viernes, 19 de abril de 2013


In her recent review about the Collected Poems (Poesía completa) by Emily Dickinson, translated by Enrique Goicolea, Ainhoa Sáenz de Zaitegui (El  Cultural 8-3-2013) writes "she was a woman with a mission"; "If the had lived in the Twenty-First Century, she would have been a Gothic poet, dressed in black, her lips in black lipstick."

I am afraid that Zaitegui does not quite understand Emily Dickinson and she is committing the usual mistake of reading authors from the past  through the lens of twenty-first century. At the end of her life, Dickinson dressed in white, she was known as "The Lady in White." Was the colour of her garment an allusion to the crowd dressed in white  mentioned in the Book of Revelations by Saint John? Was her white dress the colour of her shround, reminiscent of one "of the meek members of the Resurrection," who await patiently the day thet will risen from the dead.  The cultural journalist forgets that Emily Dickinson had a deep knowledge of religion and lived during the Second American Religious Revival.

Therefore, my view is that Dickinson is more a mystic thatn a gothic poet. Death is the substance of  her poetry, but was death a part of the everyday life of people  of nineteenth century and present in the poetry in English from both sides of the Atlantic (Tennyson, Rossetti, Browning...). For Cristina Rossetti, death was a liberation ("Sleeping at last, trouble & tumult over/Sleeping at last, the struggle & horror past/Cold & white out of shigth of friend & of lover/Sleeping at last." C. Rossetti, 1896)

Rossetti clearly believed in the Afte- Life but did Dickinson? There are volumes of criticism written about this. Int the introduction about her in the Norton Anthology of English Literature, the critic writes that "she was fully capable of moving within the same pome from religious consolotation to rejection of doctrinal piety." And so she did, but, in my opinion, Emiy Dicksionson dd believe in God and in Immortality, despite her doubts. Here are some lines which point in this direction:

365 (368)
I know that He exists.
Somewhere -in silence-
He has hid his rare life
From our gross eyes

'Tis and instant's play -
'Tis a fond Ambush-
Just to make Bliss
Earn her own surprise!

But -should the play
Prove piercing earnest -
Should the glee -glaze-
In Death's -stiff -stare -

Would not the fun
Look too expensive!
Would not the jest -
Have crawled too far!     (1862)

In the the first line, Dickinson seems to be echoing the words of Job, which are beautifully sung in Haendel's oratory "Messiah": "I know that my Redeemer liveth, " and, therefore I shall live too.
When she says "He had hid his rare life/From our gross eyes," it reminds me Pope Bendedict the 16th when he said, just before abdicating, that "sometimes God seemed to be asleep." The reality of death, says Dickinson, is cruel, but the inextistence of a Beyond would be an even crueller joke.

And what do you think? Do you thinks Emily Dickinson believed in God and immortality?

To end this entry, I would like to thank the group of enthusiastic and innovative students (Elena, Álvaro, Georgiana, Olga and Mª José)  from my English Literature class (Languages & Commnication degree) for the amazning presentation they have delivered today about Emily Dickison!! Elena's impersonation of Emily Dickinson, has  confirmed my idea of the American poet as a kind of mystic, a St Theresa living in the US during the nineteenth century.
Here is the link if you would like to enjoy it:


4 comentarios:


    Emily Dickison is one of the most interesting and mysterious authors I have ever studied. There are just so many uncertain aspects of her life. Why was she always alone? Why did she choose to life like that? It's not only that her poetry is strange but her own self is completely ambiguous and full of contradictions!

    I was really excited when my group and I came up with the idea of disguihsing ourselves as the American and English authors (Álvaro was supposed to be Poe at first but then we realized that he was Whitman's living reencarnation and we changed our minds). Playing the role of Emily Dicksinson was a great honour and a responsability I was really happy to take. But after a few days of research, I must confess that I was overwhelmed with fear. The information I found in one book was inmediately contradicted be the next one I read. No one was sure about any aspect of her life...

    I tried to read her letters, in an attemp to understand her... but it only contribuided to make the mess bigger. I would like to share with you one of the letters she wrote to Susan Gilbert, her close friend. The letter is as follows:
    "Dear Friend.
    I regret to inform you that at 3 o clovk yesterday, my mind came to a stand, and thas has been stationary. Ere this intelligence reaches you, I shall probably be a snail. By this untoward providence a mental and moral being has been swept ruthelessly form her sphere"

    Waw... it's simply amazing. I think that after so much time reading her I can finally have an opinion: Dickinson was a person who was always completely coherent with her toughts. Always. Until the last moments. Her letters... are just as ethereal as her poetry. Emily had a particular and unique vision of the world and this can be seen in each and every of the words she writes in a piece of paper. I don't think that she was obliged to life like she did (all in white, in the house of her parents...) but, actually, this was the role she wanted to play.

    Thank you very much, Pilar, for your coments! I am really glad we finally made this presentation and glad to hear you enjoyed it!

    Emily Dickinson has always been (and probably will be continuing to be) of of the most mysterious characters in the history, but she is really a puzzle which is worth trying to solve.

  2. Dear Elena, thank YOU, and your group for such a wonderful and formative performance. Honestly, It was one of the best experiences of my career as a university teacher!

    I did not have time to ask your permission to publish your presentation on the blog, but I assume that I have it. I'm so glad you enjoyed the experience of reading about Emily Dickinson, and playing her. Do continue reading and enjoying literature like this!

  3. I personally believe that Emily Dickinson was a mystic woman, and if she had lived in the Twenty-first century, she would have been the same person with the same characteristics of her period, because some of the features that emphasize in her poems and works are features of her personality. I think she was enigmatic, intelligent and strange. However, we can observe that she tries to reveal something throughout her poems; she wanted to express her doubts and worries about the life after the death as well as her knowledge of religion.
    I think, Dickinson believed in the existence of something, she knew that there was a spiritual figure who she called, in her poems, `a king´, she talked about this figure with a special respect, but we really don`t know if this figure was God since she never affirmed this. Furthermore, this poet believed in immortality how can be seen in the poems "I've Seen a Dying Eye," "Parting," and "Because I could not stop for Death," she analyzes Death and attempts to represent it as a stage of existence that acts as a bridge between life and eternity. Dickinson deals the mystery of human death in much of her poems but manages to remove the apprehension and fear that this topic causes. By making Death just a single phase for the immortal soul, she is able to view Death and Immortality from a unique perspective and in some cases with desire and gratitude.

    Waleska Parra Reyes

    1. Thank you for your comment Waleska! Yes I agree, she believed in somtehing, it's difficult to say in what or in whom, but she always had in mind the existence of a Beyond, and that eveything did not end with material life, as most of her poems suggest.