Friday, January 20, 2012

This Might Be My New Favorite Poem

Through the persistence and insistence of my friend Lori, I have come to discover that I might actually like poetry.  With that being said, she introduced me to Billy Collins, and after purchasing a collection of his poems and the beginnings of a perusal, I discovered this jewel!  I love its indiscretion through subtlety (and then again not so much subtlety) and the way it peels away the layers of Victorian conservatism and prudery as he peels away the layers of her buttoned up lace collar, mother-of-pearl buttoned white dress, and corset!  I've never wanted to be the reclusive Victorian poet from Amherst more!  Although it would need to be someone other than Billy Collins playing the speaker's role:)!!!  And who doesn't conjure up images of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in this poetic scene too?!? Awesomeness on the page!

Here it is for your reading pleasure along with some of Dickinson's poems that were part of the inspiration for the Collins verse:

"Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes"
by Billy Collins

First, her tippet of tulle,
easily lifted off her shoulders and laid 
on the back of a wooden chair.

And her bonnet,
the bow undone with a light forward pull.

Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
before my hands can part the fabric,
like a swimmer's dividing water,
and slip inside.

You will want to know
that she was standing
by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,
motionless, a little wide-eyed,
looking out at the orchard below,
the white dress puddled at her feet
on the wide-board, hardwood floor,

The complexity of women's undergarments
in nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and morrings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.

Later, I wrote in a notebook
it was like riding a swan into the night,
but, of course, I cannot tell you everything--
the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,
how her hair tumbled free of its pins,
how there were sudden dashes
whenever we spoke.

What I can tell you is
it was terribly quiet in Amherst
that Sabbath afternoon,
nothing but a carriage passing the house
a fly buzzing in a windowpane.

So I could plainly hear her inhale
when I undid the very top
hook-and-eye fastener of her corset

and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,
the way some readers sigh when they realize
that Hope has feathers,
that Reason is a plank,
That Life is a loaded gun
that looks right at you with a yellow eye.

And now, here are the Emily Dickinson poems inspiring Collin's final stanza, and YES!, the sigh is there on all accounts:

"Hope is a thing with feathers"
by Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

"I felt a funeral in my brain"
by Emily Dickinson

I felt a funeral in my brain,
        And mourners, to and fro,
Kept treading, treading, till it seemed
        That sense was breaking through.

And when they all were seated,
        A service like a drum
Kept beating, beating, till I thought
        My mind was going numb.

And then I heard them lift a box,
        And creak across my soul
With those same boots of lead,
        Then space began to toll

As all the heavens were a bell,
        And Being but an ear,
And I and silence some strange race,
        Wrecked, solitary, here.

And then a plank in reason, broke,
        And I dropped down and down--
And hit a world at every plunge,
        And finished knowing--then--

"My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun"
by Emily Dickinson

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -
In Corners -  till a Day
The Owner passed - identified -
And carried Me away - 

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods - 
And now We hunt the Doe - 
And every time I speak for Him - 
The Mountains straight reply - 

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow - 
It is as a Vesuvian face - 
Had let its pleasure through - 

And when at Night - Our good Day done - 
I guard My Master's Head - 
'Tis better than Eider-Duck's
Deep Pillow - to have shared - 

To foe of his - I'm deadly foe -
None stir the second time - 
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye - 
Or an emphatic Thumb -

Though I than He - may longer live 
He longer must - than I -
For I have but the power to kill,
Without--the power to die--



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