Thursday, July 10, 2008

Dickinson - I'm ceded


I heard a reading of this poem the other night and was struck with the way Emily Dickinson uses concrete images to evoke evanescent experiences, and her unexpected turns of image and thought:

508

I'm ceded—I've stopped being Theirs—
The name They dropped upon my face
With water, in the country church
Is finished using, now,
And They can put it with my Dolls,
My childhood, and the string of spools,
I've finished threading—too—

Baptized, before, without the choice,
But this time, consciously, of Grace—
Unto supremest name—
Called to my Full—The Crescent dropped—
Existence's whole Arc, filled up,
With one small Diadem.

My second Rank—too small the first—
Crowned—Crowing—on my Father's breast—
A half unconscious Queen—
But this time—Adequate—Erect,
With Will to choose, or to reject,
And I choose, just a Crown—
There is that intriguing dash at the end, as though another unexpected turn is coming, but the author put down her pen and surrendered fully to it instead of narrating the experience.

On Modern American Poetry, the explications and interpretations of this poem veer toward the modern -- a self-affirmation, a woman's struggle to throw off patriarchal constraints, etc. Critics are so often eager to adopt a poet from the past into their own century's relevances, as though they were visionaries of the politics of the future.

I like this critic's interpretation best:

the speaker in the poem, though clearly female, most resembles Christ in her relinquishment of past earthly ties and in the magnitude and enormity of her choice. Once a "half unconscious Queen -- ," she is now fully Queen, "Adequate -- Erect, / With Will to choose, or to reject." The speaker's passive posture as recipient of the baptismal rite in the first stanza gives way
to her new resplendent self, radiant in transfiguration.

It's hard to see this poem as anything but mystical. It reminds me of sections of St. Teresa's Interior Castle more than anything else in Dickinson, a record of an intense mystical experience similar to that of Teresa's account of the angel whose golden spear pierced her heart.

2 comments:

  1. This Dickinson poem is a great one. Have always been drawn to it - especially the ending. Enjoyed your comments, Rachel. Thanks for posting this.

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  2. I don't know about the others but I've always felt that Dickinson's long dashes actually enforce her poems emotionally.

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