Poems by Emily Dickinson.

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Author: Nation
Date: Nov. 27, 1890
From: Nation(Issue 1326)
Document Type: Critical essay; Excerpt
Length: 579 words

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[(review date 27 November 1890) In the following excerpt, the anonymous critic describes Dickinson's poetry as "extraordinary," both in its emotional resonance and its stylistic range.]

The poems of Emily Dickinson [Poems by Emily Dickinson] are not so seriously weighed down by their editors--Mrs. Mabel Loomis Todd and Mr. T. W. Higginson--since they leave her mainly to speak for herself. We learn that she was born in 1830 and died in 1886, living almost always in extreme seclusion in the college town of Amherst, Mass., where her father, a lawyer, held also the responsible position of college treasurer. She resolutely refused to publish her verses, showing them only to a very few friends. As a consequence, she had almost no criticism, and was absolutely untrammelled; so that the verses are sometimes almost formless, while at other times they show great capacity for delicate and sweet melody, suggesting the chance strains of an Æolian harp. But in compass of thought, grasp of feeling, and vigor of epithet, they are simply extraordinary, and strike notes, very often, like those of some deep-toned organ. Take, for instance, this ["I died for beauty, but was scarce"], which fully sustains the Blake-like quality suggested by the editors in their preface (p. 119):

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.
He questioned softly why I failed?
"For beauty," I replied.
"And I for truth--the two are one;
We brethren are," he said.
And so as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips
And covered up our names.

The extraordinary terseness and vigor of that weird conclusion runs through all the poems; in this case it so grasps the ear that you hardly notice the defect in the rhyme. Little cared she for that, provided she uttered her thought. Yet at times she reached with the same sudden grasp a completeness of utterance that was nothing less than lyric--as in the two verses on the opposite page to the above ["A train went through a burial gate"] (p. 118):

A train went through a burial gate;
          A bird broke forth and sang,
And trilled, and quivered, and shook his throat
          Till all the churchyard rang;
And then adjusted his little notes
          And bowed and sang again.
Doubtless he thought it meet of him
          To say good-bye to men.

With all its inequalities and even oddities on its face, there is power enough on many a page of this little book to set up whole volumes of average poetry; and the public will inevitably demand to know more of the thoughts and mental processes of Emily Dickinson.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420072960