Sunday, February 24, 2008

Abyss by Abyss

On the whole I can’t say’s I’m a fan. Of Emily Dickinson. Yes, there is the occasional poem that really hits me. But mostly, I’d have to say, I don’t get her.

I’ve blogged before about working my way through The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (edited by Thomas H. Johnson!) … “I think I'm past halfway. Through Emily Dickinson's Complete Poems.” That’s from the January 2004 LuvSet post where I also said, “There are Dickinson poems I really like. But mostly she's not a poet that makes poetry for me.” It doesn’t look like four years and hundreds more Dickinson poems have altered my opinions.

Recently I came across one that’s a variation on a Dickinson poem I copied out some time ago. First, the poem (340, Johnson’s numbering), that I copied out May 2002:

Is Bliss then, such Abyss,
I must not put my foot amiss
For fear I spoil my shoe?

I’d rather suit my foot
Than save my Boot –
For yet to buy another Pair
Is possible
At any store –

But Bliss, is sold just once.
The Patent lost
None buy it any more –
Say, Foot, decide the point –
The Lady cross, or not?
Verdict for Boot!


Nearly a thousand poems later (editor Johnson gives it the number 1322), we have Dickinson saying this:

Floss won’t save you from an Abyss
But a Rope will –
Notwithstanding a Rope for a Souvenir
Is not beautiful –

But I tell you every step is a Trough –
And every stop a Well –
Now will you have the Rope or the Floss?
Prices reasonable –


Two Abysses! Are they the same? One is Bliss. The other? But what’s with Bliss spoiling a shoe? My reading of the first poem is unstable. She has decided against stepping forth into Bliss but why? She says she can always buy another shoe and opportunities for Bliss may not come again. Yet she seems to decide against the step. I can’t help thinking about Patent Leather from which shoes are made, when Dickinson says, “The Patent lost / None buy it any more.” Which is for sale? Boot or Bliss? Both?

The second poem I tend to think the Abyss a more conventional Black Mood, a Depression. But reviewing the earlier Abyss and that poem’s items for sale (Boot & Bliss versus Rope & Floss) … pairing them like that I see they off-rhyme poem to poem, a typically Dickinsonian kind of off-rhyme … what is the merchant’s recommendation? Skip the Abyss!

I’m not going to add #1322 to my personal anthology of favorites, not because I don’t like it, but because I don’t think it’s as funny. I’m tickled every time I see the girl hovering over the muddy puddle of Bliss-Abyss, holding back in order to save her shoe, which, anyway, she could buy another of, but Bliss, what could suit a foot so well!

That practical rope, on the other hand, is not only “not beautiful” it’s rather dull. She’s turned in her fashionable boot for sensible shoes! “Prices reasonable”?


Big Frank Dickinson said...

Was it not Walt Whitman who said, "Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)" and Emerson - "A foolish consistency is the hobgobblin of little minds." So - she is drawn to the bliss, but her practicality draws her to other choices. Thank you for the blog. Dickinson - in her complexity is endlessly fascinating.

Big Frank Dickinson

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I figured E.D. was using Abyss in a different fashion in the second poem than in the first. But I began to wonder upon comparing them. Bliss and Death seem capable of being both opposites and synonyms in E.D.'s system.

Thanks for stopping by, B.F.D.!