Monday, August 31, 2009

Sweet is the swamp with it's secrets

Sweet is the swamp with it's secrets,
Until we meet a snake;
'Tis then we sigh for houses,
And our departure take
At that enthralling gallop
That only childhood knows.
A snake is nature's treason,
And awe is where it goes.
(F 1780)

I hate snakes with a passion, and in fact am extremely afraid of them. And yet Dickinson's poem makes me almost consider giving them a second chance. They are unknown, the exotic, and the dangerous but fascinating possiblities in this poem. There is something terrifying about coming across a snake, especially among the great wild beauty of a swamp. And in the midst of that heart-stopping flight from the swamp, there is something about the utter panic that can bring a sordid sense of euphoria. Something about those moments of sheer terror can bring a little shiver of delight in their wake, for isn't that why we read ghost stories and scare ourselves silly with horror movies? It's the gothic mind-twist that entices us to read, even as we long to cover our eyes or plug up our ears and turn away.

I think that Dickinson and her speaker understand that without a little risk, without the snakes, the swamp wouldn't hold the half-forbidden lure. What is the point of exploration and adventure if the outcome is safely delivered as neatly as it could have been within the familiar confines of home? For all of the over protective nature of her childhood and the secluded nature of her adulthood, the inner part of Dickinson freely roamed the woods and swamps-- if only in her imagination. Her own imagination held its own allure, beautiful and terrifying, filled with not only those mossy landscapes and muddy waters but with what lies beneath. She eases her toes into the waters of the gothic and stirs those hints of the haunted self and the fallen humanity within.

No comments:

Post a Comment