Monday, August 17, 2009

I sing, as the Boy does by the Burying Ground

Dickinson's poetry is highly notable for its compact or compressed language. Her word choice is exacting, never wasting a syllable in meaning or sound. Wineapple relates a comment Higginson once made regarding good writing: "'There may be years of crowded passion in a word, and half a life in a sentence,' he explained. 'A single word may be a window form which one may perceive all the kingdoms of the earth ... Charge your style with life'" (White Heat, 6). No doubt he immediately recognized this gift in Dickinson's poetry. She did not pick the good words for her poems, but she picked the best word in all cases, which makes it yet more of a miracle that she managed to write at least 1789 poems during her lifetime. They are sharp, exacting, and often demanding writings.

I think it's particularly interesting that Wineapple includes a quote from Dickinson that may explain the motive the poet had in writing. Dickinson writes "I sing, as the Boy does by the Burying Ground-- because I am afraid" (8). Fear is a great paralyzer, but it can also be a great motivator. We do a lot of things, make a lot of choices, because of fear. But only truly successful and great people are able to recognize this fear and address it, much less channel it into something useful.

Perhaps when it was all said and done, part of Dickinson's reluctance to push publication of her poetry was because her poetry was so self-revealing. In the pages of the anthologies of her writing, we find insecurity, doubt, stark fear, questions, and a great longing for what is unknown (and what she possibly believed was unknowable). There is simultaneously peace and riot, joy and pain, surrender and fight. Hardly can she be called a shy door mouse or a total hermit. For all of her isolation, through her writing she fully embraced life and all of the experiences that make up our existence. Dickinson walked into the unknown dark, sometimes with eyes wide and alert and sometimes shut closed in searing trust of what she did not know.

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