by Joyce Carol Oates

Page 2

Certainly this is a side of Emily Dickinson most people do not know ever existed. Dickinson discovered, early in her life, a distinctive voice--it is evident in letters written when she was a girl--and worked all her life to make it ever more distinctive. She was the spider, sometimes laboring at night in the secrecy of her room, unwinding a "Yarn of Pearl" unperceived by others and plying "from Nought to Nought / In unsubstantial Trade - " But she was far more than merely the spider: she is the presence, never directly cited, or even hinted at, who intends to dazzle the world with her genius. One aspect of this genius is this deliberate smallness; its meiotic strategy--reduce, and conquer. Here is "'Faith' is a fine invention" (P 185 in the Johnson edition). It's but four lines:

"Faith" is a fine invention
When Gentlemen can see--
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency.

One of my favorite Dickinson stories has to do with the last letter she wrote, on her death bed. Succinct, and simple, and poignant; and funny: "Dear Cousins, Called back. Emily."

Here, a poem of three stanzas with four lines in each, fairly riddled with quotation marks that are, in themselves, signs of humor. How serious, the very custom of quotations?

You're right - "the way is narrow" -
And "difficult the Gate" -
And "few there be" - Correct again -
That "enter in - thereat" -

'Tis Costly - So are purples!
'Tis just the price of Breath -
With but the "Discount" of the Grave -
Termed by the Brokers - "Death"!

And after that - there's Heaven -
The Good Man's - "Dividend" -
And Bad Men - "go to Jail" -
I guess -

(JP 234)

And, finally:

The Show is not the Show
But they that go -
Menagerie to me
My Neighbor be -
Fair Play -
Both went to see -

(JP 1206)

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