if it ever existed, it did it to fuel life.” «And as for you, Death», he continues in song 49, «and for you, bitter mortal embrace, / It is useless that you try to scare me. / And as for you, Life, I think that you are the inheritance of many luck / (without a doubt I have already died ten thousand times) ».

On the one hundred and thirty-fifth anniversary of Emily Dickinson’s death in Amherst, the same town where she was born fifty-five years earlier, we still remember a lifetime’s work: the 1,789 poems that her sister Lavinia managed to compile into forty-four tomes of paper sewn by herself in an improvised and handmade way. In the aforementioned volumes he included those seven poems that, published in some of the pages that were part of the most important New England newspaper during the 19th century, The Springfield Republican, and in the New York magazine, The Round Table, managed to see the light in the last leg of his life. Afflicted with a series of degenerative kidney disorders, the proximity of death did not prevent her feelings and emotions from being materialized through poetry. Contemplating all the pains of the world from the familiarity of his room, the proximity of death in those years of adversity and convalescence also treasured a way of writing the verses: «Presentiment is that long shadow / that little by little advances on the grass / when the sun abandons its empires … / Foreboding is the faint whisper that runs through the fearful grass / to tell you that night is coming ».

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