Wednesday, August 19, 2009

To put this World down, like a Bundle--

Emily Dickinson's seclusion has become one of the most readily remembered parts of her life. To a certain degree, I believe she chose it as a way of protecting her gift. It gave her time to cultivate her talents in ways that could not happen if she had been more engaged in public life. And yet, she took it to an extreme.

To put this World down, like a Bundle--
And walk steady, away,
Requires Energy-- possibly Agony--
'Tis the Scarlet way

Trodden with straight renunciation
By the Son of God--
Later, his faint Confederates
Justify the Road--

Flavors of that old Crucifixion--
Filaments of Bloom, Pontius Pilate sowed--
Strong Clusters, from Barabbas' Tomb--

Sacraments, Saints took before us--
Patent, every drop,
With the Brand of the Gentile Drinker
Who indorsed the Cup--
(F 404)

In a typical Dickinson paradox, the world is a "bundle" to be put down, like a burden, and at the same time it holds a sacred value of sacrament. The common and the eternal are united, bonded with pain and perseverance. Perhaps this is an indication that Dickinson saw her vocation and isolation as a poet to be sacred and to be her own crucifixion. That again takes the poem into the category of autobiography. No doubt much of her views and attitudes leak into her poems, but perhaps the poem itself extends far beyond the shades of biography.

The world and its demands are often a burden. Ironically the allusion to Christ only complicates this comparison. His delight was to do the will of the father that he was assigned, as he often mentions in the Bible. And yet, the story of his turmoil in the Garden of Gethsemane certain shows the extreme burden that the world created.

Such a comparison between struggles of others and the struggls of Christ make the reader wonder exactly what Dickinson may be implying about religion in this poem. She refers to the "Gentile Drinker / Who indorsed the cup", which seems to come into conflict with the sacrament of Communion, which is traditionally seen as instituted by Christ and later taken up by Paul, both Jews. Perhaps she did mean to imply that the burdens of the world were imposed on others and not originally meant to be religious. Taken in this context, the burdens might be those very things that we impose upon ourselves and the things that others impose upon us.

Certainly Dickinson was no stranger to burdens, having to deal with her mother's poor health, the complicated issues with her brother and his mistress, and even the passing of her beloved nephew, Gib. Heartache, pain, and burdens were no stranger to her, and it seems that Dickinson felt all these things very deeply and intensely. Life was fragile, and this attitude is reflected in much of her poetry and in her letters as she writes "In such a porcelain life, one likes to be sure that all is well, lest one stumble upon one's hopes in a pile of broken crockery" (Wineapple 66). Like so much else, her exact meanings remain nebulous and attempts to reconcile her writing with definite meanings and explanations are difficult.

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