Saturday, February 28, 2009

“Love—thou art high”

February is about to dip below the horizon, so here’s the last in our series of poems about love. This one’s by Emily Dickinson, & it’s a fine (if somewhat less well known) example of her poetic technique & thinking. The images & language are completely her own; for instance, the somewhat standard trope of two lovers rowing the boat of their love becomes transformed both by the phrase “sovereign Summer” & by the fact that their destination is—in potential at least—“the Sun.”

& also in characteristic fashion, Dickinson takes the poems conceits to a deep place—the final stanza is filled with darkness: “Smile—and alter—and prattle—and die.” The last three lines also seem fruitfully enigmatic—the words “Oddity” & “Nicknamed” carry connotative weight & can lead our readerly minds into poetic thinking. It’s worth noting that “Oddity” is a rhyming word, & as such is “underlined” & matched with “Eternity.”

A couple of notes: “Chimborazo” is an Ecuadorian volcano
. Because the Earth isn’t a perfect sphere, the summit of Chimborazo is actually the surface point furthest from the earth’s center. “Ducal” means “Duke-like”—i.e., “royally.”

Hope you enjoy this profound meditation on love:

Love — thou art high —
I cannot climb thee —
But, were it Two —
Who knows but we —
Taking turns — at the Chimborazo —
Ducal — at last — stand up by thee —

Love — thou are deep —
I cannot cross thee —
But, were there Two
Instead of One —
Rower, and Yacht — some sovereign Summer —
Who knows — but we'd reach the Sun?

Love — thou are Veiled —
A few — behold thee —
Smile — and alter — and prattle — and die —
Bliss — were an Oddity — without thee —
Nicknamed by God —
Eternity —

Emily Dickinson


  1. I love Dickinson. I wrote about her once on my blog, albeit briefly.

    I appreciate the explanation about the volcano - I never knew.

    My father bought me a collection of Dickinson tapes. I want to go dig them out and listen to them today.

  2. Thanks Jen-- Dickinson was simply a very great poet with an extraordinary & singular gift. Hope you enjoy your listening.

  3. I needed to read this - thank you! Now that the Tribute to Past Loves is in the process of becoming, all the information I need to complete it is coming my way. Amazing process! No wonder I love to paint. (Haven't for a long time).

    I have a lot to say about love, have been thinking about it so much. Emily always says it best, though, doesn't she?

    Thank you for this!

  4. Hi Reya:

    Glad you liked it-- you have been doing some very good writing about this on "The Gold Puppy."

    Dickinson is a unique artist-- never afraid to communicate her vision as directly as possible.


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