The poetess is the most fantastic of implausibilities. She is a bizarre stray onto the wrong pedestal. Emily Dickinson, in the lonely ranks of poetry, has this particular distinction. Only Sappho, Emily Bronte and Elizabeth Browning keep her company in the otherwise fraternal pantheon. One can, therefore, imagine her celebrity among the bards, and how, when she stepped through the aetherial door, Keats paused in his discussion of Grecian urns with Pindar, and toasted her with the words, here at last we have wine, women and song at once.
[...] Given that she was a genius, the typical thing to do is speculate on how Emily came to be one. That ‘genius is born, not made' may be taken as so much dandelion fluff: to my knowledge, neither great art nor great deeds have proceeded from the cradle. Every genius, studied long enough, will be shone to be a merely precocious infant (if that) catapulted by something outside themselves to their abilities. And at first, Emily was undoubtedly only precocious. [...]
[...] Hawthorne described it best, in the ‘Celestial Railroad': is a German by birth, and is called Giant Transcendentalist; but as to his form, his features, his substance, and his nature generally, it is the chief peculiarity of this huge miscreant, that neither he for himself, nor anybody for him, has ever been able to describe them.” It can only be assumed, that Emily grasped some of Emerson's gnomic utterances as wise: and, taken individually, they sometimes are; but that she swallowed transcendentalism whole may be doubted, if only for the reason that there was no very well-defined whole to be swallowed. [...]
[...] In order to understand Emily's particular reclusive genius, a useful parallel may be made to Emily Bronte. Both had patriarchs rather than fathers, although Dickinson's was far the harshest; both grew antisocial with age; both seem to have been violently in love at some point, and as violently out of it ever after; both hid their poems, although Miss Bronte's were ferreted out by a nosy sister; both had disappointing brothers; and both were overwhelmingly introspective. They were nearly contemporaries, and even their religious views seem to correspond (insofar as Miss Bronte's only recorded view was agreement with the statement that ‘religion is something between oneself and God', and Miss Dickinson's first was reluctance to bring it before others). [...]
[...] At any rate, Emerson invaded Dickinson to a—typically—undefined extent. By their nature women lend themselves more to incorporation into, than the creation of, literature. For the most part, they are caught up in the strutting and acting of the world—that is, the dissection table of male contemplatives. When one of them leaps off this table, dawns scrubs and acquires a scalpel, the effect is somewhat disturbing. One blinks. One rubs one's eyes. And then one hastens to the bookstore to buy the complete works. [...]
[...] It is quite likely that Miss Bronte influenced Dickinson since the latter is reported to have read the former's poems and exclaimed on their excellence: also, the quatrain is their favorite form, both. They each display a puritan asceticism, tending to stoicism in miss Bronte's case, and to morbidity in Dickinson's. The poem Old Stoic,' by Emily Bronte, expresses it best: “Riches I hold in light esteem, And love I laugh to scorn; And lust of fame was but a dream, That vanished with the morn: if I pray, the only prayer That moves my lips for me Is, ‘Leave the heart that now I bear, And give me liberty.' as my swift days near their goal, all that I implore;-- In life and death a chainless soul With courage to endure.” And Emily Dickinson's rather more depressing variation on the subject: reason, earth is short, And anguish absolute. [...]
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