Alicia Ostriker on Emily Dickinson
The Soul selects her own Society—
Then—shuts the Door—
To her divine Majority—
Present no more—
Unmoved—she notes the Chariots—pausing—
At her low Gate—
Unmoved—an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat—
I've known her—from an ample nation—
Then—close the Valves of her attention—
THE SOUL SELECTS HER OWN SOCIETY:
This is one of ED's smartest or wisest poems.
Her insight tickles; it also encourages.
Even before I knew I was a poet,
Something was promising me that my choice, not
Only of whom but of what (beauty, art, poetry) to love would
be valid; that however
Unclear most things were in my world,
Love would be clear and
Simple. And soulful. (Don't you love the s's in that first line?
Ever notice there are four of them? And how they slow the line
Look how the next line snaps shut!
Emily reproduces, rhythmically, the careful intentionality of
selection and its
Then she brings politics into it, but sideways. Divinely,
"Soul" outvotes the opposition. Majority rules. Soul as majority?
How painfully I remember, in childhood—and thereafter—always
being in the minority.
Emily perhaps shared that experience. She didn't get mad, she
Rejection can be fun, when your soul does the rejecting.
Of course, it's especially fun to imagine rejecting your social
Well, it is for me. But did Emily have social superiors?
No—but she did have some pompous men in her life.
Sweet and pretty fantasy to make them collectively kneel.
Open and shut case. And so feminine,
Capitalizing, for one's imagery, on feminine anatomy. Those
I admire and enjoy the way in the
End, they turn impregnable as stone.
This is one of the many reasons I admire and love
Poem reprinted by permission of the publishers and Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Variorum Edition, Ralph W. Franklin, ed. Cambridge, Mass: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Copyright ©1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.
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