My second ex-husband and I argued a lot over poetry.
That is a bit of a wide statement. We only really disagreed about two poets: Emily Dickinson and T. S. Eliot.
It isn’t that I hate Eliot, because you can’t hate (as an reader, writer and poet) someone who so perfectly captures early 20th century ennui.
And then there’s this quote, which speaks my truth.
It’s just that my appreciation for Eliot resides primarily in my head while my appreciation for Dickinson resides firmly in my heart. She’s one of my guides.
I even read this poem at my grandma’s funeral, while I was pregnant with my daughter.
She died — this was the way she died;
And when her breath was done,
Took up her simple wardrobe
And started for the sun.
Her little figure at the gate
The Angels must have spied,
Since I could never find her
Upon the mortal side.
My grandmother was short (I come from a long line of short, stubborn brunettes), and she was a seamstress par excellence. The poem left nary a dry eye in the chapel.
That is the power of a well-chosen and well-placed Dickinson poem.
It was two things that kept me arguing long after it did any good, and well into when it was actually doing harm: he mocked Dickinson for using the same rhythms in all her poems (they can be sung to the tune of about four Christian hymns) and dismissed her genius out of hand as being trite; and I felt that since I was the one who had the discipline to actually complete a degree in literature and pursue it further with some post-grad work, my opinions were better than his opinions.
He had been an English major, back in the 1980s, but had drank himself out of college.
Looking back on all of this, my pride and folly, the warning signs—it makes me want to read some T. S. Eliot… no! some Thomas Hardy! and poke myself in the eye repeatedly.
But it won’t do. I have to admit my error and move on to let him fix his.
So grant me your good favor to post a poem that is a straight-up Dickinson rip-off.
I wrote it on Easter Sunday. Yes, I promise, I am also writing erotica. Enjoy!
(NOTE: This is the fourth time I have changed the title since going live. Sometimes the title comes to me first; sometimes it’s the other way around.)
I found the sweetest heart;
raped, beaten, left for dead.
I wrapped her up in silk
and laid her on my bed.
I used the sharpest blade
to cut away her scars.
what was left was little,
but still outshone the stars.
I held her to my breast,
and said the kindest word.
with joyful bursts of song;
Lo! she became a bird.