41. EMILY

DICKINSON

 

I think I first came across the name Emily Dickinson very early in my pioneering life in the 1960s in a Paul Simon song. The words of the song went something like this:

 

And you read your Emily Dickinson

And I my Robert Frost

And we note our page with book markers

The memory that we've lost.

 

But it was not until the mid-1980s, two decades later, when I read Roger White's homage to Emily Dickinson in One Bird One Cage One Flight, that this nineteenth century poet, arguably the greatest poet in history, became a part of my life, my consciousness, my sensibility. In 1990 I wrote a review of White's book, a review which became part of a collection of unpublished essays on White's poetry, essays which Roger White read and approved before he passed away in 1993. I also taught Dickinson's poetry as part of the English Literature course at matriculation level in Perth in 1991. So it was when The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson arrived in the mail from Roger White in the early winter of 1992 I already had some familiarity with her work.

 

I like to think, in retrospect, that the arrival of this massive 800 page paperback symbolized the beginning of my own poetic experience. I had been writing poetry off and on for thirty years, but in the winter of 1992 I began to write poetry much more frequently, much more seriously. I like to think that in the world of the spirit Roger knew that poetry was about to become a source of significant stimulation. That is what I'd like to think. It is more likely, though, that he knew I enjoyed her work. My review of his book of poetry about Emily had confirmed that fact. We had been writing letters for more than ten years, the longest regular correspondence in my life. I had just completed and had published my introduction to his last major book of poetry: Occasions of Grace. Ten months later, in April 1993, Roger White died in Canada.

 

In the next ten years, 1992-2002, I was to write many poems under the inspiration of Dickinson's work, poems I read in this very thick book of poetry. There is little doubt that her poetry has become the major influence on my own work, with the possible exception of William Wordsworth. What appears below in this first outline, this first link, written in appreciation of Emily Dickinson, is a series of poems which draws on the poetry in Dickinson's Complete Poems.

 SOME 'DICKINSON-INSPIRED POEMS'

THE LAST SHAPING

Emily Dickinson's formulations in her many death poems tend to be generally grim, even nihilistic due to the fact that she has no concrete evidence of the precise effect of death upon perception. Her death poems, nevertheless, enjoy an immense variety, inventiveness and dramatic force but they are all, in the end, as she admitted and naturally so, just 'speculations.' Inspite of their grim quality, her death poems generate a confidence and hope of further insight. They represent her attempts to cope with the reality of death in her daily life and place death within the larger perspective of her efforts to live a meaningful life.

Since death has been especially interesting to me for some forty years now, having had to live with a bi-polar disorder and its accompanying death wish, since the Baha'i writings have a great deal to say about death that is instructive, positive and very encouraging, I take many of Dickinson's death poems as starting points and turn the grim side to something much brighter and far less nihilistic.-Ron Price with thanks to Greg Johnson, Emily Dickinson: Perception and the Poet's Quest, University of Alabama Press, 1985, pp.166-167.

 

Who would want to see and see

in endless circuit links?

Ceaseless drifting here and there

would give the eyes sharp kinks.

 

From one perception to the next

down an endless track

would be exhausting to the mind

and would clearly break one's back.

 

Knowing that an end's in store

heightens all we've got,

sharpens, enhances, tinctures,

mountain, river, dot.

 

Belief goes on to regulate

all that's in our sails,

regulates this aweful leisure

as death weighs us in its scales.

 

There'll be a finished feeling

just as sharp as knife

when death's bold exhibition

shapes at last my life.

 

Ron Price

19 February 2002

SUPERIOR EYES

My poetry draws on a range of resources from society, from the past and the future, from my religion and my life. The range is immense-virtually infinite-and poetry's function is to help me focus on selected aspects of this infinite range. The ability to perceive, to focus selectively, is the most cherished aspect of my identity.1 For, in the end, everything flows from this 'selective perception,' a perception rooted in thought. These poems, in what is now an extensive opus, are based on selected moments of enhanced perception and they reflect my identity as precisely as anything in my life. This poem draws on Roger White, Emily Dickinson, my belief in an afterlife, the psychological concept of identity and the possible capacity of the dead to judge us. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Greg Johnson, Emily Dickinson: Perception and the Poet's Quest, University of Alabama Press, 1985, p.156.

We miss him1 not because we feel,

because our heart is sad.

Now that he's gone

just a slight abridgement's had.

 

He was quite a little man.

There's not that much to miss.

Now that he's taken

the route of stars,

we who sleep can't kiss.

 

We can not kiss or thank him;

he won't enrich our days.

His superior eyes will now include us

as he goes about his ways.

 

What will he think of this or that?

What will he think of me?

Now that he's gone

will he understand these things I do

as he travels through his Land?

 

Will he judge my passion

when he gazes down?

Now that he's invisible,

rapt forever from my eye,

I find his height in heaven

comforts me,

as I try to draw nigh.

 

But in his new glimmering town

he skirts a mountain of perhaps.

And in my timid life below

I must confess 'I do not know.'

1Roger White and Emily Dickinson, Poem Number 993 and 696.

Ron Price

19 February 2002

 

FITTER?

It has been ten years since The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson arrived by mail from Roger White, then living in British Columbia. This particular copy of Thomas H. Johnson's work had been given to Roger in 1984 by a friend in Haifa "with admiration and friendship." Roger had less than a year to live at the time I received this eight-hundred page book. It has been, too, nineteen years since Roger's homage to Emily Dickinson was published under the title One Bird One Cage One Flight. With these years my own feeling of intimacy with the poetry of Dickinson has grown. For Dickinson the perception of death and its meaning was an important source of her identity. This is equally true of this Baha'i and I am sure millions of others. This poem continues to explore that meaning and that perception. -Ron Price with thanks to Emily Dickinson, "Poem Number 968," The Complete Poems, Faber and Faber, London, 1984(1970), p.452.

 

Will the years that lie ahead

make me fitter for that bed,

for that bed in which I'll lie

in eternity when, at last, I die?

 

Will waiting long be worth my while?

I trust I will anticipate that gaze,

that great delight, that great surprise,

will I feel that grace in earthly guise.

 

I've had conviction all these years.

Surely it will stay amidst my fears.

How sweet will that reward soon be,

gained through loss and grief obtained.

 

Of course, I cannot be too sure

after all that summer-winter tour.

I can't be sure the state of soul

when I've been put into that hole

for those who speak no more,

those who've opened eternity's door.

Ron Price

19 February 2002

CONTENTMENT'S QUIET SUBURB

Emily Dickinson begins her poem number 963 with the lines:

A nearness to Tremendousness-

An agony procures-

 

And so 'an agony' does, but in such a mysterious way. Dickinson continues in the second stanza of her poem:

Contentment's quiet Suburb-

Affliction cannot stay

 

Now, nearly sixty, I find myself in "contentment's quiet suburb." Like Dickinson, I have retreated to the firmament of this quiet town where I spin a web of poetry, partly from pleasure, partly from necessity, a poetry made possible by a new religion whose beauty has filled my life with meaning beginning quite consciously back in 1962 as one of its pioneers. Indeed, sacred and resplendent tokens from the planes of glory have attracted me into a court of holiness and nearness and beauty.1 -Ron Price with appreciation to Baha'u'llah, Seven Valleys, USA 1952, p.3.

 

Contentment's quiet suburb

is the place I stay.

I have a home for all my books

and a walk by a tranquil bay.

 

I've known enough of agony,

affliction's acre, sea

and when I see it come my way

I try to keep it off of me.

 

I can not keep all pain away.

Some always enters in.

It's part of my destiny, my plan,

a process as inevitable as sin.

 

Affliction brought me near to Him.

Its taste is sweet from woe.

Precious, clearly, is all that grief

that came to me in years ago.

 

But I've had enough for a lifetime.

I'm not eager to have any more.

Just this suburb's quiet contentment

and a quiet walk to the corner store.

Ron Price

18 February 2002

WHAT SHALL I DO?

Emily Dickinson's poem number 956 opens with these same words as in this title and it is her poem that provided the starting point for my own, the one below. "Poetry," for Dickinson "set her on a path of solitude."1 After thirty years of pioneering, the need for solitude insensibly arose in my life and with that need the path of poetry unobtrusively became an obvious one for me to travel down. And now, forty years from the start of that pioneering journey, I have established that degree of the solitary which is balanced with a necessary minimum of the social and which provides the seclusion, the privacy, to write. Dickinson's universe was, as some of her critics argue, a cosmos in tatters by the mid-nineteenth century in America. My universe is one that is exploding with knowledge and understanding, but it is also one that has a very dark heart, arguably the darkest in history. -Ron Price with thanks to Roger Lundin, Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief, Michigan Press, Grand Rapids, 1998; and

 

What shall I do when this work ends?

What, when all this talking's done?

What, when there's no more marking

and I don't have to keep on the run?1

 

What shall I do when the sky's so blue

and the water runs down to the sea?

When the butterfly dances endlessly

and the birds fly and sing in the tree?

 

What shall I do when no one calls

and solitude lasts all day?

What shall I do when those Birds divine

rush forth in Their mystic way?

 

I'll try to understand, my Lord,

all that you've given me.

I'll praise and thank you, Lord,

for all that you've helped me see.

1 This poem is written from the perspective of my last days as a lecturer/teacher in 1999.

2 Baha'u'llah, Book of Certitude, Wilmette, 1950(1931), p.175.

 

Ron Price

17 February 2002

THIS BLOSSOM OF MY BRAIN

Thanks to Emily Dickinson's poem number 822 for the title of this poem and some of its content and flavour. It is a poem about my poetry. For Dickinson and for myself, words have being, growth and immortality. Often we probe, because of some innate drive or some attitude derived from experience, heights and depths which are beyond our own fathoming. Dickinson had no need to leave home and, after forty years of moving from place to place--over two dozen towns--I have no need to do so either. The soul's passions are as readily at hand at home, as elsewhere.1 -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 17 February 2002; and 1Joyce Carol Oates, "Soul At The White Heat," Critical Inquiry, Summer 1987.

 

This consciousness that is aware

of God and all around,

will one day in the land of lights

be lifted, lifted far beyond.

 

But while it's here

adventure's full

for this blossom of my brain1

which multiplies quite endlessly

in my inmost heart:

that is very plain.

 

This seed of words

lodged on this page,

this flower of my soul

may grow one day

with wisdom's mighty sword

springing forth as it now does

from the mansions of my Lord.

 

As I partake day after day

in this profound experiment,

this tree of life, the world around,

is branching forth new fruits

which God Himself has sent.

1 poetry

Ron Price

17 February 2002

PENS

Emily Dickinson wrote in poem number 791 about her "poignant luxury," her "Ampler Coveting," about the "Plenty smiles" she enjoyed and, in contrast, the "Famine-all around." Like so many of her poems I found it to be part of her "arduous and lifelong pursuit of a speech fitting to God and His divine Unnameability."1 The way she handles this problem of a language fitting to God, in this poem, is by means of her humility. Feeling I had been given a similar "poignant luxury" with "Famine-All around," I wanted to try my own take on the gift, possessed as I was, unlike Dickinson, with "a language fitting to God" in the Revelations of Baha'u'llah and the Bab. -Ron Price with thanks to 1Elisa New, The Regenerate Lyric, Cambridge UP, 1993, p153.

 

God gave a crumb to every bird

and a big white loaf to me.

I've eaten it already

in poignant luxury.

 

He's given me a whole of life

and so much more besides,

with famine, war, and sorrow high:

that loaf and luxury--I wonder why.

 

Why the gifts these many years

from the supply of gems?

Why when the Kingdom did arrive1

did He supply me pens?

 

He made me rich beyond compare

as history took its turn.

The loaf and luxury were sweet,

but, oh, the fires burn.

1 1953: the beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth. My family's first contact with this new Faith.

Ron Price

12 February 2002

THE VAST DARK

Emily Dickinson's poem number 793 is about grief. In the previous twenty four hours before reading this poem I had tasted quite a sharp experience of grief for about an hour. As I read the poem I was reminded of the many moments, hours, days, months and even years of grief and despair I had experienced in my nearly sixty years of living. As often happens when I read Dickinson, I was inspired to write the following poem on the same theme. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 11 February 2002.

Despair and its cousin grief

only come now in bunches.

I keep them quite at bay

by time and circumstance

and I rely strongly on my hunches.

 

But their vast dark still sweeps;

they pounce about with clouds.

There is no way to extricate

their black and occasional shrouds.

 

They come so uninvited.

They feed on littleest things.

I find their world illusion,

but oh so real their rings.

 

I've learned, though,

from these tragic teachers

which harbour in my breast,

to suck the pain that reaches

into my world as they spin.

 

In time it is all over.

There is some gain, some win.

It's not all so tidy, though.

They have grey and serated edges

and you wonder as you pray to God

if there's any point in pledges.

 

You seem to be so slow to learn

as the battle often rages

and sometimes you tire of the fight

which is as old as ages.1

 

1 I think if I had to quantify, reduce to a fraction or a percent, the amount of my life in the condition of grief and despair, it would be about one-eighth or twelve percent. As I head down the final stretch of life, the evening as it is sometimes called, I shall increasingly aim to practice Baha'u'llah's wisdom written in his Tablet of Wisdom, namely: to let nothing grieve1 me. 1Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p.151.

Ron Price

11 February 2002

RAVISHED

This poem borrows heavily from Emily Dickinson's poem Number 505. Dickinson sees being a poet in superhuman terms. Full engagement offers to the poet the ultimate form of expression, being ravished by one's own creativity. But the independence, the aloneness, the twist in the psyche of the poet has its own unique terror or tension. There is always the need, the desire, to be satisfied, but always the reality of being dissatisfied. Whereas Dickinson's poetry was an enactment of the crisis of western society as it was being experienced in the last half of the nineteenth century in the USA, Price's poetry was an enactment of the transformation of the Baha'i community in the third, forth and fifth epochs of the Formative Age in what was a dark heart, an immensely tempestuous period of history, in an age of transition. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 3 October 2001

There is a bright impossibility

that comes into the air;

it's just about delicious,

something celestial, very rare.

 

Yes, there is a torment

and something of despair,

it is so sweet and sumptuous,

tastes of caution, sense of care.

 

Words raised softly to the ceiling,

out the window, easy to the sky,

through villages of ether

with just a lip of metal for the eye.

 

My little boat has found a pier,

enamoured is my life,

but somehow it is impotent

and I am, mostly, content with wife.

 

A privilege so awful

I have been given now.

Somehow the art to stun myself

has fallen on me and how!

 

Ron Price

3 October 2001

 

WALKING DOWN DIFFERENT TRACKS

 

Today I have enjoyed reading Camille Paglia, perhaps for the second time in my life, the first time after Roger White sent me a flyer from her book Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson in 1992 just before he died. She is, as the dust jacket says, an intellectual provocateur. I won't try to summarize what she is saying for that would lead to prolixity, but, since she is from the same generation that went to university in the sixties as myself, she has had to deal with the woes and tribulations of the last forty years with a mind awake to the crises of our times as I have. I share with her a similar range of interests and concerns: job problems and career, sexuality and feminism, popular culture as an eruption of paganism in the West, inspirational mentors like Harold Bloom and Emily Dickinson, writing for the future. The energy of the sixties continued, for Paglia as well as myself, in the form of fast talking and lots of writing. -Ron Price with thanks to Camille Paglia, Sex, Art and American Culture, Viking, London, 1992.

She's really angry, thirty years on,1

still trying to change the world

or parts of it. I've had my anger, too,

but my demons were frustration,

fatigue and discouragement, as I too

have been trying to change the world,

little-by-little, day-by-day since '62.

 

I talk fast, too, like this lady of words

and sometimes they thought me weird.

We walked down different tracks

since Kennedy was assassinated in '63.

We worried over different agenda

since we were both in high school

in the late fifties and early sixties.

 

Manic-personality was part of her style,

part of how to win the day, any day,

and I found it the same in my own way

as I wandered down life's path

planting seeds that would one day

begem and brighten the world,2 2 'Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan,p.5.

or so was my hope, my faith, my whirl.

 

Rock-'n-roll music and TV(some of it)

has given us both much pleasure,

the first generation to experience both.

I wish you well, dear Camille,

for stimulating my mind to think

about so many things in a different way

especially my old friend Emily Dickinson.3

 

3 Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae, 1992, pp.623-673.

1 1962-1992

Ron Price

18 January 2002

BEYOND

Since Roger White sent me The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, at the beginning of the winter of 1992, when I was just beginning to write poetry seriously, I have taken a strong interest in Dickinson's work. Part of the original impetus for both Dickinson's poetry and mine is the sense of loss. The transience and formlessness of so much of life, for both she and I, gives a special lustre to what we do achieve in our poetry, in our work for our respective 'Causes.' From time to time I enjoy reading her poetry and there are few poets I enjoy in this casual way. Often I find one of her poems of such an interest I want to replicate one of its main ideas in a poem of my own creation. When I do so a rhyme invariably characterizes my poem-and not that succesfully often. She has a sense of a divine plan; indeed we both believe in the existence of a divine Plan.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 3 October 2001.

  

This world is not the end of things.

So much exists beyond,

but no one ever sees it.

No one hears its sound.

If baffles the profoundest thought.

A riddle it must be,

a puzzle to the scholars,

can't grasp eternity.

 

Some sift the crucifixion;

some talk of burning bush;

some mediate through Mohamed;

some climb the Hindu-Kush.

With twigs of evidence we find

and build an immense tree,

becoming substance of a Fane

they point the way for me.

 

However much the Word is found,

a Species stands beyond,

invisible as music,

that place to which They've gone.

 

Ron Price

3 October 2001

 

LILIES

Emily Dickinson wrote a poem, Number 498, in which she states that seeing the Beloved in one's imagination enriches our normal experience in which any direct contact is impossible. When I read this I thought that this is the position the Baha'i is in relation to all the Central Figures of the Cause, well not quite the same. We, the Baha'is, can not make contact in any formal sense with the Bab, Baha'u'llah, 'Abdu'l-Baha and the Guardian, but we certainly can in our imagination, our fantasy, our memory, our inner life, with a tireless mental probing and its energy of thought which should, must, absorb us. Surely being immersed in the ocean of His word implies at least this? We need to stare a hole in Their pages until the words yield their full meanings.1-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 3 October 2001; and 1 Greg Johnson,Emily Dickinson: Perception and the Poet's Quest, University of Alabama Press, 1985, p.7.

  

Since I will never see Him

all I can do is gaze,

gaze upon the garden,

gaze upon the grave.

 

Gaze upon the mansion,

gaze upon the tree,

gaze upon the house's walls

to bring Him close to me.

 

I can learn about His journey,

the places He has been,

drape myself in His embroidery,

the sweet accents I have seen.

 

For these accents make up a Voice

That cometh from the Lord.

The lilies of His wisdom

blossom only in His Word.

 

Ron Price

3 October 2001

  

A PRICE I PAY

Emily Dickinson writes in her Poem Number 786 of her need to fill the vacuum, the difficulty of filling that vacuum, after loss in life. Activity, pushing "the brain and bone" to exhaustion she finds helpful but, in the end, there is no drug for consciousness when faced with the darkness. During those 'midnight' times in my own life: during hypomanic episodes, when my first wife and I separated, when I feel a great gulf with my second wife after an argument, in times of intense depression, I too find that activity can help. But "the glittering Retinue of nerves" gets clogged. I find only "dull comfort" and "forget the colour of the day." "Affliction" does not seem capable of being "appeased." The "only Pharmacy" for the malady of being is "death." -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 2 October 2001.

There is something about

the work of mind

that more than passes time.

 

It fills the awful vacuum

I find in the play

of this patterned design.

 

And so I weary brain and bone,

push it all to fatigue

and vitality's glittering splendour

of the nerves does clog

while under relentless siege.

 

Affliction never leaves entire,

darkness returns quite black.

It seems like a kind of price I pay

for mind's sweetness at my back.

 

Ron Price

2 October 2001

 The following short essay is 'the introduction' to an as yet unpublished book on the poetry of Roger White. I place it here in this section on Emily Dickinson because, if it were not for Roger, I may not have had the pleasure of enjoying Emily Dickinson's poetry.

THE EMERGENCE OF A BAHA'I CONSCIOUSNESS IN WORLD LITERATURE:

THE POETRY OF ROGER WHITE

Roger White would have liked George Bernard Shaw's views on biography. The facts of writers' lives, wrote Shaw, have no more to do with their writing ability than the shape of their nose. White used to quote Rabindranath Tagore on this biographical theme: 'the poem not the poet' to put the theme succinctly. White felt that his life was, to use Shaw's words, biographically uninteresting.

 

I was able to piece together a basic outline of White's life. I sent it to him for his approval two years before he passed away. He made two or three minor corrections of fact and returned it. It was obvious to me that White was disinclined to provide more than he already had done about his life. "If you want to know about me, read what I have written," seemed to be his position, his view, on writing about his life.

 

White also approved a collection of a dozen or so essays, essays which focused on his poetry not his life, his words not his life story. Put slightly differently, this same focus on the art not the artist was expressed by George Painter in his biography of Proust. "Tell me anything," Painter wrote, "which I could not find more intensely, acceptably and deeply in Proust's works." Biography would only provide meagre details; even analysis, introspective pondering, his own, White was disinclined to engage in. His poetry, he felt, could and should stand on its own. He was more than ready to respond to the analysis of others, though. The essays which I wrote and sent to him were returned quickly with the occasional comment and a general appreciation and enthusiasm for what I had written.

 

I have never written to anyone who responded with such haste to my letters. These were the last days before email began to move communications much more quickly. His correspondence was humorous and engaging. One of the affects of his letters was to make me want to dip into his poetry more frequently. As I came to enjoy the man behind the poems, I came to enjoy the man. I never actually met Roger. We exchanged letters for a dozen years: 1981 to 1993, years when his poetry reached out to the wide audience that he enjoyed for the last decade or more of his life. He died in April 1993 at the age of sixty-three. I have included a sample of our correspondence because it tells about the man in a way that his poetry does not.

 

The poet Shelley saw the poet and the man writing the poetry as having two quite different natures. Sometimes they blended; sometimes they occupied two different worlds. I'm not so sure I agree with Shelley, but what I do in these essays and what Roger White would have preferred me to do, is to focus on his poetry or, to use Shelley's idiom, I focus on the poet and the poetry not the man. I have already done this in what became quite a long introduction to White's last major book of poetry Occasions of Grace(1992). But I do it again, here, in what is a more extensive and, I feel, more deserving way, a decade after his passing. The timing seems right. The 'White industry' has had a quiet beginning.

 

Geoffrey Nash, in a review of White's poetry in 1982, wrote that White heralded "the development of Baha'i consciousness in world literature." Literarture, poetry and prose, letters and other genres, have been percolating onto the world stage from the pens of Baha'is for more than a century and a half. White certainly has, in Nash's words, been a herald. White's work emerged from obscurity at the same time as the Baha'i Faith did, in the years after the Revolution in Iran in 1979. It is more than coincidental that his first major book of poetry Another Song Another Season was published that same year. The literature provided by individual Baha'is the world over has become burgeoning in the two decades since Nash wrote what have become prophetic words. White has, indeed, become a herald. Though I'm sure he did not set out to become the brilliant initiator that he has been.

 

Here then is another review, or collection of reviews, of White's poetry. It opens with a short biography in three parts. I know that readers are as much interested in the man as the poet and his poetry. I don't think I overdo it, though. I hope Roger would find my weighting in good taste. He was always so kind in his letters that even if he disagreed with you he would always let you down slowly, laughing as you went. But he was also adventurous and frank, so you knew where you stood. He did not beat around the bush, as they say.

 

There is a high seriousness in White but his alembic is humour. For some readers the affect of his poetry is a lightness and pleasure that only humour can provide; for other readers White's seriousness and his language place too much of a demand and, not willing to read and reread his poems, these readers put him down without extracting the intellectual delights; for still others, White has the affect of an invigorating exercise of the mind. For them the laughs are a bonus and the reward is more than pure delight. These readers gain an understanding of the religion they joined at some time in the last half century, an understanding perhaps deeper than any learned commentary or, indeed, the efforts of their own investigation.

Ron Price

28 August 2001

ROOT OUT WEAKNESS

The sky wears masks of smoke and gray

The orchestra of winds performs its strange, sad music

Embittered wine rises from fowl deeds.

Its dregs can root out my weakness. -With thanks to Emily Dickinson in Woman of Letters, Leaves Turco,State University of NY Press, 1993, pp.40-1.

Some deeds are so lonely

they taste of bittered wine.

Iíve walked with them on back-side streets

sorting out their place and time.

 

Iíve sat with them to cogitate:

what brings them to the fore?

Like some disease they do attack

and peace goes out the door.

 

For me these lonely deeds are born

in the recesses of my heart,

in anger and depression

they found a good kick-start.

 

As the years go by Iíve learned

to avoid them like a lion,

but from time to time they come

and remorse takes me far from my Zion.

 

Sad regrets go to the root

and weed out a weakness

which seems endemic.

Life provides a practice field

for a process far from simple

verbal polemic.

 

One day, I trust, Iíll see this weakness

in a new perspective, a new strength

will have emerged

and me, much more selective.

 

Ron Price

8 July 1995

TAKING ON IMMORTALITY

When One has given up Oneís life

The parting with the rest

Feels easy, as when Day lets go

Entirely the West -Emily Dickinson, number 853.

 

How many tears have fallen here,

how many little sighs

and more to come for tragedy

and romance are ours beneath the skies.

Theyíre at the heart of human hearts,

as they wither and they die.

They are the seed of solemn consciousness

without which true joy would only fly.

 

Thank God for that joy; it rains on some

and washes sighs away.

For others sorrow dries them out.

Romance and tragedy lay their hands

on them and make them ready to depart:

theyíve died and can do no more,

but take on immortality.*

*I was thinking of Shoghi Effendi here. Ruhiyyih Rabbani, who knew the Guardian in an intimate sense that noone else did, says seven lines from the end of her Priceless Pearl that "The man had been called by sorrow and a strange desolation of hopes into quietness." Henry Adams once said in one of his letters(1) that "The inevitable isolation and disillusionment of a really strong mind--one that combines force with elevation--is to me the romance and tragedy of statesmanship."

(1) Letters of Henry Adams: 1835-1918, 2 Vols., Houghton Mifflin, 1930, Vol.1, p.314.

Ron Price

26 December 1995

SOON

I saw no Way-the Heavens were stitched-

I felt the Columns close-

The Earth reversed her hemispheres-

I touched the Universe-

-Emily Dickinson, Number 512.

 

There is no first and last here;

all is forever, the feeling near,

noon and centre and a tear,

more than one, for all thatís

gone before and what is to come.

 

There is a taste of immortality

on these tall marble columns,

the beginnings of a touch of gold

that one senses deep down will

be forever. Many will be the words

that try to describe the trip, but wordless

the conception, tenacious my feeble grip.

 

When this brief drama in the flesh

shifts beyond our mortal coil,

I hope that I can hover here

in my sub-atomic soul so fresh

where I can juxtapose this time

and immortality in some eternal rhyme.

 

Meanwhile Iíll take the angles on this place

as they accost my open eye,

Ďtis more than walls and gardens green,

more than land and sky.

 

One beauteous line that I espy

a spider sewed at night,

an arc of light, an arc of white,

such precision in his sight.

 

Sometimes a bird will walk along

and drink a dew from grass;

with rapid eyes heíll hurry Ďround

and stir in his sweet song, alas:

he divides this silver world with wings

as he goes splashing past.

 

So do the butterflies float by

among these banks of noon;

their wings dance through this ocean

and gently they sing of soon!

 

Ron Price

15 June 1995

RIVERS FILL

Poetic creation is a selective concentration that measures a soulís conversation with some element of society; the valves of the poetís attention close like stone and waters flow refreshing to the bone. -With thanks to Emily Dickinson, Number 303.

Is it simply that this soul

selects its world

and cuts through, clear,

like some finely tempered sword,

through all that earthy matter?

Unmoved, I move across this page

while all the world rings

though the wires at my gate

and even God Himself

stands urging at my door.

 

From all there is to think and do

I choose this One, His place, this hill

to sing my song, to dance, to concentrate

my will. Then I open up my heart

and all my rivers fill.

 

Ron Price

24 November 1995

THE NATURAL WAY

...afflication is but the essence of bounty, and sorrow and toil are mercy unalloyed, and anguish is peace of mind; death is life and love of death is love of life. Parching vitalizes the wine as defeat whets the victory. Just ask the Scalding One. -íAbduíl-Baha and Emily Dickinson in Writings of Abduíl-Baha, 1978, p.245 and Emily Dickinson: The Complete Poems, Number 313.

 

Iíve thought about you long and hard

with your captivating charm: secure and safe

I think Iíll be; Iím prepared to take the harm.

Whatever dread I used to know seems to

have melted with the years.

And now death seems quite cold and bald;

I simply let go of breath

and that pillow at my cheek.

Iíll slip away past all those bones

and what the mind creates.

Iíll disappear right past the door

and up,up and away to liberty,

messenger of some holiday.

 

It seems the most natural way to go

like leaves from off a tree,

like the changing of a season,

just another stage to Thee.

 

Ron Price

24 November 1995

MOTH BALLS

It might be easier

To fail-with Land in Sight-

Than gain-My Blue Peninsula-

To perish-of Delight-

-Emily Dickinson, Number 405.

 

...there is an interdependence of diverse points of view rather than a totality of a single vision. We must get behind the enigmas, the paradoxes, the inter-relationships, the rules that govern all. -Bahiyyih Nakhjavani and Abduíl-Baha in "Artist, Seeker and Seer", Bahaíi Studies, Vol.10, p.3.

These words of mine born from some mist

high upon that tree, are drenched in a silent spring

than noone tastes or sees. Like an Indian summer

entirely, as if a gift on judgement day,

or ressurection at last right here for me.

 

The sun shone on; the flowers blew;

all things were now made new.

Time went by so fast I thought:

this will not last, this dew.

 

My glee is quiet, obsessive;

it rolls on wheels of snow.

I feel like Iím in eider down

or in some cedar chest where

moth balls keep whatís best.

 

Ron Price

24 November 1995

 

EXPANSE

ĎTis a dangerous moment for anyone when the meaning goes out of things and Life stands straight-and...yet no content comes. Yet such moments are. If we survive them they expand us. -Emily Dickinson, Prose Fragment 49.

I clutched at sounds

and groped at shapes

and still my heart did groan

in some endless wilderness

it wailed, lamented bone.

I could not find the golden lines,

silver or hyacinth--only a base metal

from which I made a nail

for my sackcloth shirt and tail.

 

I felt it in the afternoons

when the light angled low;

it left a scar; it left a hurt

deep down, a feeling, woe.

ĎTwas a sense of full despair

and it hung like weighted rocks.

When it went I felt expanse,

Immortality, like darkness

leaving from the grass and

all creation in a dance.

 

Ron Price

25 June 1995

_________________

TRUTH WILL DAZZLE GRADUALLY

Tell all the Truth, but tell it slant-

Success in Circuit lies

-Emily Dickinson, Number 1129.

 

This truth will dazzle gradually;

Iíve seen this all these years:

so slow, so slow, so very slow,

success in drops of tears.

 

Weíre eased into the lightening blast;

weíre eased with bright delights;

weíre eased into truthís high surprise

by beautyís superbly subtle sights.

 

Iíve been telling truthís tale

since I was young; Iíve been

telling it so slant that up and down

is now quite side on as seen

in truthís etherial blaze.

 

You donít think truth is simple stuff-

well from one point of view it is.

But there are a thousand different ways

to define what is a complex biz.

 

Ron Price

27 November 1995

________________________

ENDLESS ADVENTURE

....poetry has always before it.....an endless adventure. -Herbert Read, In Defence of Shelley and Other Essays, Heinemann Ltd., London, 1936, p.38.

Thought belong to Him who gave it-

Then-to Him Who bear

Itís Corporeal illustration...

-Emily Dickinson, Number 709.

 

These thoughts belong to noone,

not even I, nor some power

that sent them which is unseen

by the eye. Ownership is not

the question; you cannot sell

the mind. How does one invest

in thoughts, proprietorial?

This is a corporeal form for

some distant force, some otherness,

some voice which gushes out,

which I touch with words at a

frontier of ineffability, what she*

called Ďroyal airí. Perhaps I am

a merchant of some heavenly

grace; perhaps I catch a mystery

here and unleash an infinite air;

perhaps I only play, to please,

as I catch some of that awesome

strength that comes in solitude

from a Presence, at once shadowy,

tragic, lustful, full to overflowing

with thought fragments like

crystalline forms, maybe pearls,

maybe the utterance of solemn,

holy things in an endless adventure.

 

Ron Price

15 January 1996

 

* Emily Dickinson, "Publication-Is the Auction".

THE MIND, WITHOUT COPROREAL FRIEND

The Letter hangs there in the dark abyss of the Past: if like a star almost extinct, yet like a real star, fixed; about which there is no cavilling possible.

-Jane Welsh in The Collected Letters of Thomas Carlyle, Vol.1: 1812-1821, Duke UP, Durham North Carolina, 1970, p.xii.

A letter always feels to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend.

-Emily Dickinson in Emily Dickinson: The Poet on the Second Story, Jerome Loving, Cambridge UP, Cambridge, 1986, p.ix.

She lived on the edge of my life

where uncles and aunts live, mostly;

in a place I visited every so often,

up past the long hill in a town called

Waterdown, a funny name really, when

you think of it. I havenít thought about

that town for years, really. She was

more my aunt when I was young, little,

just a little boy, an adolescent. Then I

moved and moved and moved, further

and further away until she became a letter.

 

She got old; she was already old; she became

a grandmother, then great-grandmother,

terribly old to a little boy, but I got older

and I became a grandfather myself, well,

a step-grandfather, really. And I, too, became

a letter: two fixed stars, almost extinct,

but real stars. And, if thatís all youíve got,

thatís all youíve got: something visible,

a picture of the soul, perhaps thatís bit strong,

agents of intimacy, yes, I like that; immortality,

the mind, without corporeal friend. Thatís a bit

archaic(only Emily Dickinson would say that).

But it has a certain ring to it, the more you roll

it around in your mouth and your mind.

Ron Price

7 February 1996

THE BUTTERFLY

My dearest dream recedes-unrealized

The Heaven we chase,

-Emily Dickinson, Number 319.

My dearest dream recedes-unrealized-

but in some corners of my night journey

the heaven I chase becomes visible

in all its brightness. That illusive

butterfly teases and evades my grasp

and dances always out of reach,

just when I think Iíve got it,

leaving me staring, bewildered

at the indifferent sky and watching it

fly away into other corners of my dream.

I have not yet learned the butterflyís

light play on the air,

its balanced dance with life,

its quick lift, always moving

higher and onward through

His garden and its coloured flowers.

Ron Price

24 November 1995