Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gray day, soft rain, goldfinches in trees. Walked through the cemetery and down the woodland path. Picked up fresh pine branches that lay on the ground. Placed them in the fountain in the solarium where they lend a Japanese touch against the wall. Have felt tired much of the day, perhaps due to the weather. Went to lie down for a bit with my book and realized that I had to change clothes - the bottoms of my jeans were wet from walking through the churchyard.

Have been reading more of Judith Farr's The Passion of Emily Dickinson, the chapter that analyzes three powerful love letters that ED wrote (along with a number of related poems) addressed to an unnamed "Master." There is forever a central, unknowable mystery to ED, she is so elliptical, a reason - but by no means the only one - that she is continually fascinating. Becoming more so, I think, if that's possible, the more that time goes on.

One of ED's biographers, Cynthia Griffin Bell, dismissed the idea that Samuel Bowles was "Master." Bowles was an intimate of the Dickinson circle - he spent social evenings, in which ED was in attendance, at the home of ED's brother Austin and Austin's wife Susan - a woman who captivated both Bowles and ED. Bowles was physically and intellectually vigorous. He enjoyed the company of lively women, and they in turn felt a sense of freedom in their relations with him. Judith Farr lays out a very persuasive case that ED was well acquainted with Bowles and that he was indeed her beloved ideal, the "Master" she addresses in the letters.

It's just so strange reading all this, it's like reading about myself, or looking in a mirror. It's 2010. The Master letters were written - when? (paging through the book) - one of them anyway, around 1861. ED was in a completely different time from me. I think of her as truly modern, in the way that I think of form-breaking 20th century art forms as modern - she was out of time herself. Yet she was very much in and of her time (1830-1886), steeped in the Amherst world of transcendentalism and Victorianism, and contemporaneous cultural inputs that she was acquainted with. For example, she loved Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and Judith Farr discusses how allusions from that novel find their way - rewoven, reworked, reimagined, incorporated, made her own - into ED's letters and poems. (Shades of Louise Erdrich and her "Nests" I think. We're always weaving in strands that are already there, that we find...)

Anyway. I'm a 50 year old woman in the year 2010. I'm well-educated. I came up in an era of feminism. I consider myself a feminist on some level, although the meaning of the term gets lost to me sometimes. I just want the freedom for individuals, including myself, to be themselves.

Learning more about ED, sometimes it feels as though the intervening 150 years between ED and me never happened. I am or was as hopelessly in love with a "Master" as ED, and tried to express it, to persuade. Samuel Bowles described ED as "half angel, half demon." (I think - Master/Emissary, divided brain.) That is what I see in the mirror. It is written on my face. I do not have the face of Athena. I have all these suppressed passions. I express them to "Master" and am firmly held back at more than arm's length (coffee in NYC deemed too much). I express them inappropriately elsewhere and of course it's just laughable.

ED feels very modern to me, and I feel very Victorian. That about sums it up at the moment.

Oh my sun, once the duties of your day are done I look forward to your appearance...

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