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Tuesday, February 08, 2005

More Wiki¹ and Emily D. (and me)

Seems to me that math as a symbol and metaphor, while perhaps not as obvious or prevalent as the use of "transport" or "the blank" which cranky, old Harold Bloom has noted in his essay on Dickinson in The Western Canon, is something that Emily resorted to fairly often in her own seemingly opaque and nearly inscrutable way. For instance, in these two fairly early poems:

69

Low at my problem bending,
Another problem comes —
Larger than mine — Serener —
Involving statelier sums.

I check my busy pencil,
My figures file away.
Wherefore, my baffled fingers,
Thy perplexity?


88

As by the dead we love to sit,
Become so wondrous dear² —
As for the lost we grapple
Tho' all the rest are here —

In broken mathematics
We estimate our prize
Vast — in its fading ratio
To our penurious eyes.
In poem 69 I really like how tightly packed and springloaded with meaning the word "figures" is; especially how it goes back to the idea of music that "statelier sums" raises, resonant with the music of the spheres. And just which of the meanings of "file" is she playing with there, I wonder? One of the things I've learned is that Dickinson can't be trusted to pass up a chance at a pun.

In poem 88 she modifies or qualifies "ratio" with "fading," which I think could be read as a comment on the idea of constancy.

And now two later and longer poems on which I'll probably make very little direct comment:

1129

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —


(I'll point at a couple of things I think I see here: 1. the word "slant" in the first line reminds me of poem 258, which begins, "There's a certain Slant of light, / Winter afternoons — / That oppresses, like the Heft / Of Cathedral Tunes —"; 2. "lies" is another damn pun.)

1134

The Wind took up the Northern Things
And piled them in the south —
Then gave the East unto the West
And opening his mouth

The four Divisions of the Earth
Did make as to devour
While everything to corners slunk
Behind the awful power —

The Wind — unto his chambers went
And nature ventured out —
Her subjects scattered into place
Her systems ranged about

Again the smoke from Dwellings rose
The Day abroad was heard —
How intimate, a Tempest past
The Transport of the Bird —

I have no idea why "Things," "Dwellings," "Day," or "Bird" are begun with uppercase letters (this is interesting, though it's almost certainly unrelated — isn't it?). As a means of stress, yes. But what is she stressing? Is this more commentary on perceptions of constancy?



¹ And Dictionary.com
² I think that the first, second, and third meanings of "dear" are all at play here

2 comments:

Humble Servant said...

Do you like the version posted better than:

LOW at my problem bending,
Another problem comes,
Larger than mine, serener,
Involving statelier sums;
I check my busy pencil, 5
My ciphers slip away,
Wherefore, my baffled fingers,
Time Eternity?

Do you have a book that explains why there are various versions? This one doesn't have "files" but it has Time Eternity (caps). (I just pulled this off Bartelby and I don't know how careful they are or what their source is.)

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind

Most excellent.

Doesn't she sound "modern" for all her rhymes?

And, no, I have no clue what tings might have to do with capitalization. What do you think? How are tings by you?

MackJohnny said...

She do sound modern in her rhymes. I've tried to answer your question about versions here.