There is a within of things…
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
We are a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.
She was not daily bread. She was stardust.
—Martha Dickinson Bianchi (1914) speaking of her aunt, poet Emily Dickinson
Three quotations I thought to record in the midst of different sets of notes over the last week. They met each other off-page in my mind and imagination and that encounter led to this bit of musing…
Emily Dickinson was not a friend to my youth. I knew of her and seem to have a vague memory of needing to memorize Because I could not stop for death… for Mrs. Herndon in 6th grade reading class. Mr. Heaps in 10th grade told the class that any of her works could be sung to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” She did not rise in my estimation.
It feels now, decades hence, that she has been waiting for me. Walking the halls of her house in Amherst, perhaps…scribbling on the scraps of paper and envelope backs that received her verse…wondering when I would feel like I could again knock at her door. Or maybe more likely, not knock at all. Simply walk in and have a seat, quietly, not wanting to disturb.
Not wanting to disturb…instead desiring to experience or come to know something of her own Teilhard-ian ‘within’ that made it into her verse. The aspects that led her to seeming reclusiveness as well as the aspects that had her love deeply and with great feeling; the ‘within’ that afforded her such insightful connections with nature as to recognize hope as a thing with feathers and knowledge of its intimate spark that would flame into verse: Beauty crowds me till I die/Beauty, mercy have on me!/But if I expire today,/let it be in sight of thee.
It seems as though she intuitively recognized/experienced what eco-theologian Thomas Berry later frequently repeated: We are a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects. Hope, beauty, death, nature, all manner of creation, all of this has Beingness and Voice in Emily Dickinson’s lines. These are not objects to subdue but rather subjects to observe, to listen to, from which one might learn of the universe both mystical and upon enchanted ground.
Mrs. Herndon, Mr. Heaps, understandably introduced Emily to my classmates and me as daily bread. Woman, dressed in white, recluse, dates, facts, more well-known verse. We were young and not yet ready for the complex wonder of stardust. I am so glad to now be able to experience that cosmic aspect of her…the freedom, the grandeur, the elemental and organic. It feels like that arena was home for her much more truly than her house in Amherst, MA. And that is something time has taught me to appreciate both in myself and in others.
Thank you, Emily Dickinson, for your works, your praises, your constellation of apocrypha, apocalypse, and ascension. And thanks for leaving your door open…