Saturday, March 19, 2011

Divine Intoxication

Back in the days of yore, when I was in college, I talked badly about Miss Emily Dickinson. I thought her poetry was rather trite and lacking in substance. Her desire not to be published smacked of early marketing. What did I know?  I allowed this dislike to fester until I spewed it all over an assigned paper. My beloved professor, Dr. Raymond Milowski, aka, The Bear, walked over to my desk one day just before class started and said,  "You're being awfully hard on poor Miss Dickinson."  So, I explained my stance around what I saw as her thinly disguised self-promotion. I do not recall the rest of the conversation. Class probably started and I was let off the hook.

It took many years and several attempts at altering my opinion before I finally had an epiphany of sorts and realized she might well be a genius and I should be ashamed of myself. I think it was this sentence that did it:  "The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience."  I wrote to Dr. Milowski and told him of my conversion. If you're still out there, Dr. Milowski, I again offer an apology for my belated awakening.

I feel surrounded lately by the call of poetry. It's everywhere. If I'm seeing something this often, I try to take a closer look at why. I may be going into my Poetry Period and I thought I should warn you. I woke up early this morning thinking about how I should deal with it. Another blog?  For some reason that didn't appeal to me, so with all apologies and the distinct possibility of becoming a bore, you will probably be seeing more of it from me. Don't panic. I'm not talking about my own. I'm referring to those who are identified as such, and rightly so.

There are so many fine poets out there. When I see a name I'm unfamiliar with, along with a line or two, or maybe more, that cause me to stop and really listen, it makes me glad to be here, on this planet, at this time, despite any evidence to the contrary. Poetry is alive and well.

It can call up some powerful feelings, with song lyrics containing some of the most powerful, where poets as prophets tell us what to look for, the signs we should be heeding that might save us from our own undoing. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and John Lennon immediately come to mind, but there are many others. My sons have introduced me to a few new ones, including Maynard Keenan, of Tool, who writes some of the most profound poetry I've ever read.

I think it fills a place that's essential to us, like air and water and food. It can nurture and sustain. There's a reason it fits so well with love. Sometimes, it can provide the right words, the right idea, as nothing else can. It spans generations, centuries, even millenniums, to bring us together, to find common ground. It can even be a form of prayer. And to whom are we praying, you might ask?  To No One in Particular. To Life itself, perhaps.

So, with all due penance, here is Miss Emily Dickinson:

Exultation is the going
Of an inland soul to sea,
Past the houses - past the headlands -
Into deep eternity -

Bred as we, among the mountains,
Can the sailor understand
The divine intoxication
Of the first league out from land?

~Emily Dickinson

Addendum on October 28th, 2012: I have been informed by Dr. Milowski's son that his father passed away on October 27th 2012. I will do a post in his honor after the memorial service. This is very sad news for me.


  1. As a poet myself, I will say that Ms Dickinson had a lot to say and she said it well...:-)

  2. I find it amusing what you said about Dickenson. One of her little verses was my introduction to poetry. I came from uneducated people, 7th grade being the highest schooling of the whole bunch.

    The local librarian of our small town, Mrs. Teisen, volunteered to take the lower grade kids on nature walks on Saturdays. I so respected her and was enthralled with her knowledge. One of the first walks, we sat around a campfire and she read poetry. I memorized that poem and will never forget it.
    Alone, alone, I walked through the woods
    And sat on a stone.
    I sat on a broad stone and sang to the birds.
    The tune was God's making
    But I made the words.

    Mrs. Teisen and that poem started my quest for higher learning.
    Love and peace,

  3. When you can convey a feeling using only the necessary words, no unnecessary embellishments, well, then you have good poetry. I look forward to the nuggets you will share.

  4. Teresa, I think you had it right the first time. Witness this.

    If I shouldn't be alive
    When the Robins come,
    Give the one in Red Cravat,
    A Memorial crumb.

    If I couldn't thank you,
    Being fast asleep,
    You will know I'm trying
    Why my Granite lip!

    Emily Dickinson

  5. A lovely post, and a good balance to mine today. I like your presentations of poets and poetry. I haven't paid much attention to poetry for a while, so coming here always enriches the part of my brain that responds to the pace and language and ideas found in poetry.

  6. Then, there's also this. LOL

    A Dying Tiger—moaned for Drink

    A Dying Tiger—moaned for Drink—
    I hunted all the Sand—
    I caught the Dripping of a Rock
    And bore it in my Hand—

    His Mighty Balls—in death were thick—
    But searching—I could see
    A Vision on the Retina
    Of Water—and of me—

    'Twas not my blame—who sped too slow—
    'Twas not his blame—who died
    While I was reaching him—
    But 'twas—the fact that He was dead—

    Emily Dickinson

  7. Paul, I'd enjoy reading whatever you wish to share.

    Manzi, Aren't small town librarians and such the best? They have often led youngsters into a life of exploration and discovery. Love and peace to you. I hope you're seeing signs of spring in those Montana mountains.

    Fluid Idleness, I'm so glad you're here. Your blog is wonderful! Thank you!

    Nancy, Thank you. I cannot imagine life without poetry or music. The pace is seductive, isn't it?

    Cletis, Have you broken into the Life Everlasting again? LOL

  8. I've always loved poetry, amazing how our minds change as we grow ever older,and hopefully wiser. Thank you for visiting, your photograph of the sea-shore is lovely and like a poem in itself!

  9. To me, some poets are like rock groups; they put out some great hits, some "B-sides" which are discovered later on, and occasionally a few clunkers. I'd have to put Miss Dickinson in that category for me. I find much of her poetry very beautiful, some appealed to me as I matured, but some of it...meh.
    (And the use of B-side dates me, I know.)

  10. Half-Heard... Thank you!

    Li, I often liked the B sides better, they were more about the lyrics usually, not as mainstream. B sides? I'm right there with you, Li. All poets have clunkers that make me wonder why they didn't see them as such. No exceptions. :)

    Paul, I got your message. Thank You!

  11. I have been a fan of Emily Dickinson ever since I was sick with hepatitis in the early 1980s and a dear friend of mine, a gay man who has since died of AIDS, gave me book after book about her and her poems. She knocked my socks off with some of her most wonderful poems. I memorized several, and the one most of us know of her:

    I died for Beauty - but was scarce
    Adjusted in the Tomb
    When One who died for Truth, was lain
    In an adjoining Room -

    He questioned softly "Why I failed"?
    "For Beauty", I replied -
    "And I - for Truth - Themself are One -
    "We Brethren, are", He said -

    And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night -
    We talked between the Rooms -
    Until the Moss had reached our lips -
    And covered up - our names -

    ED, 1890

  12. DJan, I do like that image contained within the line, "We talked between the Rooms." Thank you for including this in your comments. I'm sorry that you lost your friend. What a gift he gave you. In more ways than one. Sometimes, out of illness and adversity great good can come, although I do not recommend it. :)

  13. My father used to recite, under the spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands, quite often, and I learned a love of poetic words I think from hearing those words recited often and gleefully. Tuning ones ears to the music of the words, their cadence and emphasis was learned. My mother used to play all varieties of music after we siblings had all gone to bed and in that relaxed state almost before sleep I learned a love of music.

    I'm glad you are on to this path as this is something that's been left in the past for me and I can benefit from a little of that past beauty.

    This World is not Conclusion.
    A Species stands beyond
    Invisible, as Music
    But positive, as Sound
    It beckons, and it baffles
    Philosophy — don't know
    And through a Riddle, at the last
    Sagacity, must go
    To guess it, puzzles scholars
    To gain it, Men have borne
    Contempt of Generations
    And Crucifixion, shown
    Faith slips — and laughs, and rallies
    Blushes, if any see
    Plucks at a twig of Evidence
    And asks a Vane, the way
    Much Gesture, from the Pulpit
    Strong Hallelujahs roll
    Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
    That nibbles at the soul

  14. But Teresa,
    What is wrong with us reading your own poetry? I bet you write wonderful verse, so why not share it? ...just saying you should!
    I also feel drawn to poetry as well as song lyrics because it's how I initially learned of legitimate thoughts and feelings and actually put words to mine...very powerful!
    thank you for such an intuitive self revealing post...

  15. Linda, What a nice description of your early love of poetry and music. And, the Dickinson poem is wonderful. One of my faves of hers. I love the opening statement, the ending is sublime and right to the point. Thank you so much for including it in your comments.

    Tracy, You are much braver than I. Putting words to feelings is often difficult to do. The telling of them even more so. But, I appreciate your invitation and encouragement. We shall see... Thank You.

  16. Bring it on, the world needs more poetry. We have relegated it to song lyrics, but it is still there, waiting to be heard in finite, economic, to the point terms. Life distilled to its essence. Metaphors linking us to the known familiar unknown.

    May we meet,
    In poetry greet.
    Seeing the divine,
    In each other may we find
    The original spark
    Eternity defined.

  17. Hey Tom, Thanks for stopping by. "Life distilled to its essence," is a good description of poetry and what it does for us. And thank you for including the poem, too. Can you imagine a world where people actually meet and greet each other with poetry? How wonderful would that be? Maybe we can start a poetry revolution! :)


  18. Hi there! You are up early today; just got your comments on my blog. I love this particular entry of yours; I have loads to share but I'll wait for a later date since so many have responded with favorites of their own. Don't want to overload you with too many!! i could not live without poetry...I have a substantial bookcase in my kitchen dedicated only to poetry books...and what better place for it?! You mentioned that poetry is about love. Yup, and strangely enough it's also about death, making it understandably, which I assume is another form of love.

  19. Hi Kate, I'm up early every day -- 5:00 this morning. It's nice to be up as the day begins. The kitchen is the perfect place for a collection of poetry books. Love, in all its manifestations, is what poetry seems to be about.