Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On Emily

I've been reading Emily Dickinson lately.  Always one of my favorite poets, I picked up a volume (this is the edition I own) of her complete poems when I was in London in 1990.  A bit off on my continents, I agree, but somehow she made her way into my purchase pile.  Years later, I keep this volume out where I can pick it up and whimsically read wherever the page opens.  Today's choice was number 781.

To wait an Hour- is long-
If Love be just beyond-
To wait Eternity- is short-
If Love reward the end-
c. 1863                1891

It's making me think.  What does she mean when she writes "Love be just beyond-".  Beyond reach?  Beyond grasping?  Beyond comprehension? Never to be realized?  That's the point of this little four-liner that arrests me.  

It's been quite some time since I studied her poetry formally (as in college), and I am not by any means a professional, but I do know that many of her little scribblings dwelt a great deal on God, eternity, and nature.  I believe Emily echos truth in many of us, who struggle and strain for faith and assurance.  Assurance and hope are so fundamental to the Christian pilgrim.  Without these critical components in the life of a believer, doubt, depression, and separation set in.  Did Emily struggle in her faith?

Perhaps Emily best answers the question herself in number 185...

"Faith" is a fine invention
When Gentlemen can see-
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency.
c. 1860                 1891

Maybe it's because Emily struggled and revealed it so transparently with her pen that I love her today.  Her twists and turns, while so much more poignant than my own, still reflect a seeking and searching that lingers in my own heart.  I feel the tension between the faith and the doubt, and yet I choose faith.  Every day I choose faith.

And lest I feel badly for those days when doubt threatens dark clouds above my head, I remember Madeline  L'Engle, and her writings on faith in Walking on Water:  Reflections on Faith and Art., and I take heart:

"Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself."


  1. Oh, that's one of my favorite L'Engle quotes! :)

    And what *did* Emily mean? I think my reading of the first poem is colored by the book we are reading in literature (Lewis' The Great Divorce). I see an eternal perspective there, as well as a temporal one.

    1. I just knew you'd understand my thoughts, MB! I love Lewis as well, but I can't remember if I've actually read The Great Divorce. I think I read it in college. Right now, I've got Walking on Water in my hot little hands, and I want to get going on that one. I need to finish Quiet so I can dive into L'Engle again!