Guests in Eden


The poetry of Emily Dickinson is flame within a chalice of alabaster; it is the poetry of luster, and the pure intensity of being, and the way of all spirit.

What gives it such radiant distinction? Certainly not mere novelty of technique! Those who seek to reduce this torch of the spirit to, a mere Morning Star of the Imagists, mistake her -and blaspheme. She learned "gem-tactics", certainly, but she learned them in seeking and she used them in saying the "brittle heaven" that is the "center, expressed or still", to which each life "converges." She lived of the soul, and by the soul, and for the soul-that "imperial friend." To be sure she found new cadences, new images; but these were the agate whorls and lace foam on the surface of a tide of tremendous passion. Most of her meters were based on simple and ancient patterns, even on hymn tunes; she was not disturbed or de­flected by that, for she found her real origins not in form, but in the pace and pressure of the great tide. The little form­ worshipping moderns consciously fabricate slant rhymes or "free" cadences, and sport with tangent and aberration, and parade the egotism of the small "i", like a fluttered debutante carefully dressing as a careless tramp for a masquerade ball; Emily Dickinson used approximate rhyme and free cadence in headlong scorn of frippery, as Joan of Arc might kilt up her ''skirts as she rode into battle. To her, trick and cerebrality were what they are-the worst convention. A soul that knows the "wild nights" of the world is "done with the compass, done with the chart" but only so that she may "row in Eden."

The life and the poetry of Emily Dickinson are one. They both were an ecstasy. a fourth dimension of joy. a lonely splendor of lovely heaven. They misread her entirely who think that she withdrew from the world in frustration, despair, defeat: she was the bride of ecstasy, as the nun is the bride of God. To turn from mere marriage; to give up the torpid dilution That was "society" in Amherst; to refrain equally from

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Transcription and commentary copyright 2000 by
Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved.
Maintained by Lara Vetter <>
Last updated on March 10, 2008

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