Did Dickenson do Laundry?
When I lived up North, the end of September meant falling leaves, starting the furnace, and dragging out the heavy clothes.
It also meant gloom. Somewhere in my history, autumn married sadness, and they remain inseparable. I have no idea why, and I have been singularly ineffective in my efforts to manage this damnable cerebral configuration. Invariably, I'm left to fend for myself with a resulting dysphoria that so thoroughly colors my perception and precludes realistic enjoyment.
"Pain--has an element of blank--
It cannot recollect
When it began--or if there were
A time when it was not--
It has no future--but itself--It's infinite contain
It's past--enlightened to perceive
New periods--of pain."
Now that I am south of the border, I feel safe. In this, my first Floridian Fall, the angst of Autumn is mercifully abstract and, although I can well recall the fact of my former discontent, I am shielded from the associated melancholy by enveloping warmth and sunlight. Defenses relaxed, Emily's poems on autumn are no threat.
"A solemn thing within the Soul
To feel itself get ripe--
And golden hung--while further up--
The maker's ladders stop--
And in the orchard far below--
You hear a being--drop--
A wonderful--to feel the sunStill toiling at the cheek
You thought was finished--
Cool of eye, and critical of work--
He shifts the stem--a little--
To give your core--a look--
But solemnest--to know
Your chance in harvest moves
A little nearer--Every sun
The single--to some lives."
Emily read much into the annual turn to winter and took the environment of fall to be a melancholic metaphor of human destiny. We, being "creatures of a day," are propelled toward living and dying by forces far beyond out ability to understand them.
The dying that is built into the living is the agricultural/organic death signaled by changes in light and longevity of day. Emily used that as a springboard to ponder and postulate more than just that form of finality.
The end, to her, signified a beginning. It is presumed that she had long broken away from conventional awareness to one of expanded consciousness. She used the Christian metaphors so predominant in her cultural landscape to hint at something beyond the bondage of time in a body; something, indeed, already in place, within the bondage, that simply is released in the "twinkling of an eye."
It has to do with whom you consider yourself to be. Remember the old teaser, "are you your body or do you have a body?"
If you are closely identified with the carnal aspect of existence (and who can afford not to be?), then you will repeatedly fix upon your mortal character in the field of time. And, in as much as this is the equipment in which each of us is to move through time, it certainly behooves us to keep the carcass competent.
What, if instead of identifying with the "mortal frame," we collude with the consciousness that settles in on us and informs us of other possibilities, perhaps other realities?
Isn't that what the author of "The Prophet" was getting at when pronouncing, "Build of your imaginings a bower in the wilderness ere you build a house within the city walls?"
Could it be that in a twinkling of transformed consciousness we are released into the kingdom of God?
Emily, in my imaginings, repeatedly reached for that release and lived eschatologically informed and realistically rooted at the same time. At her desk in the family home from which she rarely roamed, she eluded the "city walls" of geography and convention and took on the wilderness.
That she was a gifted poet should not distract us from the process to which we look. Let us not get hemmed in by focusing on output and achievement--that is to miss the point. That she wrote like an angel is irrelevant to the underlying salvation principle perhaps in question here.
She took on the wilderness within, and that enabled her to see beyond appearances and to perceive with a child's unfettered freshness, the intimations of holiness inherent in the business of being.
That which animates us invites disclosure. People like Emily suggest this, but all too often, we think of it as an affectation if we try.
Is it for everyone to do this? Should ordinary people fool themselves in this way? The answer is yes--if you can handle it. And I don't think this is self-delusional--this looking beyond, this reaching within. On the contrary, is it not to royally dupe yourself to have no vision at all except the nose on your face or the ring on your hand?
If you can handle it.
"One need not be a chamber--to be haunted--
One need not be a house--
The brain has corridors--surpassing
Far safer, of a midnight meeting
Than its interior confronting--
That cooler host.
Far safer, through an abbey gallop,
The stones a'chase--
Than unarmed, one's a'self encounter--
In lonesome place--"
So what am I really talking about here? And to whom am I talking?
Myself, of course, is the answer to the second part of the question. The first is more complicated.
There are times when I realize I have arrived finally to a place within the folds of my brain where opposites exist peacefully and I am able to pass through the portals they form to (I blush to say) bliss. I don't know how else to say it; maybe it's the bower of which the prophet spoke. I don't know but it's made of awareness and awe and "it leadeth me beside still waters."
There's another layer to this as well; the daily "taking care of business" aspect that parallels the bliss thing. Bliss does laundry, sweeps floors, goes shopping, talks on the phone, gets pissed, makes mistakes, curses the computer, is full of baloney, and so forth. In other words, it's something toward which we can all realistically aspire and need not drain the demand of quotidian duty.
"This consciousness that is aware
Of Neighbors and the sun
Will be the one aware of death
And that itself alone
Is traversing the interval
And most profound experiment
Appointed unto Men
How adequate unto itself
It's properties shall be
Itself unto itself and none
Shall make discovery.
Adventure most unto itself
The soul condemned to be--
Attended by a single hound
It's own identity."
Ahh, but I can see I once again make the mistake (as did Em) of not sufficiently turning outward. I define too much in terms of the interior and transcendent and not enough in human exchange. I should talk with more assurance of a god, or, at least, some purpose to this all. I should do good works; get involved.
Maybe I just need Prozac.
Originally appeared in and written forThe Courage of our Confusion
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