Monday, May 24, 2010

Two illuminations of Emily

Here is an excerpt from the essay I read at the New York Public Library yesterday, by poet Ted Hughes. It is the most beautiful and precise illumination of Emily Dickinson's poetry that I have ever read - an astonishing piece of writing in itself.
... she was able to manage such a vast subject matter, and make it so important to us, purely because of the strengths and ingenuities of her poetic style.

There is the slow, small metre, a device for bringing each syllable into close-up, as under a microscope; there is the deep, steady focus, where all the words lie in precise and yet somehow free relationships so that the individual syllables seem to be on the point of slipping into utterly new meanings, all pressing to be uncovered; there is the mosaic, pictogram concentration of ideas into which she codes a volcanic elemental imagination, a lava flood of passions, an apocalyptic vision; there is the tranced suspense and deliberation in her punctuation of dashes, and the riddling, oblique artistic strategies, the Shakespearian texture of the language, solid with metaphor, saturated with the homeliest imagery and experience; the freakish blood-and-nerve paradoxical vitality of her latinisms, the musical games -- of opposites, parallels, mirrors, chinese puzzles, harmonizing and counterpointing whole worlds of reference; and everywhere there is the teeming carnival of world-life. It is difficult to exhaust the unique art and pleasures of her poetic talent. With the hymn and the riddle, those two small domestic implements, she grasped the 'centre' and the 'circumference' of things - to use two of her favourite expressions - as surely as human imagination ever has.
Ted Hughes, "Emily Dickinson," Winter Pollen: Occasional Prose (London: Faber and Faber, 1994) (first published as the introduction to A Choice of Emily Dickinson's Verse, London: Faber and Faber, 1968)

At the MOMA bookshop, where I stopped in to look for an art catalog on Rothko, another book, Maira Kalman's Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World), caught my eye. I rifled through the pages and came upon a familiar-looking image. Then I propped the book open, stepped back, and took a picture.

No comments:

Post a Comment