10 Emily Dickinson Poems

A daguerrotype of Dickinson at age 16, displayed at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst.

Anyone familiar with America’s favorite 19th-century recluse poet knows that she spent her life obsessed with matters of faith, death, spirituality, the divine, and the wonders of nature. Naturally, therefore, I’m a big fan.

A little farther down the road in my sabbatical, I’m going to be dipping into her works more deeply, but for now I wanted to share some of my recent favorites. These are all poems that have at some point been posted over at Mbird.com. There are lots more I could (and eventually will) share with you, but for now I’ll start with these. Enjoy!

1. On “the loudest Place” God made – #1225

Its Hour with itself
The Spirit never shows.
What Terror would enthrall the Street
Could Countenance disclose

The Subterranean Freight
The Cellars of the Soul—
Thank God the loudest Place he made
Is license to be still.

2. On having “a surety from the Wind” – #1656

Down Time’s quaint stream
Without an oar
We are enforced to sail
Our Port a secret
Our Perchance a Gale
What Skipper would
Incur the Risk
What Buccaneer would ride
Without a surety from the Wind
Or schedule of the Tide —

3. On dying in order to live – #816

A Death blow is a Life blow to Some
Who till they died, did not alive become–
Who had they lived, had died but when
They died, Vitality begun.

4. On “the Tooth / That nibbles at the Soul” – #501

This World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond —
Invisible, as Music —
But positive, as Sound —
It beckons, and it baffles —
Philosophy — don’t know —
And through a Riddle, at the last —
Sagacity, must go —
To guess it, puzzles scholars —
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown —
Faith slips — and laughs, and rallies —
Blushes, if any see —
Plucks at a twig of Evidence —
And asks a Vane, the way —
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit —
Strong Hallelujahs roll —
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul —

5. On the Guest who “never went away,” the paradox of Advent – #1309

The Infinite a sudden Guest
Has been assumed to be —
But how can that stupendous come
Which never went away?

6. On faith, or learning to see in the dark – #419

We grow accustomed to the Dark —
When light is put away —
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye —

A Moment — We uncertain step
For newness of the night —
Then — fit our Vision to the Dark —
And meet the Road — erect —

And so of larger — Darkness —
Those Evenings of the Brain —
When not a Moon disclose a sign —
Or Star — come out — within —

The Bravest — grope a little —
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead —
But as they learn to see —

Either the Darkness alters —
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight —
And Life steps almost straight.

7. On “Mortality’s Ground Floor” – #1234

If my Bark sink
‘Tis to another Sea —
Mortality’s Ground Floor
Is Immortality —

8. On the joys of being nobody, a perfect Ash Wednesday theme – #288

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!

9. On being “qualified / To qualify Despair” – #539

The Province of the Saved
Should be the Art – To Save –
Through Skill obtained in Themselves –
The Science of the Grave

No Man can understand
But He that hath endured
The Dissolution – in Himself –
That Man – be qualified

To qualify Despair
To Those who failing new –
Mistake Defeat for Death – Each time –
Till acclimated – to –

10. On “an honorable Thought,” or the hope that escaped Ozymandias – #946

It is an honorable Thought
And makes One lift One’s Hat
As One met sudden Gentlefolk
Upon a daily Street,

That We’ve immortal Place
Though Pyramids decay
And Kingdoms, like the Orchard
Flit Russetly away

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