Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dickinson and the power of the dash

In one day, to find Emily Dickinson not once but twice. First, this book which promises to shed light on  the fraught life behind this elusive poet who published two handfuls of poems in her lifetime and left behind 1800 of them unseen and unheard [thanks to blogger Gondal-Girl for directing me to this]. And then I came across two illuminating posts from US poet and teacher, Mark Doty, on the way Dickinson uses dashes and ellipses instead of a host of words...
Because we're reading Dickinson, I've been thinking about the remarkable powers of wrenched or unexpected syntax, and the ways in which meaning is disrupted, complicated, and made multiple by the sheer power of ordering sentences. [Mark Doty]

He's talking about this sort of thing:
Tis this -- invites -- appalls -- endows --
Flits -- glimmers -- proves -- dissolves --
Returns -- suggests -- convicts -- enchants --
Then -- flings in Paradise --
[from Poem 285 by Emily Dickinson]

Go here for more from Doty, and then here  for a subsequent post where he quotes Heather McHugh from her book Broken English:
Where a lesser writer might try to comprehend the world by adding more and more words to his portrait of it, Dickinson allows for it, by framing in opposites or absents, directing us to what is irresoluble or unsaid, Where the addition of a word would subtract even one of the cohabitant readings in a text, she leaves the sense unsteady and the word unadded, What critics sometimes lament as cryptic or obscure in her work proceeds, I think from this characteristic reticence - a luxurious reticence, a reticence which sprouts and branches meaning in many directions, the way more exhaustive (less ambiguous) texts cannnot...
I simply need to read more Dickinson. 


The Paradoxical Cat said...

I love Emily Dickinson - and her dashes.

Thnaks for this post! :-)

Elisabeth said...

Dickinson's poetry is wonderful. Her words haunt you with an strange unease, pathos and beauty rolled into one. And at the same there is this marvelous intelligence and wit that shines through.

Claire Beynon said...

Emily Dickinson was/is sage alright - a philosopher and a fragrant garden.

Have you read Brenda Wineapple's 'White Heat:The friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson'? The book was pressed into my hands by a friend (who knows my penchant for all things Dickinson-related) as I boarded the CV17 at the end of my last season in Antarctica. I was feeling scorched (in a grief-&-passion-for-the-continent kind of way) and the book provided me with balm on that journey home.

One of my all time favourite ED lines is this one -

"Tell all the truth, but tell it slant---
Success in circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind---"

She was quite something, wasn't she!