by Amy Clampitt

Page 8

The subject of stone is one that one finds recurring in the work of Emily Dickinson. I think of the poem, it's a familiar one, in which she talks about the bounds of her attention. Let me find it.

I've known her - from an ample nation -
Choose One -
Then - close the Valves of her attention -
Like Stone -

(JP 303)

And another of her satiric poems about a face:

A face devoid of love or grace,
A hateful, hard, successful face,
A face with which a stone
Would feel as thoroughly at ease
As were they old acquaintances -
First time together thrown.

(JP 1711)

The subject of stone and people turning to stone, which is obviously something that concerned Emily Dickinson in many ways, is a subject that I've done some thinking about also in the last year or so, and I've been writing, or trying to write, some poems about the Medusa myth. I'm going to read one which isn't really part of that sequence but it does deal with Medusa. It has to do with George Eliot, who, in fact, mentioned Medusa in her work every now and then--which gave me courage to think about mentioning Medusa in connection with her work. This is a poem called "Medusa at Broadstairs" and it's about a time in George Eliot's life when she was not George Eliot; she was Marian Evans. She was a successful editor and translator living in London. She was a friend of Herbert Spencer, the philosopher. In fact, they saw a great deal of each other for a while--went to the opera together, enjoyed each other's company. But the thing about Herbert Spencer was he never married; he really couldn't make up his mind to settle with anybody. He was much too rational, I think. And George Eliot, for all her formidable intellect, was a person capable of great devotion. And she tried very hard to remain detached, and unfortunately, however, these resolutions, when one is a woman--and perhaps it is true of men too--don't always hold. George Eliot--Marian Evans--went to a little town called Broadstairs on the North Sea, not far from Dover, to spend a couple of weeks vacation, and she wrote Herbert Spencer a note in which she said that she was having a fine time not thinking at all and she thought she might turn into something like a jellyfish pretty soon and, "Maybe you'll say I'm near enough to the Medusa already." She did say that. "But it's a lovely place, won't you come down?"

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