Emily Dickinson

poetry

“The feet of people walking home”

The feet of people walking home
With gayer sandals go–
The Crocus–til she rises
The Vassal of the snow–
The lips at Hallelujah
Long years of practice bore
Till bye and bye these Bargemen
Walked singing on the shore.

Pearls are the Diver’s farthings
Extorted from the Sea–
Pinions–the Seraph’s wagon
Pedestrian once–as we–

Night is the morning’s Canvas
Larceny–legacy–
Death, but our rapt attention
To Immortality.

My figures fail to tell me
How far the Village lies–
Whose peasants are the Angels–
Whose Cantons dot the skies–
My Classics veil their faces–
My faith that Dark adores–
Which from its solemn abbeys
Such resurrection pours.

– – –

The story of Emily Dickinson is well known; the irony of her hermetic existence is that she has become one of the most well-known and widely read American poets. While she lived most of her adult life alone in Amherst, MA, she was a woman of fancy, imagination, and intense passion, writing over 1,700 poems and thousands of letters to her many friends–most of them she never saw. Simple lyrics like “The feet of people walking home” glow with a language of utter fascination.

Dickinson’s introverted life gave her an utterly unique perspective on poetry. While most major poets are associated with this movement or that style, Dickinson is nothing more than Dickinson. Her use of punctuation, especially the Em Dash (–), is highly irregular, especially for the late 1800s–not until the Beats in the 1950s did any group of poets use the dash so heavily. Yet her use of capitalization carries a Classical sentiment, recalling a time when all nouns were capitalized. Her poetry is beautifully ignorant of the wordniness of her contemporaries, such as Whitman. She writes in a short, terse lyric style that was all but out of fashion in her time, with the exception being the rising star in Ireland, W.B. Yeats.

The em dash reveals her passion and conflict. It’s a symbol of time, and often a symbol of epiphany; a moment when time pauses and the writer loses control, as if writing automatically. The writer enters a state of realization. Dickinson, it seems, spent many of her days in this fashion.

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William Carlos Williams
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Carl Sandburg

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