The 10 Best Poems of Emily Dickinson

by Monika Cooper

Being presented with an Emily Dickinson poem is like getting a telegram from a strange planet: our own. There may not be any words you don’t know. But she has an idiosyncratic way of putting words together and of leaving certain grammatical and syntactical conventions out. Also, if you’re looking at a poem of hers in its raw state, you’re more than likely to notice a magical texture (something like German or Milton) attributable to unexpected capital letters in the middle of clauses with clauses (and phrases) set off with long dashes. The dashes add to the telegram effect. It’s quite as if traces of untranslated Morse code have been left cryptically behind in the message. For people who love Dickinson, these dashes and capitals and ellipses are part of the delight. If you are not already one of these people (and some never will be), at least don’t let such accidentals scare you or bother you too much. They are grace notes to the music and, should you too come to love the poetry of Emily Dickinson, you will not want to do without them.

Anyone who has read Dickinson (1830-1886) in quantity and with intensity knows how her words, poems, and images make homes in the mind ever after. These ten poems, in no particular order, are not the only ones that I’ve apprehended in the shadows of mine. But they are ten of the best.

If you don’t see your favorite Emily Dickinson poem here, feel free to add it in the comments below.



10. Safe in Their Alabaster Chambers (216)

Safe in their Alabaster Chambers –
Untouched by Morning –
And untouched by Noon –
Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection –
Rafter of Satin – and Roof of Stone!

Grand go the Years – in the Crescent – above them –
Worlds scoop their Arcs –
And Firmaments – row –
Diadems – drop – and Doges – surrender –
Soundless as dots – on a Disc of Snow –


(version of 1861, with “Sleep” borrowed from version of 1859)


The oddness and awfulness of death is a major fascination of Dickinson’s. In the space between stanzas, this poem springs from a dainty and whimsical portrait of death into cosmic and extraterrestrial realms. The two halves of the poem, magical earth and supernatural whirlwind, work together beautifully but the leap between them always takes my breath away. The diadems and Doges dropping and surrendering recall the roaring majesty of the famous hymn with saints “casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea.” Then the final line completely removes us from the known world. It has the surreality of an image resolving into the blankness or whiteness of concept: the kind of thing that happens on the edge where thought and dream bleed together. Like many of Dickinson’s poems, “Safe in Their Alabaster Chambers” is written in hymnbook meter. You can sing it to the “Morning Star” tune for “Brightest and Best of the Sons of Morning.” Try it. And you’re welcome!



9. There’s a Certain Slant of Light (258)

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the Seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes ‘tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –


In this famous piece, Dickinson uses the vehicle of a “Slant of light” to explore the inner experience of devastating revelation, internal paradigm shift. The use of the ongoing present throughout creates the sense that world-shifting, invisibly-scarring events are a customary occurrence in her winter world. The “Slant of light,” recurring afternoon by afternoon, habitually impresses its unique and terrible seal. Dickinson builds her poem of paradox blocks (“Heavenly Hurt,” “imperial affliction”). She evokes a corrective “extreme state of light” in which “everything seems flawed” (as later poet Jane Kenyon worded her observation of New England’s winter sun phenomenon). Reading this poem, I always think of Bernini’s sculpture, St. Teresa in Ecstasy (see image above). The angel in the sculpture holds his dart at a menacing, but heavenly, “Slant.”



8. The Soul Selects Her Own Society (303)

The Soul selects her own Society –
Then – shuts the Door –
To her divine Majority –
Present no more –

Unmoved – she notes the Chariots – pausing –
At her low Gate –
Unmoved – an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat –

I’ve known her – from an ample nation –
Choose One –
Then – close the Valves of her attention –
Like Stone –


We come to a major interpretive crossroads in this poem with the word “Present”: is it a general imperative or an adjective describing the soul? Crossroads like this appear at various places in Dickinson’s work. It’s always worthwhile to stop, listen to each possibility and its ramifications, and then to go back and test your choice after reading the rest of the poem. “The Soul selects Her own Society” is about the harsh and absolute mystery of elective, exclusive love. Though the “Soul selects,” with arbitrary power so free that it is called by analogy “divine,” in the end her own choice binds her in a state of petrification. The final lines unveil for us the terrifying side of choice and love: at some point, decisions become permanent, pass the point of being changed. Even when elective love is actually Divine, it has a tragic aspect: “Jacob have I loved * but * Esau have I hated!” When the soul doing the electing is human and fallible, the risk is incalculable. Nevertheless, the wager is imperative.



7. I Died for Beauty – But Was Scarce (449)

I died for Beauty – but was scarce
Adjusted in the Tomb
When One who died for Truth, was lain
In an adjoining Room –
He questioned softly “Why I failed”?
“For Beauty”, I replied –
“And I – for Truth – Themself are one –
We Brethren are”, He said –
And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night –
We talked between the Rooms –
Until the Moss had reached our lips –
And covered up – our names –


Here is a poem full of the consolations of philosophy applied to the ancient terror that is death. In privileged academic settings (how privileged I had no way of knowing), I used to be involved in debates about the respective merits of philosophy and poetry, the relationship (identity? interchangeability?) of Truth and Beauty. Dickinson’s speaker meets a fellow failure in an underworld where Truth and Beauty have been fully reconciled – and yet the dialogue, the great conversation, goes on. The “democracy of the dead” is a commonplace: here the poet gives us instead an aristocracy, a noble fellowship of death. Even the final silencing and lapse into anonymity at the poem’s end does not fall like a curse on the “Kinsmen” but like a natural, peaceful, resigned, and hope-filled sleep.



6. Mine – by the Right of the White Election! (528)

Mine – by the Right of the White Election!
Mine – by the Royal Seal!
Mine – by the Sign in the Scarlet prison –
Bars – cannot conceal!

Mine – here – in Vision and in Veto!
Mine – by the Grave’s Repeal –
Titled – Confirmed –
Delirious Charter!
Mine – long as Ages steal!


Dickinson treats elective love again. This time, the speaker exults in the joy of being elected. “My lover is mine and I am his,” the bride in Solomon’s Canticle boasts. Dickinson here elaborates and cadenzas on the word “Mine.” This is not the “tiny, tiny myness” Czeslaw Milosz overheard as a theme in feminine conversation (and covertly joined in celebrating). This is the length and height and depth and breadth of jubilant triumphant “myness.” “White Election,” “Royal Seal,” “Scarlet prison”: the phrases breathe religion and esoterica. It is an intimate and mystical Easter hymn that Dickinson alleluias in these lines. This and others of Dickinson’s poems epitomize for me the “white stone principle” in poetry. Some great poems present the reader with a certain opacity, a secret code personal to the poet. We can’t completely crack it; rather we understand it by an awakened sympathy, a likeness of the poet’s secret to a secret within us. It’s a matter of deep calling unto deep. (In the term “white stone principle,” I allude to Jesus’s promise in Revelation: “to him who overcomes I will give a white stone, with a name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”)



5. To Fill a Gap (546)

To fill a Gap
Insert the Thing that caused it –
Block it up
With Other – and ‘twill yawn the more –
You cannot solder an Abyss
With Air.


“Where there is too much,” a Jewish proverb suggests, “something is missing.” And, where something significant enough is missing, Dickinson tells us here, nothing but the Thing that caused the Gap will help. Superfluous nonsense is the symptom of a vacuum where some cornerstone once kept watch. Dickinson begins another poem, the perfect companion to this one, with the lines: “The Missing All – prevented Me / From missing minor Things.” Sometimes the Thing we need is not available to solder the Abyss we face. Then the trick Dickinson spent her life mastering, and much of her poetry exploring, is to learn how to live with the Missing All, rather than try to fill the void with a too-much that will make it “yawn the more.”



4. As the Starved Maelstrom Laps the Navies (872)

As the Starved Maelstrom laps the Navies
As the Vulture teased
Forces the Broods in lonely Valleys
As the Tiger eased

By but a Crumb of Blood, fasts Scarlet
Till he meet a Man
Dainty adorned with Veins and Tissues
And partakes — his Tongue

Cooled by the Morsel for a moment
Grows a fiercer thing
Till he esteem his Dates and Cocoa
A Nutrition mean

I, of a finer Famine
Deem my Supper dry
For but a Berry of Domingo
And a Torrid Eye.


872 is one of Dickinson’s most ferocious and memorable poems on the subject of eating. The fasting-feasting dynamic is strong in this one. She begins by evoking the ravenous in nature — the Maelstrom, the Vulture, the Tiger — then elaborates on Tiger’s fastidious and terrible eating habits. In the last stanza, she closes the analogy opened in the first stanza. The poem’s speaker herself is like a Maelstorm, Vulture, Tiger, discontent with her Supper, after tasting something better and more suitable to her intense appetite. Here Dickinson recasts the situation of “To fill a Gap”: once a tiger has tasted a crumb of blood, once a strong soul has tasted “a Berry of Domingo” the abyss within is recognized and demands more of “what caused it.” Even in closing her analogy, Dickinson speaks in riddles. “Berry of Domingo” and “Torrid Eye” are clearly stand-ins, symbols, kennings, for something she won’t or can’t name directly. Eyes and berries have roundness and shining in common — and the single “Eye” of the last word evokes a personal presence animated by hunger, desire, or wrath. The Tiger from earlier in the poem is back, facing the speaker, and the question is open as to who will be eating whom.



3. Summer Laid Her Simple Hat (1363)

Summer laid her simple Hat
On its boundless Shelf –
Unobserved – a Ribbon slipt,
Snatch it for yourself.

Summer laid her supple Glove
In its sylvan Drawer –
Wheresoe’er, or was she –
The demand of Awe?


1363 is a lesser known poem of Dickinson’s and a personal favorite. The simple Hat, the supple Glove, the boundless Shelf and sylvan Drawer, hover in a “scenelessness” (an important concept in Dickinson criticism). They float airily, concrete but unsupported, like items snatched at in a fall through the rabbit-hole of time. Times are changing, from Summer’s time with its simple classic fashion, to Fall. Summer is peaceful and methodical in her annual ritual of leaving and divesting. She is going somewhere, somewhere else, and we are staying – even as time carries us too where we may not want to go. This poem is less heavy than others in my list. Its touch is light, crisp, and only slightly wistful. It ends on a note of “Awe” and mystery, with a question that is heard but not necessarily understood and certainly not going to be answered for us.



2. Water Makes Many Beds (1428)

Water makes many Beds
For those averse to sleep –
Its awful chamber open stands –
Its Curtains blandly sweep –
Abhorrent is the Rest
In undulating Rooms
Whose Amplitude no end invades –
Whose Axis never comes.


In 1428, the poet examines the element of water, getting to its vertiginous, almost demonic, quality. There are dragons in the waters, Scripture tells us, and water is exorcised before being blessed for use in the old Catholic baptism rite. The poem has the tone of nightmares: fear of water is primal. Nature’s house, as Dickinson suggests elsewhere, is haunted. The nouns “Beds,” “chamber,” “Curtains,” “Rooms,” evoke a complicated house swirled through by many waters, a life-in-death series of deathbeds. What I love in this poem is its sublime marriage of beauty and fear, bonded like hydrogen and oxygen in the essence of water. When nightmares are beautiful, we love to tell them and hold onto their memory: they give us a sense of the fearful and wondrous, the immense expanses of chaos, that somehow exist within us.



1. A Word Made Flesh Is Seldom (1651)

A Word made Flesh is seldom
And tremblingly partook
Nor then perhaps reported
But have I not mistook
Each one of us has tasted
With ecstasies of stealth
The very food debated
To our specific strength –

A Word that breathes distinctly
Has not the power to die
Cohesive as the Spirit
It may expire if He –
“Made Flesh and dwelt among us”
Could condescension be
Like this consent of Language
This loved Philology.


“A Word Made Flesh” represents in my judgment Dickinson’s crowning achievement. It doesn’t stand alone as such: her poems make an interlocking sub-universe of which this late lyric is the capstone. Lyric, I say, but the genre here may be better characterized as Thomistic hymn. We are back in the hymnbook world and in the total grandeur of Christian orthodoxy. Dickinson hits many wild notes in her various singings, but in this poem, she simply pulls out the glorious stops of the liturgical organ and mines its measures. Once again, she writes of eating –“With ecstasies of stealth / The very food debated / To our specific strength”– recalling with intentional specificity Biblical descriptions of the manna, which adapted itself to each hungry soul’s taste. The Word is the All, once Missing, now “tremblingly partook” argue that Dickinson was far from orthodox and certainly no Catholic: she was nevertheless given Christian truth for this poem about discovering Christian truth. As the parable of the “treasure hidden in the field” implies, it can happen to anyone. No one can deny that Dickinson was a seeker (“out with lanterns, looking for ourselves”). This poem is one more proof, among thousands in the human story, of the gospel truth: that “he who seeketh, findeth.”


Don’t see your favorite Emily Dickinson poem here? Add it in the comments section.



Monika Cooper is an American family woman.

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34 Responses

  1. Stephen M. Dickey

    I welcome this! And I enjoyed very much reading your comments on each piece, especially the ones not so familiar to me, from your initial characterization of her poems as telegrams from our strange planet. I keep coming back to Dickinson. Her poetry insinuates itself into my mind and then cannot be dislodged; she is slowly irresistible.
    Again, very enjoyable.

    • Monika Cooper

      Thank you, Stephen. I agree, Dickinson’s poetry takes hold in the memory. So glad you enjoyed my essay.

  2. Joshua C. Frank

    I’m sure these poems are great, but they go over my head; I have to take your word for it when I read the explanations. I’m more of a Robert Frost and William Wordsworth type (these are two of the poets of the past I name as my influences).

    • Monika Cooper

      Joshua, thank you for reading and commenting. I dearly love Frost and Wordsworth as well. Among Wordsworth’s, the Lucy poems especially shine.

      • Joshua C. Frank

        Yes, I love those… plus “We Are Seven” and “The Daffodils” (and I don’t even like nature poems as a rule, so you know that one is great!)

  3. V. Paige Parker

    Monika, this is marvelous! Your poetry critiques are excellent. I love all of your references to Scripture and Christianity. Thank you for masterfully making Emily Dickinson’s poetry come alive!

    • Monika Cooper

      Thank you. I’m so glad you liked the piece. One professor said that poetry in English is written in code and you need to know the Bible to decode it. In addition to their Morse code quality, Dickinson’s poems are full of Bible code.

  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    This is a fantastically good selection, with excellent and lucid commentary, from the poems of Dickinson. Cooper presents the sort of intelligent explication de texte that used to be standard in academic scholarship, but which now has been shoved aside and ignored by the fakery of Critical Theory.

    Dickinson is the undisputed mistress of slant rhyme, hymn meter, and the dash. I’m glad to see that Cooper has used the indispensable Thomas H. Johnson three-volume edition of 1955, which is unflinchingly faithful to the Dickinson manuscripts and punctuation. Some other idiots have tried to edit this poet by meddling with the dashes. This has always infuriated me, since how the bloody hell can you change the text of a poet when you have the actual autograph manuscripts of her work? But leave it to academics to do something stupid.

    This capsule presentation of Dickinson’s work is precisely the kind of honest educational task that the SCP does well. We owe a debt of gratitude to Monika Cooper.

    • Monika Cooper

      Thank you very much for your kind words, Joe. I’ve had some wonderful teachers of poetry explication along the way, starting with my father, who studied the Bible with a rigorous “inductive method” that applies beautifully to all kinds of other texts.

  5. James A. Tweedie

    There is a type of mystic transcendentalism that edges its way into Dickinson’s spiritual wrestling with life, death. (her Christian) faith, and doubt. These poems capture the maddeningly endearing, captivatingly complex uniqueness of Dickinson’s verse. She was and forever will be “time out of joint,” a stranger in a strange land, an alien, a wandering Aramean, an audacious oddball, if you will. Not quite loveable but nonetheless, as a kind of human magnate, attractive in a distant, intimately removed way–tangible yet ungraspable.

    Monika, your self-described “American family woman,” is too meager, too spare an autobiography to explain your marvelous commentary. I am particularly fond of these two sentences in your annotation of “Water Makes Many Beds:”

    “What I love in this poem is its sublime marriage of beauty and fear, bonded like hydrogen and oxygen in the essence of water. When nightmares are beautiful, we love to tell them and hold onto their memory: they give us a sense of the fearful and wondrous, the immense expanses of chaos, that somehow exist within us.”

    That is prose on the verge of poetry–missing only the Dickinson-dashes!

    As for the final poem, while you link it to the biblical manna, I would point to the opening words as more likely being a reflection on the mystery of the Sacrament of the Eucharist–“The Word made Flesh . . . tremblingly partook . . .”

    Thank you so very much for sharing these ten marvelous poetic mazes, and for your cogent, colorful, and insightful comments.

    • Monika Cooper

      Mr. Tweedie, thank you very much for your rich response to my thoughts here. I agree, Dickinson feels very alien. I think her poems have the temperature of rain, they’re always a bit of a shock and make the reader shudder.

      And I agree that “A Word Made Flesh” is ultimately about the Eucharist. The miraculous manna itself was an image of the Bread to come. I once wrote a paper on Eucharistic imagery in Dickinson’s poetry (tying together her poems on eating, her esoteric mystical poems, and the ones with explicit references to Holy Communion). What I learned in writing that paper colors all my re-reading of her work.

      “Poetic mazes,” yes. Very tiny things her poems are to be so labyrinthine!

  6. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Monika, your ten poems of Emily Dickinson brought back memories of my mother reading them to me long ago. My mother’s first name was Emily. She was a literature and English teacher in high school named for my grandmother’s favorite poet, Emily Dickinson. Emily remains one of my favorite poets. I have written several poems attempting to emulate her cleverness and style. Their simplicity is deceptive, since she achieves so much depth with commonly used words that appeal to everyone. My two favorite poems she wrote are “I’m Nobody! Who are You” and “Hope is the Thing with Feathers.” Thank you for suggesting we could post our own favorites. Here they are:

    By Emily Dickinson

    I’m Nobody! Who are you?
    Are you – Nobody – too?
    Then there’s a pair of us!
    Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
    How dreary – to be – Somebody!
    How public – like a Frog –
    To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
    To an admiring Bog!

    By Emily Dickinson

    “Hope” is the thing with feathers –
    That perches in the soul –
    And sings the tune without the words –
    And never stops – at all –

    And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
    And sore must be the storm –
    That could abash the little Bird
    That kept so many warm –

    I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
    And on the strangest Sea –
    Yet – never – in Extremity,
    It asked a crumb – of me.

    • Monika Cooper

      Thank you for sharing your memories of your mother Emily, Roy. So beautiful. I love the poems you chose. I considered including “I’m Nobody” in my essay; it’s one of my favorites too. It reverberates.

      I recently learned about “Hope is the thing with feathers” that Emily Bronte also had a poem comparing Hope to a bird, which Emily Dickinson knew and requested to have read at her funeral. The two Emilys were kindred spirits, I think: no coward souls!

  7. Stephen Binns

    Congratulations, Monika: the appreciations are as poetic as the selections. Good criticism should be as imaginative as literature. Yours is among it. Example: seeing Bernini’s angel in that certain slant of light on winter afternoons. Driving westward in a winter rush hour, I’ve only seen the oppression!

    Great depths of scholarship are here as well. Example: seeing something Thomistic in the final selection. I’ve gone to Thomas’s “Adoro te devote, latens Deitas,” which is admirably translated in the 1962 Latin Missal. The English retains the trochaic of the Latin:

    O Memorial wondrous of the Lord’s own death!,
    Living Bread, that givest all thy creatures breath,
    Grant my spirit ever by Thy life may live,
    To my taste Thy sweetness neverfailing give.

    Gosh, you’re right. That looks like Emily Dickinson. Right down to the capitals. I’d never seen it before.

    • Monika Cooper

      Thank you, Stephen. So glad you see the Thomistic likeness too. Many people might find it too huge of a leap!

      I’m looking forward to catching up on your Dante cantos. Once again, I find myself squeamish in the face of those deeper levels of hell. But I know I will not regret the reading.

  8. Warren Bonham

    I’ll lob in a vote for Because I could not stop for Death. I always liked the imagery in that one but I don’t see it pop up on many top 10 lists – probably a little on the morbid side.

    Because I could not stop for Death –
    He kindly stopped for me –
    The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
    And Immortality.

    We slowly drove – He knew no haste
    And I had put away
    My labor and my leisure too,
    For His Civility –

    We passed the School, where Children strove
    At Recess – in the Ring –
    We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
    We passed the Setting Sun –

    Or rather – He passed Us –
    The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
    For only Gossamer, my Gown –
    My Tippet – only Tulle –

    We paused before a House that seemed
    A Swelling of the Ground –
    The Roof was scarcely visible –
    The Cornice – in the Ground –

    Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
    Feels shorter than the Day
    I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
    Were toward Eternity –

    • Monika Cooper

      A wonderful choice, Warren. My brother and I were comparing our Dickinson top ten lists over Christmas and this one was on his. That second to last stanza! Green-washed horror.

  9. Jonathan Kinsman

    This is no repressed proto-feminist, no reclusive ‘quiet passion’ heroine of the Self-Reliance Set. She is and remains a vibrant soul, intensely in love with her Creator and His Creation. She is emblematic of True Empathy, of a virtuous soul suffering with her kin (all of us).

    My muse shows slight discomfort when she sees a smile in my eyes. She knows I have been spending an afternoon hour with Miss Emily. Her poems are conversations that we are fortunate to be in on.

    Good work, Monika!

    • Monika Cooper

      Thank you, Jonathan. Your portrait of Dickinson here matches my perception of her. She was (and is!) in love, as you say. Though Love’s course ran ragged and lightning-like through her life, it ran true. (And now I’m thinking of “Tell all the truth”: another from my brother’s list, another that I wished I had room to include in mine.)

  10. C.B. Anderson

    Your commentary is incisive and insightful, Monika, and helps me appreciate a poet of whom I am ordinarily not particularly fond. When I read her stuff I often say to myself, “She should have gotten out more.” But if that had been the case, then perhaps we would not have gotten such pared-to-the-bone views of her interior landscapes.

    • Monika Cooper

      Thank you, C. B! I think Dickinson will never be everyone’s favorite poet, which is in some ways an encouraging thought to poets everywhere. She did leave in a considerable amount of basically untranslated idiolect. But I find it so mesmerizing!

  11. Mary Gardner

    Monika, thank you for your insight and explanations.
    What makes #5 a poem? It lacks rhyme, meter, and alliteration.

    • Daniel Kemper

      Hi Mary,

      I think this is a very good question; however, answers to it will almost certainly lead to a heated debate and would hijack the thread. I’ll only say this for now: Poets are very good with the accuracy and precision of their diction when writing a poem; however, when it comes to writing *about* a poem, it’s generally not the case. By writing *about* a poem, I mean classification etc.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Johnson #546 may well be an unfinished piece. The first four lines can be re-construed and read as typical hymn meter:

      To fill a gap insert the Thing
      That caused it — block it up
      With other — and ’twill yawn the more —

      This may be a poem that she started, but never got around to polishing up.

    • Monika Cooper

      You know, the lack of rhyme and meter in that one did register to me, but only barely. Maybe that has something to do with what makes it a poem; it almost feels like it has those things. I included it because of the hold it’s taken on my mind and because of all the applications I keep finding for its uncanny wisdom.

      Anyway, glad you pointed out how one of these things is not like the others. (While in other ways it fits right in to that “interlocking sub-universe,” in the exact gap that only it could fill.)

  12. James Sale

    Thanks for this wonderful selection, Monika, and your superb commentary – very informative indeed. For all the great poetry since Christ, understanding some deep theology is a necessity and part of the appreciation – even when the poet, like Yeats, is not a Christian. Your point about Jacob I loved, and Esau I hated is very apt – it is a stumbling block for all non-believers, since ‘Who resists His Will?’ But Dickinson has a mystical appreciation of just such matters, which is why her work is so intriguing. But even that point is subsidiary to that half-line that says it all: The demand of Awe? The purpose of poetry itself: worship/praise (though I note her question mark). Each act of real poetry is a validation of the original creation, and of the fact that evil is subsumed/accommodated within it and cannot win. So, thanks – really thought-provoking commentary and great poems.

    • Monika Cooper

      Thank you, James. I know some think Emily longed for faith and grace without receiving them but the reality is there in the desire, it seems to me. Your thoughts intrigue me and bring back to my mind your unforgettable poem about the Sibyl: she seems evil and yet subsumed within a poetic creation, yours and the larger one.

  13. Margaret Coats

    I like to see it lap the Miles–
    And lick the valleys up–
    And stop to feed itself at Tanks–
    And then–prodigious step

    Around a pile of Mountains–
    And supercilious peer
    In Shanties–by the sides of Roads–
    And then a Quarry pare

    To fit its Ribs
    And crawl between
    Complaining all the while
    In horrid–hooting stanza–
    Then chase itself down Hill–

    And neigh like Boanerges–
    Then–punctual as a Star
    Stop–docile and omnipotent
    At its own stable door–

    Monika, I agree with your number one poem. The one I’ve typed in above was a favorite with my children. It is perhaps a riddle easier to solve than most you have reflected on here, but we can see the same meditative method. You treat all the poems as open to meditation expanded by the reader’s own thoughts, which is a very fruitful process for enjoying many kinds of poetry. You’ve gone into other art and literature and word associations that are yours rather than Dickinson’s, and that is a critic’s privilege, when based in some way on the words of the poem under consideration. You identify the most important allusions she makes (and would have expected a reader to understand), while also maintaining that she reserves meaning to herself in an authorial code. That’s an important observation applicable to many poets, maybe more obviously to Dickinson than to many others. But we can hardly imagine that implicit private meanings are rare in poetry, even among poets whose regard their work as done to communicate a message. Most of these naturally disappear with the demise of the author and his or her circle, but may emerge with a close examination of multiple works–becoming more fully acquainted with poet and poems.

    Thanks for your demonstration of close-reading criticism in conjunction with typical themes of this poet, and for suggestions about her approach to much that is beyond words.

    • Monika Cooper

      Thank you for your insights, Margaret, and for the Dickinson poem. It’s delightful! I do seek to maximize my liberty in whatever form I’m writing in, all in the interest of getting at some of the harder-to-express corners of truth.

  14. Daniel Kemper

    I enjoy the selection of Emily Dickinson’s writing very much — and the contributions that this spurred as well. No one can dispute that she was the highest caliber wordsmith. No one can dispute that she is a handful for anyone, her time or ours. An awful lot can be gleaned from studying her.

    Taxonomized however one will, although I do enjoy “free verse,” when I am done reading it, or being immersed in it at local poetry readings, I often feel…

    “Emily, thou shouldst be living at this hour…”

    (although that’s a dactylic start)

    • Monika Cooper

      Thank you, Daniel. I’m glad you enjoyed it. The comments here are wonderful; I never expected such a tremendous response. Dickinson certainly gets a fine balance absolutely right.

  15. Monika Cooper

    Happy to receive all your interesting and generous comments! Thank you. I was away from my computer much of the weekend but will try to write back individually over the next few days.


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