Poetry Friday: Emily’s Wild Nights

h1 June 27th, 2008 by eisha

Wild nights!

Embarrassing confession: last week was my turn for Poetry Friday, and I COMPLETELY FORGOT. I didn’t forget that it was my turn, just forgot what day of the week it was. I was at that parade Thursday night, see, and got all bedazzled with visions of Volvos in tutus and Tibetan monks and stuff. Anyhoo, I’m sorry about that.

This week I’m trying to make up for it by sharing something extra-good: Emily Dickinson. I have a complicated relationship with ol’ Emily. I really hated her for a long time; I thought she was simpering, and that relentles rhythm: da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM… However, somewhere late in college I was assigned to write a paper on her (the horror!), and started reluctantly reading through a big anthology… And I was shocked. I’d only really been exposed to a handful of her most famous poems before, the ones that end up on greeting cards and stuff: “I taste a liquor never brewed,” “How soft a caterpillar steps,” “Because I could not stop for death,”… you know the ones. But that later business, when she was all rebellious and pissed at God and finally busting out of that limping hymn-meter… Whoa. It blew me away. Almost literally — those later poems are like little explosions all over the page. And knowing she had that kind of power in her, that kind of fierce emotion, made me go back and look at her earlier poems in a new way. So yeah… we’re on pretty good terms now, me and Em.

Here’s one of the good ones I discovered. It’s speaking to me particularly strongly today, since I’ve finally gotten on the Twilight-obsession bandwagon. Seems like a nice little ballad for Edward and Bella.

Wild nights—wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port—
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart!

Rowing in Eden—
Ah, the sea!
Might I moor, tonight,
In thee!

Yeah, I think Emily’s out of copyright protection now, so I shared the whole thing. But here’s a link to the Poetry Foundation’s more legitimate page, to appease my librarian conscience.

So, how about you? Did you always love Emily, or did you have to get to know her better, too? Or do you still hate her? Is it the Yellow Rose of Texas/Gilligan’s Island/Amazing Grace thing? ‘Cause that was really really hard for me to get past, I can tell you.

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Looking for the Poetry Friday round-up? Jennie at Biblio File’s got your back.

20 comments to “Poetry Friday: Emily’s Wild Nights”

  1. one of my favorite poems! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I am an ED nut. I go and visit her house as on pilgrimage. (As I live 20 minutes away, I can do this often.)

    She was MUCH more interesting than the Old Keepers of the Shrine used to have us think. The new ED people are full of enthusiasm for ED warts and all. And her poetry spans global ideas, even when she stayed (mostly) at home.

    “Tell all the truth but tell it slant/Success in circuit lies” is one of my touchstones.


  3. Well, I must admit this poem has made me see Em in a whole new light. I’m guilty of judging her from the well known anthologized stuff. Now I must read more! Thanks.

  4. Wild nights. Wow. Didn’t know Em had it in her.

    I have to admit that I never heard about the Amazing Grace/Yellow Rose thing ’til I joined Poetry Friday!! But I just was tepidly interested because what we were required to learn was sooo heavy a tread ‘Because I could not stop for death it kindly stopped for me. Blah BLAH Blah BLAH Blah BLAH Blah BLAH…” It’s been nice to step aside from the more traveled road in terms of her poetry, and discover that she even knew the night — outside of serene moonlight — existed. Awesome.

  5. My mother debated between naming me Emily after Emily Dickinson or Adrienne after Adrienne Rich. She went for Adrienne, obviously, but I’ve been reading Emily’s poetry since I was a little kid (my mom would write out poems on poster board and put them on the walls of my room), and I’ve always loved her work. Something new hits me whenever I encounter it.

    I’m with Jane on visiting Emily’s house (and Amherst in general), by the by. I’ve been there twice, and it really is something. If you do go, you SIMPLY MUST go on the tour that includes her brother’s house. Her life and her family’s life is interesting stuff.

  6. I got to play Emily Dickinson once, in an excerpt from The Belle of Amherst. THAT gave me an appreciation of her eccentricities…

    Maybe I’m a musical numskull, but the Yellow Rose thingie has never stuck in my head. Posts like this remind me, and then I forget all over again. I like ED very much—her brevity and her wit and her just oddness. All of it.

  7. I feel like the biggest heel because I lived in Cambridge, MA for 4 years and never made it out to Emily Dickinson’s house. Or the Alcott’s. Or the Eric Carle museum, for that matter. But I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who had to warm up to ED after a little more intensive exposure.

  8. And Jane, that is a wicked good quote.

  9. Miss Emily is an interesting person, that’s for sure.

  10. There is a beautiful new edition of Dickinson poems by KidsCan Press – one of their fabulous poetry series. I just saw it at Book Expo Canada so it may not be in stores yet but is well worth looking for.
    Here’s a link:

  11. Okay, fill me in – what’s the Yellow Rose of Texas/Gilligan’s Island/Amazing Grace thing?

    I’ve never loved ED but I’ve never hated her either…

  12. Ditto to what Jess said. What is this YRofT/GI/AG thing?

  13. P.S. Eisha, an Emily Dickinson float could maybe get you in the Ithaca parade. Or you could join that roller derby and dress up as ED. Emily, the jammer.

  14. I have to admit I ignored Emily for YEARS when I was young and foolish and a free verse girl. Now I have begun to discover her genius and I am her student. Great photo there too!

  15. Sorry. The Yellow Rose of Texas/Gilligan’s Island/Amazing Grace thing is this: you can sing all of her early poems to any of those songs. Do it once, and it will never leave your head. Go ahead, test it out:

    Because I could not stop for Death,
    He kindly stopped for me;
    The carriage held but just ourselves
    And Immortality.

    … and so on. Hey, Jules, that’s not a bad idea. One of my favorite parts of Being John Malkovich is that famous puppeteer guy doing a version of Belle of Amherst with a 60-foot Emily Dickinson marionette. Maybe I could do something similar with stilts?

  16. Might I moor, tonight,
    In thee!

    Hot stuff!

    I’ve always loved Emily. The Gilligan’s Island/Yellow Rose of Texas thing just makes me love her more.

    Actually, we used to have this ice cream truck drive by our dorm 17 times a day, playing “Yellow Rose of Texas” we always used to sing along, except with “Because I could not stop for death…”

  17. Emily rules.

    Jennie: That’s fairly fantastic! I’ve never heard of/considered Emily to the tune of Yellow Rose.

  18. I got into ED when I read Mary Anderson’s I’m Nobody! Who Are You? which was a loopy time-travel/esp type of YA novel. Has anyone else read it? I also read Step On a Crack,which was equally eerie.

  19. Futile the winds
    To a heart in port—
    Done with the compass,
    Done with the chart!

    Love this! Wow. Who doesn’t want to toss that compass and chart overboard at some point?

    I like Emily’s work a lot and especially admire her ability to get so much into so few words…and in a really accessible way.

  20. I’m trying to get to my students through ED’s strong poetry. These Wild nights, though, hide too much meaning…or is it that I try to see too much in it?
    Can you “light” this night a bit, please?

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