Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Emily Dickinson’s “Serve or Set a Force Illegible”

Emily Dickinson was acquainted with many kinds of loneliness.  She also engaged in a lifelong conversation with God, that which she inherited and that which she experienced.  I think of her poems—all of them—as hymns in the tradition of the Psalmist. Their meter evokes for me the meter of the Calvinist hymns she grew up with--made new with fresh images, lively juxtapositions of incommensurables that explode into new ways of thinking about God in relation to our world. She was a woman who lived contradiction intensely, sincerely, and gracefully; a woman who understood our experience of God gives rise to our view of God but is always too small, too limited, to be equated with that reality; a woman unafraid to travel to the end of the road where one stands alone—enough reason for me to consider her a mystic.  Consider poem #820:

All Circumstances are the Frame
In which His Face is set —
All Latitudes exist for His
Sufficient Continent —
The Light His Action, and the Dark
The Leisure of His Will —
In Him Existence serve or set
A Force illegible.

(#820; p. 398 in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson)

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