On March 24, six of us explored the poetry of Emily Dickinson in Luce’s The Belle of Amherst. The play begins with the audience intruding into Emily’s room. Though reticent and shy, Emily finds the composure to introduce herself with a recipe for a black cake. Would any of us introduce ourselves with a favorite recipe? The play is like Edward R. Murrow’s Person to Person program where he drops into the life of a celebrity with a TV camera, but there is no reporter asking questions or at this point in her life she is not a famous poet like Walt Whitman. Her brother Austin tells her to stop posing as a quiet and painfully shy person, and for the rest of the play she is talkative to the point of being overly chatty. It is her prose that reveals her character. Her poetry adds favor to a plain life with its mundane joys and pains. It is through her poetry that we are able to gaze into a keen and complex mind.
Some of us wondered if her poetry was just about everyday things in her household and backyard or that it reveals an extraordinary transcendence above the ordinariness of life. She shows a childlike delight in words, that each word, like circumference, has a glow about them, an aura of meaning. She believes in God but not in religion. She laments “Why is religion made so grim? So dull! Why should we be made to feel so guilty?”
Even as a shy person, she sought fame as a poet. Her ambitions are crushed by a literary editor who denies publishing her poems. She shares with us her pain with these lines: “A great Hope fell/You heard no noise/ The Ruin was within…” As Emily explains to her preceptor “Uncontrolled? But, Mr. Higginson, when I try to organize, my little force explodes.” She later laments, “Perhaps no one will read my poems. They seem to me an undelivered letter lost in transit. Destiny is strange.” But she continues to write immortal poetry, driven by a creative force within, perhaps unencumbered by fame.
Emily shares with us the sharp pain of loss. It is this loss that illuminates her poetry. As she loses her parents and other loved ones, and as her death draws near, Dickinson writes:
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –...
Our group turns inward on April 21, 2018, as we wax poetically. The assignment is for each of us to pick a poem from The Norton Anthology of Poetry, Call # PR1174.N6 1996 or from another source. Instead of a recipe, you will introduce yourself by reading aloud a poem and lead a discussion on your choice. Remember we only have a couple of hours, and if your favorite poem is a ballad we will be unable to let everyone introduce themselves. I encourage you to join our ongoing conversation that is livelier than an online exchange. This book can be reserved online at the Chicago Public Library. Please only reserve this book if you are attending our March 24th meeting. The librarians of the Chicago Public Library will help you to reserve this book.
NOTE: on April 21, 2018, we will be meeting in the First Floor Meeting Room of the Rogers Park Library.
I hope to see you on April 21,