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Decoding Emily Dickinson

Top scholar Helen Vendler joins us for a deep look at Dickinson.

Emily Dickinson's daguerreotype circa 1846 (Amherst College Archives and Special Collections)

Emily Dickinson's daguerreotype c. 1846 (Amherst College Archives and Special Collections)

The poet Emily Dickinson published virtually nothing in her lifetime, but wrote a universe. Nearly eighteen hundred poems, neatly pinned in handmade booklets in her 19th century seclusion.

But what power. And what a mind. Terse, abrupt, surprising, unsettling, flirtatious, savage – says top scholar Helen Vendler, who’s turnied her eye on Dickinson. Not to mention metaphysical, provocative, blasphemous, tragic and funny.

Helen Vendler is with today on Emily Dickinson.

So is this year’s Pulitzer prize-winning poet, Rae Armantrout, as we look at the poetry of Emily Dickinson

-Tom Ashbrook


Helen Vendler, leading American poetry critic. She’s professor of English at Harvard University, and author of Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries.” You can read an excerpt.

Rae Armantrout, Pulitzer prize-winning poet. She’s a professor of writing and literature at the University of California, San Diego.  Listen back to our show with Rae on her Chesire poetics.

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  • Charlie McNamee

    I spent 5 years as a Cistercian(Trappist) monk during which time, I took classes from Fr. Henry Scarborough who began every class with a poem by Emily Dickinson and thus began my practice of reading one of her poems at the start of my classes for the next forty years. At every class reunion I attend, I hear from former students how much they profited through life by reading Emily, Jesus, Taoist classics and practicing silent mditation before tasks.
    Particular favorites are too numerous to mention, but football players loved “Success is counted sweetest to those who don’t succeed”; “How happy is the little stone” was greatly appreciated by those trying to get admitted to college, etc… I recently went through Thomas Johnson’s “Complete Poems of E.D.” in order to select my personal favorites and selected 132!
    I guess my absolute favorite would be,
    “A little Madness in the Spring
    Is wholesome even for the King,
    But God be with the Clown-
    Who ponders this tremendous scene-
    This whole Experiment of Green-
    As if it were his own!”
    She’s a zen master, a Christian saint, a lover of all she experiences, even the sadness and the pain. Her poems will last.

  • Susan Hall

    Randall Munroe’s recent homage to Emily Dickinson:

  • Ellen Dibble

    I was going to ask what Tom is asking now, “how she found her voice,” and how can you do that in solitude. And I don’t count her thousands of poems as “a lot.”
    I suspect she knew her mind did not synchronize well with those around her, “rebellion” is what Vendler is calling it now. So she connected to the paper, and that was enough. Most of us would not have Paper as such a magisterial Friend.

  • Ellen Dibble

    “The contamination of groupthink.”
    Does Helen Vendler have any idea of the ways that people thinking as a group can far outpace the individual, untethered?
    Group-think need not be contamination. It can let you go farther, just as in a relay race nobody has to go the whole distance. Together the thinking can go much farther.
    Dickinson shows us what a mind alone can do? Maybe. I still think there might be at least one real person whom she did not totally rebel from, whose thoughts seemed to synchronize — a double-think, if not group-think.

  • Dickinson reader

    I’d be curious to hear Ms. Vendler’s thoughts on Lyndall Gordon’s recent argument that Emily Dickinson may have had epilepsy?

    I have epilepsy myself and when I read of Ms. Gordon’s new book, I felt as if “the top of my head had blown off.” The idea made perfect sense to me, both in terms of how ED led her life and in terms of so much of her imagery, her obsession with dying and death, the soul vs the brain. To have a seizure is to experience in a slant way what it will be like to die.

    Yet, of course whatever illness ED may have had, it would have been only one aspect of her life, and she should not be reduced to that … but for me, many of her poems have taken on new meaning, capturing an experience I have had myself (though expressing it in much more elevated and perfect language).

  • Ellen Dibble

    Sinews that grow stronger with age, Vendler is saying.
    I am wondering how old Emily Dickinson was when her Bright’s disease began to affect her. I believe that is a kidney disease, and I am guessing it is quick in course. I’m curious. She died before she grew old.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Anyone struggling to understand religion with a lens that survives modern scrutiny would do well to read Emily Dickinson. The church in 19th century Amherst might not have understood itself in her terms, but she used every bit of Christianity. Her words are very helpful in learning how to view religion straight on. They were to me when I was a religion major in college, not that I was aware of it.

  • http://www.toonstoonstoons.net Michael Shapiro

    Emily is beyond description, beyond praise. And often two and a half inches away from doggerel. How does she do it? I’ll never know.

    Come visit my drawings of her poems:
    And Colleen’s drawing:

  • http://onpoint.org Ellen Davies

    When my 12 year old grandson asked me to suggest a poem for his next day’s class (in the most bored, disinterested voice imaginable) I came up with “The Snake”. What he made of it I don’t know. But when two years have elapsed and he has an English project, I think it might be apt to recommend he compare and contrast Emily Dickinson’s with Theodore Roethke’s “Snake”.

    Will he be free enough of the computer to get his teeth into this one? We’ll see…

  • David Garnes

    I was delighted to be able to comment “on air” this morning during Tom Ashbrook’s discussiom with Helen Vendler. I offered a thought on Dickinson’s lifelong concern with religion, particularly her thoughts about the traditional, Congregational-dominated Christianity of 19th century Western Massachusetts. Two poems in particular that I was thinking about are “This World is not Conclusion” and “I know that He exists.”, both of which begin in one direction and end up in quite another place.
    Thanks for an engrossing program!

  • http://susangaylord.com Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord

    I’ve been working on a series called The Wondrous Nearer Drew: Celebrating Emily Dickinson which combines kaleidoscopic flower imagery with hand-lettered lines from the poet. Rather than focus on the meaning of the poems, I choose lines that speak to me on their own as words to savor and hold. For me, she captures the mystery of the physical world with words that are both crystalline and ambiguous.

    The work can be viewed at

  • Bill Johnson

    Thank you, Tom Ashbrook, for the excitement you create around the subject of poetry, and bringing to us this guest with fresh commentary on a poet who has become as dear to me as any living friend. A commentator above declared Emily a saint, and I heartily agree! A saint so immersed in the sacred energies of Nature she puts Francis of Assisi to shame! Her verse still breathes (more so, I believe, than the scriptures revered by any religious group today) and helps us to see the world and ourselves afresh.
    Keep the poetry coming.

  • Joshua Hendrickson

    I love Dickinson, and I definitely count her, along with Walt Whitman, one of the two greatest American poets of the 19th Century. Of the two I prefer Dickinson. I have never thought of her as anything like conventionally religious; much of her poetry digs at the worst aspects of Christianity while celebrating the best. This show reminds me that I need a new edition of her works for my library.

    By the way, I recall a gag from the 80s sitcom Head of the Class which claimed that much of Dickinson’s poetry can be sung to the tune of “the Yellow Rose of Texas”. Try it…it works!

  • Bush’s fault

    That’s nuthin’, dude….try singing Whitman to the tune of Davy Crockett…totally awesome!

  • Joshua Hendrickson

    heh heh heh

  • Leo Macneil

    I have long believed that Emily is a peer of Shakespeare. Perhaps not as wide, but certainly as deep (Read Sewell’s concluding chapter in his still definitive bio.)Her metaphors are as magnificent as Shakespeare’s and yet she lacked the social context. How to explain this phenomenon?

    Lovely comment of a caller on the cave paintings. She is deep, deep. To the issue of health, I believe she was autistic rather than epileptic. But no matter, we are all blessed to have her work among us.

  • Richard

    Can someone help me? I’m new to Dickinson. Vendler read a poem about the loosing of a relationship that ended in a reference to idolatry. Can someone direct me to this work?

  • Ellen Dibble

    I googled Emily Dickinson idolatry and found in unpublished letters as follows:

    Letter 0581 (COMPLETE except signature, “Emily”), to Susan Huntington Dickinson, 1878. ‘I must wait a few days before seeing you. You are too momentous; but remember it is idolatry, not indifference.’

    At the top of the site is this quote, and I’m wondering if her concept of idolatry at the root of love, or her experience of love as too close to worship, might be insinuated here: (Gotta go now)
    ‘Emily knows a man who drives a coach like a thimble and turns the wheel all day with his heel. His name is Bumble-bee.’

  • http://capebreton1234@yahoo.com Leo Macneil

    Has anyone considered or pursued ED’s observations that she may have believed she lived in another world? I speak of the easily figurative and simplistic “I Dwell in Possibility” but also of the the much more significant “I Felt a Funeral in my Brain”, a truly remarkable lyric about a figurative loss of life (not literal death at all) in reality and the rebirth in art and imagination “and finished, knowing then.”

    As King Lear observed, “That Way Madness Lies.” but in a far different interpretation for Emily. Her “madness” (and ours) and our enlightenment is found in “Tell all the Truth, but Tell it Slant” or in “Such Madness is Divinest Sense”

    Delusion (on my part or hers)? Who knows? Regardless, Emily continually transcends our reality and challenges our beliefs regardless of what “reality” means and deeply enriches our lives in the process.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Leo Macneil, I’ve been thinking about the question of whether Emily Dickinson might have been “autistic” (on that spectrum), which you brought up, and I have read in the past.
    I am a New England woman, descended from the Puritan type cast of character that it seems Emily Dickinson and her community also “enjoyed.” I have toyed with the idea that we are trained to be autistic. If we actually have to interact with somebody, as opposed to proceeding pro forma, you’ve lost. You might as well go directly to jail. To some extent you have to be able to pay your way in order to be autistic like that. You have to “play by the rules” so scrupulously that no one ever questions you. One has to “rise above” the fray.
    It seems the ultimate in selfishness, or the cultural institutionalization of insularity and such. Humans, you know, are evil and sinful, and you try to live your life in perpetual dialogue and relationship with God. So your eye is trained to the forms, keeping away from registering (let alone responding to) the normal flow of human interaction. I heard on NPR yesterday that young brains that are autistic show less specialization in the networks. Rather than zeroing in on certain connections (the normo way, I guess zeroing in on faces and interaction), all the connections that usually wither away remain equally active.
    So I have been reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, right now my second book in the series (children’s lit). It makes blazingly clear what a normo kid might experience. To me, it’s like reading about life on another planet. I’ve had to learn it’s okay to “stare at” people and register their faces, and okay to count on the human flow, that gossip helps keep the gears of human interactivity in motion, for instance, and that at base, what goes on among people isn’t evil. They are “talking”; they are caring. But one can (Dickinson could) certainly be brought up to train one’s vision elsewhere. Ask my classmates, my co-workers. The idea was to stay on track to such an extent you would never be noticed. Of course, if you don’t get married, you are off track. But if you never “connect” with anybody, how are you going to pair up?

  • Leo Macneil

    Ellen Dibble:

    Ellen, I cannot comment professionally on your remarks as I do not know what Autism really is. Who does except perhaps those who experience it? What little I do understand is that Asberger’s Autism shows high intelligence, exceptional imagination, some social functionality and reclusiveness perhaps for the very reasons you express. Emily exhibited all of them.

    Yet Emily remains unique and personal. “Emily’s” behavior and her writings (both poems and letters) clearly evidence that. There is a wonderful essay by the poet Archibald MacLeish that observes, “What other poet do we describe by her first name? We don’t call Shakespeare as Will or Whitman as Walt.

    My belief of her living in another dimension (an Autistic behavior?), something I find frequently in both her poems and letters, the ones that I mentioned and others, I think fascinating, and it appears confirmed by your reaction and comments. I don’t understand this in the least but then “understand” is a rational rather than intuitive term beyond my comprehension (another rational term), so I am willing to accept, appreciate and explore. Thanks for your comments.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I am hoping to egg on OnPoint to address autism in some way, trying to find out who’s interested, and why, and from what perspectives. Like you, I’m not a professional, but I think Emily’s take on life is an important window on exactly that. The fact that there is a brain scan that can determine, in small children, if their brain is differentiating normo or autism-spectrum is awesome to me. We know something about the plasticity of the brain, and what genetics/in utero environment may do in causing clinical autism spectrum, another brain may do to itself in adapting to a family or to a culture. And a brain can “undo” that, or, in my current view, a brain can do what Emily’s did and create its own distinct blend. If 1 in 110 children are autism spectrum, this plasticity is pretty important. It seems to me that a lot of what we know as religion has some of its roots in the “differently abled” perspective of humans over time whose link to others was mediated slightly differently. I guess we all know there is some overlap between “love” and “worship” and Emily’s acute angle on both is a gift. In ways, religion brings focus to the autistic spectrum way of being (indirect, ordered, fully human but not ordinary?), and thus shares between the two modes.
    To me, if there is any validity to my perspective, one can shift modes as easily as hopping on a bicycle. Culturally, one can learn from close family not to interact (and wire the brain thusly), and that may be by tradition (from misfits like the Puritans e.g.) or by an ancestor or so who set the standard. And it may be from personal chemistry. I have had multiple chemical sensitivities, intensifying with exposures, but certainly since 1982, which transport you like the flu into perpetual abstraction. Refocusing into normative interaction can seem (at first) like an “act,” and Emily, safe in her home, did not have to recreate herself like that, thank goodness. But I am pretty sure she could have. As I read about people with Asperger’s, I think some are clinically more hard-wired to it, with less plasticity. We’ll see.

  • Marsha

    I myself love imagining Emily sitting in her room, walking the roads of Amherst, lonely, observing, jotting down her thoughts.

    But I find her poems hideously corny on the one hand, and absurdly obscure on the other. The emperor’s new clothes? Why try to figure them out? Whence the huge Emily Dickinson following?

  • Ellen Dibble

    The fact is they are so concise they are almost like photographs, and ditty-like enough to get encapsulated in the brain. It seems to me a few of them will take root and burst into meaning for this person or that. Perhaps haikus do that for others, except there is not a personality and a life behind them, to frame them.
    Perhaps there are some who can read them epic style, but most would pick a few, a little surreptitiously, like examples of an endangered species, feeling more need to leave the rest in the wild than a need to pluck them.
    I recall reading “through” many Dickinson poems one night around 1975 with a young English professor, and for some reason we kept seeing lesbian-type twists. This was during a decade and in a city where lesbians were practically the dominant culture, certainly bursting forth, so everything was seen through that lens for a while, and the two of us were in stitches for hours. Since then, it seems to me every ilk of person has found Dickinson’s poetry fits their particular lens. The secret mistress. The epileptic. Now, autistic spectrum.
    I don’t think she has a “large following,” by the way. Do you think the writers of haikus have similar approaches? Obscure and concise, taking off the top of your head in a line or so, that makes it poetry?

  • Richard

    Found it:

    Now I Knew I Lost Her

    -Emily Dickinson

    Now I knew I lost her –
    Not that she was gone –
    But Remoteness travelled
    On her Face and Tongue.

    Alien, though adjoining
    As a Foreign Race –
    Traversed she though pausing
    Latitudeless Place.

    Elements Unaltered –
    Universe the same
    But Love’s transmigration –
    Somehow this had come –

    Henceforth to remember
    Nature took the Day
    I had paid so much for –
    His is Penury
    Not who toils for Freedom
    Or for Family
    But the Restitution
    Of Idolatry.

  • Leo Macneil

    Marsha: Art cuts to the edge. Shakespeare can be pretty “corny” at times as can any wonderful artist. “Even great Homer nods” as the ancients observed. To me the aesthetic, in the highest sense of the term, is finding great beauty in simplicity. That is what poetry and art is all about. ED does it brilliantly,extraordinarily well. Thoreau was not primarily a naturalist, Frost was not primarily a singing farmer. They were exceptional writers as was Emily. Go back and give her another try.

    Ellen. I am a Higginson to you on Autism as you can readily and politely note that I don’t know how to spell Asperger’s. I can’t begin to try to respond to your scientific speculations. But unlike you I am only remotely interested in the science of Autism, rather it is the again aesthetic/emotional/spiritual (not at all the religious) aspects of her writing that I find enriching. I am sure we can have long conversations about God and Eternity and Emily’s interpretation of both and more. I believe she was agnostic.

    Regardless of how ED adjusted her life to give it balance, and I suspect it was driven by her obsession with creativity, art, I only care about the results to us. Beauty above all gives us,our humble lives, meaning. Her art is firmly on the record.

    By coincidence I am again reading about an equally creative woman, possessed by her own demons, who struggled to overcome them and who temporarily found solace in art. She could not overcome those demons, but what she left, before she left, is also permanent, Virginia Woolf.

    I cannot begin to imagine what my life would be without Emily and Virginia. I am blessed.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I’m not persuaded she meant this, except to encode for herself a perspective. I’m seeing this as nonmarital love (“worship” “idolatry”?) being Penury. The give-away for me is “His,” which makes the author “I” a man.
    Leave it to the specialists to make of her writing what they will, but a private person will use a private kaleidoscope on this sort of thing.
    She is not writing this to be “in-your-face” about it, but “Nature took the day” seems like a wrench thrown in both the poem and the “day” in question. She is not “giving it up” here. But I seem to feel the twist that kept her just outside of a normalcy that could have ruined her sanity. Something like that.
    Thanks, Richard.
    Anyone else dare to interpret?

  • Ellen Dibble

    Leo, if simplicity is beauty — You wrote, “To me the aesthetic, in the highest sense of the term, is finding great beauty in simplicity. That is what poetry and art is all about.” — that is a rich thought. Consider a great symphony or opera, seeming to some like me complex beyond comprehension; or works of visual art that are similarly intricate and almost infinite in detail. Yet the effect is unified, possible to encapsulate in the mind. One chord out a Beethoven concerto can launch in the mind the entire opus. The Mona Lisa sits in the mind’s eye.
    But a poem, like ED’s, can be almost like a handful of runes, cast down as a bunch of shaped stones, for the interpretation of ancient Europeans in search of meaning. The fragmentary nature of runes is like the choppiness of some of her writing. Always be prepared to be up-ended. The die is (the runes are) cast, but some may roll a bit in a breeze.
    The reason I say 1800 is not a lot is that you can see how much of her ongoing relation to the world is in them. In her position, would you not want to shape each day into a little gem that shines from every facet, much as a waiting spouse is ready with an embrace before the shadows fall? We are always shaping our reality for those we care about; why not her as well?
    I think her views of Higginson and publication must have been ambivalent to say the least. She noticed there was this person, and this kind of sharing (publiation) possible, but it was hardly why she wrote. It must have mystified him to the max.
    I suppose there are biographies that cover this.

  • Sujata Sinha

    Emily Dickinson to me has become a definition on every aspect of life- in any state of mind you are you will find a verse which precisely expresses that.
    Of all the poems in our text book of class X (in 1978) the one that stayed me was “Because I could not stop for death , he kindly stopped for me…” and the author Emily Dickinson tucked deep with it- Ihad no idea then that the author was an icon of (American )poetry- after 15 years during which I lost touch from poetry and literature when I tried to recall a poem-I could recite it word by word-such was the power of her words and since then off and on I keep returning to her poetry for solace, for ecstacy, for divinity -in pain and in happiness. With so much devastation and destruction around us in todays worldits hard for people suffering personal loss to forgive time -and then I found one more verse from her to dispel bitterness towards past-
    ‘Look back on time with kindly eyes
    He doubtless did his best;
    How softly sinks his trembling sun.
    In human nature’s west!
    The discussion regarding her state of mind going on is interesting-

  • Leo Macneil

    To Sujata,thanks so much for your comments. “Because I Could not Stop for Death” while admittedly very profound, is but your entry into Emily’s vast and complex world. Your name tells me that Emily’s verse transcends nationality and gives greater emphasis to my earlier reply to Marsha about her critical comment on “the emperor’s new clothes”. You show us that “the emperor” wears not no clothes but universal clothes.

    To Marsha: Tell me/us what poetry you read and enjoy, and we can have a dialog about where we differ and perhaps agree and why.

    To Eileen: Thank you again, but you take far too much from my metaphor of Beauty and simplicity. Poetry, while deeply profound, is no different than any other art form, and you describe music eloquently. They all seek to find purpose and uncertain solace (non religious) through beauty, and while your “runes” is a lovely, lovely metaphor, music, graphic art and the many other forms of art all include their own equally meaningful paths. I deeply admire your passion for this, but I think you are being too far analytical or in your own way trying to be too artistically metaphorical notwithstanding your own beautiful lyricism. All art stands on its own feet or else it falls. Go with the flow. Somewhere that escapes me now, Emily said to another “Is there anything else [or any other way?]” She guides us to wisdom if we listen.

    To all: As to Emily’s state of mind, the conversation is interesting, but what do we naive souls know at all about pure genius other than we have been blessed to recognize and begin to appreciate it? I have spend decades immersed in Emily’s writing, both poetry and letters, and I am no more knowledgeable than when I started. I cannot begin to fathom her depths. but I know I am the richer for it.

  • Leo Macneil

    And only 30 responses about this conversation, many of them repeats such as mine? Compare it with other recent “On Point” program reactions and reflect. Still, how could anyone ever think that a reclusive unknown female poet from Amherst MA could generate such permanent interest? One hundred and seventy years later, the immortality of her verse is just beginning.

  • Bill

    What a wonderful, insightful, and thought provoking program this was. I had known a couple of her poems before the program but am very interested in her work now (and plan to pick up Vendler’s book).

    When listening to the program while driving and Ms. Vendler read Now I Knew I Lost Her, I nearly had to pull the car over. Completely fits a situation I vey recently am encountering – and elicited a vey emotional response from me. Talk about a sucker punch but consolely to know someone has so eloquently written about it – the loss of a closeness from someone you continue to see every day but cannot discuss it with that person or get a resolution on it. This poem has shot to my number one favorite write now and my brain is locked in on it thinking about it a lot.

    Richard, thank you for posting the poem so I could mull over the words in print. You note that the use of the word “His” suggests the POV is that of a man to a woman. I wonder given that it is capitalized if “His” is referring to anyone who would find themselves in the position of the writer/first person of the poem. Also, Ms. Vendler has considerable insight and authority, but in looking over that last paragrpah of the poem, I can’t help but wonder if Emily Dickinson is not saying that a person who has that idolotry for another is paying for their sins. I read “restitution of idolotry” as restoring of idolotry, i.e., woe be to anyone who attempts to restore what was there before because it isn’t going to happen. If it was menat as paying restitution for a sin wouldn’t the phrase be “restitution FOR idolotry”? Maybe the “of” and “for” mean the same thing?

    Sorry for going on but am interested in discussing with others as this poem simply floored me.

  • Bill

    Sorry for the additional post but wanted to correct my post that it was Ellen (not Richard) who was addressing the use of “His” in the poem.

  • Ellen Dibble

    One of the reasons Dickinson’s poems seem to ignite a reader’s imagination is that she is, shall I say, anti-classical in being willing to write on the fringes, about glimpses, snatches, before they are sort of sanctified like a doctoral thesis. The use of “His” and “restitution” seem to me to exemplify this. Or “Nature.” It’s like she’s bottling the yeast before the bread has had a chance to rise, IMHO. The trick is to engage the subconscious before the conscious brain knows what’s going on.
    Once some poem has an established set of meanings and associations, it is less accessible to the imagination. If we all thought this poem was about a certain biographical event in Dickinson’s life (or that the poem tacked down all four corners, with tenterhooks, so to speak), would we then lose the experience of its resonance? Her keeping her work private and personal made it echo (contrast Poe’s The Raven).
    Then, too, maybe young people would experience certain poetry in that looser fashion, suggestive rather than definitive. And older people would find more definite poetry to be actually minimizing their own experience, rather than enhancing it. No halo effect.
    Or some modern poetry strives for the halo effect by a certain chanting vocalization; one listens and says: “It sounds like your poem sure has a resonance for you, buddy.”

  • Ellen Dibble

    You can see why Dickinson kept to herself, though, since this poem, all by itself, could be seen as a knife to religion as people knew it (know it?). Sacred texts are written exactly in order to enable transmigration of idolatry, giving just enough specifics (bones of a prophet, shroud of a saint, tooth of mystic seer, tales of burning bushes and shooting stars; once there was the adored beloved/leader; then there was the locus, then the story alone) — just enough specifics to hold everyone’s intense feelings together.
    Emily Dickinson could have used another word, “worship” for “idolatry.” Why she seemed so allergic to such? Family, friends, church/culture, a certain kind of intelligence. I’d like to know.
    I note Salman Rushdie came out in favor of allowing a Muslim cultural center at the proposed location. What is the relation of those outside the halo to those inside? A global approach to poverty, climate change, etc., demands people work together, not as those within this entranced orbit or that. So I take note of the historical/literary route of those like this. I see Dickinson as devout in many ways, but seeing her own devotion (personal and religious) as dangerous.
    Some will say no, devotion is a necessity of survival. Apparently Bill right now is one.
    The whole issue, to me, is unresolved.

  • Bill

    Interesting view, Ellen. Personally, I did not see much religious overtone to it but before the radio show was unfamiliar with Emily Dickinson’s views on religion (and was not an avid reader of her poetry).

    I never really thought of devotion being necessary for survival. In fact, I didn’t consider the poem questioning devotion as good or bad. I was merely commenting on whether Emily Dickinson in the poem was taking a position on the personal relationship that sparked this poem as a sin of idolotry (as suggested by Dr. Vendler – my mistake earlier for not giving her the proper respect of title she deserves) or merely lamenting that the relationship had changed and what was there before is not coming back (i.e., no restitution). Is a close relationship the equivalent of idolotry? It can be if one ignores the imperfections of the other and puts them on a pedastol. Is closeness (as opposed to devotion) necessary for survival? Probably depends on the person. For me, I would say it is not necessary but makes life richer and sure is a blow when it was there and is gone.

  • Richard

    I too was in my car listening to the program and had to pull over when I heard, “Now I Knew I Lost Her”. To me, I heard the dissipation of a special relationship, to the norm, the average, the expected. Not man to woman or woman to woman, but human to human. Our tendency and biological need to latch onto the special, unique, or extraordinary is genetic. How many relationships with an individual, groups, an organization, or conclave have evolved into the, “Remoteness travelled, On her Face and Tongue” and “Love’s transmigration”. I wept, thinking of persons and parley reduced to average. Every day seeing the object of my previous idolatry, so desperately needing something above the typical. A daily reminder of my desire to recapture that ebullient rush I had selfishly indulged. And,attempted, no doubt too long, to maintain. Making allowances, compromises, crimes, and concessions in hope…

  • Richard

    “His” to me, meant the natural, the inevitable, the authority of nature/personality. What was inevitable. Masculine only as perceived in the 1900’s.

  • Bill

    Richard – I know it’s a month later but only recently thought to check back in. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. And agree completely that is not specific to any particular relationship but applicable to all and empathize with you on losing the special-ness. The beauty of Emily Dickenson’s writing and her unique talent at capturing this feeling into words that do not make it trite nor pull punches is astounding. I was just reading a book called The Black Swan by Nicholas Taleb and he discussed the human condition of “tunneling” (i.e., pursuing something so intensely that one ignores any data that does not fit the tunnel vision). Perhaps it is this tunneling that pushes us into these things – i.e., no future relationship will be as good as this one….and it keeps us going in vain to get something back.

Sep 2, 2014
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talks with Mark Wilson, event political speaker chairperson, with his wife Elain Chao, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, at the annual Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 4, 2012. (AP)

Nine weeks counting now to the midterm elections. We’ll look at the key races and the stakes.

Sep 2, 2014
Confederate spymaster Rose O'Neal Greenhow, pictured with her daughter "Little" Rose in Washington, D.C.'s Old Capitol Prison in 1862. (Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

True stories of daring women during the Civil War. Best-selling author Karen Abbott shares their exploits in a new book: “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy.”

Sep 1, 2014
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (95) recovers a fumble by Carolina Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson (3) in the second quarter of the NFL preseason football game on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 in Pittsburgh. (AP)

One outspoken fan’s reluctant manifesto against football, and the big push to reform the game.

Sep 1, 2014
This Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 photo shows a mural in in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago dedicated to the history of the Pullman railcar company and the significance for its place in revolutionizing the railroad industry and its contributions to the African-American labor movement. (AP)

On Labor Day, we’ll check in on the American labor force, with labor activist Van Jones, and more.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: August 29, 2014
Friday, Aug 29, 2014

On hypothetical questions, Beyoncé and the unending flow of social media.

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Drew Bledsoe Is Scoring Touchdowns (In The Vineyards)
Thursday, Aug 28, 2014

Football great — and vineyard owner — Drew Bledsoe talks wine, onions and the weird way they intersect sometimes in Walla Walla, Washington.

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Poutine Whoppers? Why Burger King Is Bailing Out For Canada
Tuesday, Aug 26, 2014

Why is Burger King buying a Canadian coffee and doughnut chain? (We’ll give you a hint: tax rates).

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