Dear March—Come in—

March is a month for Emily Dickinson. Each day, I will read and study a different poem by ED. I am already familiar with a few of these poems, but most of them I’ve never encountered before.

The Poems

  1. Dear March—Come in—
  2. If recollecting were forgetting
  3. I tie my Hat — I crease my Shawl —
  4. There’s a certain Slant of light (258)
  5. I measure every Grief I meet (561)
  6. I’m Nobody! Who are you? (260)*
  7. After great pain, a formal feeling comes – (372)
  8. Because I could not stop for Death – (479)
  9. A Bird, came down the Walk – (359)*
  10. Crumbling is not an instant’s Act (1010)
  11. Fame is a bee. (1788)
  12. “Hope” is the thing with feathers – (314)*
  13. Have you got a Brook in your little heart
  14. I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, (340)
  15. I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – (591)
  16. My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun (764)
  17. My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun (764)
  18. We grow accustomed to the Dark —*
  19. We grow accustomed to the Dark —*
  20. No poem. Began listening to the book, Lives like Loaded Guns.
  21. There is no Frigate like a Book (1286)*
  22. Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – (236)
  23. No poem. Continued listening to the book, Lives like Loaded Guns.
  24. ‘Tis so much joy! ‘Tis so much joy!*
  25. A lane of Yellow led the eye (1650)
  26. I dreaded that first Robin, so, (1862) + To interrupt His Yellow Plan (1863)
  27. The morns are meeker than they were
  28. No poem. Continued listening to the book, Lives like Loaded Guns.
  29. I felt a Cleaving in my Mind—*
  30. I saw no Way — The Heavens were stitched — (1863)
  31. Without this — there is nought — (1862)
    *memorized part or all of poem

In total, I read (and studied) 27 of ED’s poems. I started by looking through a few sources and making a list. As the month continued, I took off a few and added some more. My plan had been to study a different poem each day, but I studied 2 poems–“My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun” and “We grow accustomed to the Dark–” for 2 days each. And, while studying a cluster of poems with the color yellow in them, I read and thought about 2 poems — “I dreaded that first Robin, so,” and “To interrupt His Yellow Plan” — on the same day. I am very grateful that I decided to make this my March exercise. I have learned so much and encountered so many marvelous, helpful, beautiful, magical, unsettling words!

Additional Sources

what wonderful words!

  • “When it comes, the Landscape listens –/Shadows – hold their breath –” from “There’s a certain Slant of light”
  • “I note that Some – gone patient long – /At length, renew their smile – /An imitation of a Light/That has so little Oil – ” from “I measure every Grief I meet”
  • a “Quartz contentment” and “the hour of Lead” from “After great pain, a formal feeling comes”
  • “organized Decays” “a Cobweb on the Soul” “a Cuticle of Dust” from “Crumbing is not an Instant’s Act”
  • “abash” from “‘Hope’ is a thing with feathers”
  • “As all the Heavens were a Bell,/And Being, but an Ear,” from “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain”
  • “Then – fit our Vision to the Dark –” and “Either the Darkness alters –/Or something in the sight/Adjusts itself to Midnight –/And Life steps almost straight.”
  • “soft inhabitants” from “A lane of Yellow led the eye”
  • “The Rose is out of town” from “The morns are meeker than they were”
  • “I felt a Cleaving in my Mind—/As if my Brain had Split—/I tried to match it—Seam by Seam—/But could not make them fit.” from “I felt a Cleaving in my Mind–“

Topics of Wonder

  • habits of home life, daily rituals, oppressive roles
  • her disruption of cadence meter rhythm with dashes and capitalized letters and line breaks and slant rhymes
  • the power of the editor in altering and erasing the meaning, impact, and beauty of her words
  • competing versions of the poems
  • the accessibility of poetry and its many uses, including delight
  • the difference between a brook, a creek, a stream, and a river
  • ED’s remarkable accuracy in describing vision loss, and her ability, in general, to effectively describe physical and emotional illness
  • ED’s fascicles–a term coined by ED’s first editor, Mabel Loomis Todd
  • Susan Howe’s “My Emily Dickinson” and a new grammar grounded in humility and hesitation
  • shifting attention and value towards the dark, away from the light + light as masculine, dark as feminine
  • an extended analysis of “We grow accustomed to the Dark”
  • the double meanings of frigate and courser
  • ED’s use of common or hymn meter
  • ED and the bee: “Dickinson used the bee, a favorite symbol of IsaacWatts’s, as a defiant counter-emblem to his hymns. Her bees are irresponsible (138, 1343), enjoy la dolce vita (1627), and are pictured as seducers, traitors, buccaneers (81, 128, 134, 206, etc.).” I especially like her critique of Watts in “To Interrupt His Yellow Plan”
  • ED’s marvelous ability to continue confounding scholars, even now, almost 150 years after her death
  • ED’s highly effective description of being overwhelmed by the senses in “I dreaded that first Robin, so,” and “I felt a funeral, in my Brain”
  • the bullshit of busy work
  • balls and seams and stitches in relation to Circumference

a key insight from March 19

As I work through this poem, I’m realizing something (or, being reminded of something I know, but keep forgetting or straying from): It is very interesting to learn about ED’s life and the historical context of her work, and it’s helpful to see patterns and themes across the poems. Yet, what matters most to me are the actual poems and how effectively her words describe vision loss and resonate with my own experiences of it. Her words are opening a door, offering a way into understanding (and expressing that understanding) how vision loss and living with less vision feels.

a new chant to calm me down or distract me or shift my attention

Life is but Life! And Death, but Death!
Bliss is, but Bliss, and Breath but Breath!

from ‘Tis so much joy! ‘Tis so much joy!”

Possible Exercise

Spend a month with the life and words of the poet, Emily Dickinson. Do not begin with any specific goals or expectations. Instead, let ED’s words guide you. The only requirements: Try to pick a different poem each day and read through it at least 3 or 4 times–in your head and out loud. Write down some of your thoughts–why you like it, what you found bewildering, what makes you wonder, words you’d like to use, etc. Spend as little or as much time as you need with the poem. Be open to whatever happens next.

additional tips (suggestions, not requirements)

  • Look up confusing words in the dictionary or the Emily Dickinson Lexicon, find secondary sources when you need help understanding; the Prowling Bee is a good place to start
  • To become better acquainted with the poem, memorize it and recite it as you move–run or walk or bike or hike or whatever
  • If available, find audio of others’ reading her words. Listen to them to hear the meter, the slant rhymes, the awkward line breaks and rhythms
  • Do not be too hard on yourself if you miss a day, or if you are too enthusiastic to read just one, or you need more than one day for a poem
  • Focus less on the BIG significance of her words for others–scholars, historians, academics, poetry people–and more on their significance for you. Don’t worry about searching for THE right answer. Look for how ED answers your questions, how her words unlock new doors and understandings for you
  • Learning more about ED’s life and the context in which she was writing can be helpful. Remember that there are many different versions of this context and that scholars/artists/writers have a wide range of interpretations of who ED was and how/why she wrote. Here are 3 fascinating versions: 1. These Fevered Days , 2. Dickinson, the show, and 3. Lives Like Loaded Guns. Each of these uses ED’s archive (her poems, letters) and secondary sources in different ways to imagine their own version of Emily Dickinson
  • At the end of the month, make a list of future ED topics you’d like to explore in greater depth