Emily Dickinson ~ A True Literary Genius

I’d like to take the time here to express my views on the poetry of Emily Dickinson without being under the microscopic scrutiny of Leaving Certificate examiners who merely wish students to recite pages upon pages of notes about a poet they never truly connected with.

Dickinson is an intensely personal poet, yet somehow when she writes she remains completely universal. For me, Dickinson is an unconventional misanthropist who explores the abstract and literal through imagery, concise language and dramatic, broad thematic focus.

Initially, I didn’t find Emily Dickinson all that interesting. (Perhaps that’s because the Irish educational system is so good at sucking the life out of everything.) Yet somehow when I picked up my poetry book again, I connected.

I am at a stage in my life where I feel academically drained. I’m stressed about my exams – I have fears of failing, of getting by, of not fulfilling my potential. The fact that my future is based on one exam on one particular day is quite daunting. So, how is that I somehow always manage to get by?

Hope.

Hope is the thing with feathers – That perches on the soul – And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all -

I’ve looked up definitions of hope, many of them gearing towards the same thing, such as hope is the feeling that what is wanted can be had. Yet my mind is still unsure of this abstract thing that floats around our bodies. Luckily, we have writers who are willing to impart their profound insights with us and here is where Emily Dickinson first spoke to me.

Emily Dickinson’s buoyant, energetic, ebullient tone convinces me immediately as she presents the first image of hope. Firstly, she metaphorically labels hope as appearing in the form of a bird. She is determined to prove that her visualisation of hope is undoubtedly true by giving this image of hope the definite article. It is not merely “a” thing but “the” thing. She is confident in this literal idea of hope. “With feathers” reminds us of warm ruffles of comfort, just as hope comforts us. She states that hope is an intrinsic part of our being that is always there, inspiring happiness among all, and do you know what? I believe her. Yes, we don’t need waves of hope when we are at our happiness but we do always need hope. Hope that we will get up in the morning. Hope that we will complete our study timetable. The little things we do require hope, a very natural thing inside us all, as natural as the birds that sing outside our doors in the morning. Hope sings a song within us all and keeps our bodies in harmony.

Emily then proceeds to darker images – “gale”, “storm” and “that could abash the little bird”. Even during life’s adversities, “the chillest land”, hope can be heard. This is a wonderful, feel good image for all. The thundering sounds of a storm cannot drown out the sweetness the melody that bird sings.

This idea is concretised by the poem’s ending as it moves from abstract feelings to the literal “Me”. She is in existence because of this abstract, relentless feeling that hope moves beyond life’s limitations.

For Dickinson, nature is bliss. Perhaps this is why she relates hope to a bird as she even admits she only wants to “but drink the more” of nature in her poem “I taste a liquor never brewed”.

This poem still remains shocking considering Dickinson’s Puritan upbringing. She rebels against conformity, and once again gives the abstract beauty of nature a tangible sense by relating it to the feelings that people experience through the medium of alcohol. “Dew”, “blue”, “sun”, and “run” create an uplifting rhyme in this poem and allow the readers to feel the positive feelings reflected on in this poem. Her reference to “pearl” deepens our understanding of Dickinson’s admiration towards nature. She considers it to be precious like a pearl.

Another important message linked to nature that I believe readers should consider while reading “A bird came down the walk” is portrayed in an interesting manner. So we know by now that Dickinson was borderline obsessive with nature, yet she also understands and respects her place with it. In this poem she describes an encounter with a bird. She sets the atmosphere by creating realistic imagery of the bird’s actions. “A bird came down the walk – He did not know I saw – he bit an Angleworm in halves And ate the fellow raw”. She captures the primitive aspect of nature, instinct for survival, while also describing the bird’s polite mannerisms, “hopped sidewise to the wall to let a Beetle pass”. What particularly strikes me is the poet’s position in the poem, she is overlooking, spying ruefully. She gains confidence that she hasn’t been spotted yet by this bird. She describes the bird by comparing its anatomy to man made materials. “Frightened beads” and “velvet head”. In doing this it seems the poet is yearning to be on the same level as the bird and she relates him to human made materials. However, she learns an important lesson as the bird unrolls his feathers and departs when she reveals herself to him to offer him a crumb. The scene takes on a deeper significance. We are but spectators of nature, to appreciate and honour, but we need to respect our place in that fragile balance and refrain from interrupting it.

What I particularly admire about Dickinson is her ability to explore poetry in extremity. She is not limited to a narrow thematic focus, she spreads herself across a significant spectrum of themes. This includes the theme of death.

“I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” opens with a combination of both the literal “Funeral” and abstract “felt”. This automatically makes the atmosphere of this poem heavy and foreboding. This is further emphasised by full, ominous sounds such as “drum” and “dumb” to portray the emotional intensity of a mental anguish the poet is suffering from. The funeral is an extended metaphor to develop this mental illness the poet is subjected to. The simple use of the word “and” creates an incessant feeling, that things will continue to worsen and really highlights the skill of Dickinson as her choice of repetition creates a never ending feeling associated with the poem as it is read. “And then a Plank in reason, broke, and I dropped down and down” employs heavy emotions of anguish and despair succumbing to an irrevocable end of perhaps death. Yet what is interesting about this poem is the noteworthy dash “-” that finishes the poem. Although this person has given into the pressure, it still continues. We are reminded of the line “and never stops at all” from another poem. Does mental anguish somehow defeat hope here? After all, it does say in “Hope is a thing with feathers” that some factor “could abash the little bird”. Is this that factor? Mental turmoil which Emily Dickinson falls a victim to?

Same Love

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I’ll never forget the moment we fell in love – half of Daniel’s face melted into the pillow, his eyes opened lazily. I remember tracing the outline of his lips as they curved into a smile. His eyes were soft and brown and warm, and we were warm, and so my heart grew warm as we lay there, nestled under the white duvet hidden from the world. Every now and then one of us would move, yet the gentle shift of the bedclothes would run its way around our bodies and settle perfectly underneath us. I felt safe, at home, finally, and when I looked into his eyes I could see a home for him and a home for me, somewhere, anywhere, maybe just not here. And why is that? Because here is a place where the dominant hierarchy decide for us. They decide whether our love is love, they decide whether we can make our house a home because this is not a marriage that society deems acceptable. This is a marriage between two men.

People say, “we are all equal.” To what extend do we mean this? Can somebody please tell me why choices such as the choices listed above are taken from individuals?
I think it is absolutely pathetic to think that people are still living in the twentieth century, oppressing people who contribute to our society, who abide by our laws, and who have only one motive and that is to live happily as many of us long for. When you are a teenager and people ask, “where do you see yourself in twenty years time?” The answer is usually married, happy, successful – maybe even have their own children, but for some reason people try to steal that from others. For those that clutch your beads and recite your verses, save your breath. I can argue that you are indeed breaking a commandment too, by stealing from your neighbour, you’re stealing their rights, by dishing out your wrongs, and I think it’s by time now to stand up for those who are being oppressed. In 2015 it has been agreed by Government to hold a referendum on civil marriage for same sex couples in Ireland. I really can’t stress how important it is that we win this referendum so that people don’t have to be undermined when they have to ask for permission to marry a person of their choice. Civil marriages between same sex couples have been ongoing in Ireland for some time now, but these marriages are completely secular. I choose to vote yes when that time comes, simply because it’s none of my business as to how others lead their lives. I almost feel uncomfortable thinking that I even have to vote for equality in this day and age. It should be naturally understood that freedom should be something a human being can avail of without forever being the inferior on periphery of society, waiting to granted something that shouldn’t even need decision or questioning. How can we morally presume we have the right to intrude and smother those who merely want to spend their lives together? Yes, their lives. Not your life.

Being gay, the last time I thought about it, seemed to have nothing to do with the ability to balance a check book, fix a broken bone or change a spark plug

~ Bill Clinton

Love is love. You fall in love with someone’s person, not their gender. It is not limited by gender. For those who have fallen in love, many will claim if asked that ‘it just happened’. It wasn’t thought about in extremity, it wasn’t anticipated. Isn’t that the beauty of love? The fluidity and power of love that we are all capable of feeling, that just happens to us without our awareness, that is so natural it is our own being. And so why do we continue to deprive people of being?

30 Minute Politics

When I travelled to Vermont last summer to study activism and human rights, I specialised in social justice for two weeks. Another aspect I chose to study after my morning classes was a topical called 30 Minute Politics whereby we studied intense, detailed political systems and where exactly they are enforced… For example, take North Korea, an isolated, defiant, Stalinist state led by Kim Jong II. The country strives to be acknowledged for its military power, and of course, its “so-called” independence. (Despite the fact they heavily rely on international aid to sustain their people.) This is one of the few countries which still impose totalitarianism despite the new age where people claim that we are starting to abide by equality. Let me tell you now that this is absolute bullshit on a global level, but that debate is another issue.
Inspired by these topicals I was involved in, I want to make a two minute politics blog on Irish politics as many young people today seem unconcerned and uneducated on this front in Ireland. In their defence, it’s not their fault. I’m pro education but I certainly don’t agree with the Irish Department of Education on so many levels, so Ruairi Quinn(minister of education in Ireland) if you do happen to come by this article, do not hesitate to contact me… One of the many things I despise about our education system in Ireland is the lack of health education classes and the lack of emphasis put on politics. In my opinion, it should be mandatory to attend these classes before leaving school, even if they were only on once or twice a month. Sorry for rambling off point once again! Here’s my two minute politics where I write as much as I can on Ireland covering some very basic foundations and general ideas about our government in two minutes… Read on and you may learn a few things!
Ireland is a parliamentary, representative democratic republic. So what does that even mean? In very simple language, it means we are branched ie parliamentary. By this I mean we have a president, a government, mayors etc. Representative democratic republic sounds like it is implicating unification, which it is. We elect those in charge to represent us a nation… even if we don’t always make the right choices. We are also a member of state in the EU meaning our government travels to places like Brussels every so often to negotiate important decisions with other countries. The main political power is invested in a Taoiseach or in English, prime minister. Enda Kenny is Ireland’s current prime minister while Michael D Higgins our president takes a more ceremonial stance in affairs. Executive power is exercised by the prime minister, deputy prime minister (Eamonn Gilmore), and fifteen ministers. Executive power is the everyday running of the country. Legislative power(amending,passing laws etc) however is ran by Oireachtas which is the national parliament which constitutes the president and both the Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann. The main parties which have dominated in political power are Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, which are historically opposing and competing identities, although today Fine Gael and Labour Party lead today. Our state is run under constitution of Ireland, which practises liberal democracy meaning when there is a law to be amended etc in Ireland, it can only be done so by referendum.
Okay, I think my two minutes are up…… If you liked this you can share some background of politics about your country with me and I will be posting another two minute politics soon, but for now I bid you a goodnight!

Just A Note

People quite often remark, no wait, wrong verb, tell me without question, “you were so different when you were younger”. Firstly, bravo to you Captain Obvious. Of course I was bloody different. I was younger. And secondly, are we not all changeable depending on the circumstances and environments we find ourselves in? I think what they are referring to is that I dressed differently to the expected social protocol, and so they narrowly assume that my clothes reflected upon me as an individual. If you do happen to find yourself in this situation, what the person means to say is that you’ve grown. Don’t worry, this is supposed to happen. Yes, maybe in my case, I only grew a mere two inches or so, but I’ve definitely made up for it in personal development. I can proudly say I am a confident and open minded individual who has fulfilled many goals already that I have set for myself. And this is down to a passion I found at the age of fifteen.
My mum put me into piano classes from a young age, and although I enjoyed learning how to play piano because the basis of all my music theory came from the 88 keyed instrument, I never felt as though I had connected to what I was playing. On the contrary to how I felt playing, I very much appreciate classical music, give me a haunting melody on piano, violin or cello and I am perpetually happy… Yet I never felt as though I could express myself through its intricacies and time demand, and so I continued to learn but never to feel.
One day as I fumbled through our walk-in storage cupboard in our house, I found a golden yellow, laminated guitar branded Yamaha. Two strings were missing, a piece of wood had been chipped from the sound hole and if it could speak it wouldn’t speak at all. It was bought by my father for about forty or fifty old pounds when he had the I-really-want-to-start-an-instrument-and-surely-it-won’t-take-that-much-effort phase, but somehow it did require effort and my father was beat in his attempts at mastering it. He told me he had hung onto it despite my mother’s bids to throw it out, and that he was never certain why until now.
I picked up the guitar and dusted it down. It felt a little big, a little wobbly, a little strange, but just right all the same. I cradled it in my arms, letting it just sit there and then I brought it to my room.
For a week the guitar sat there staring at me. I wasn’t sure what to do with it – I didn’t understand the concept of tuning an instrument, and I couldn’t dictate notes whatsoever but I knew I was standing on the starting line. I decided to bring the guitar to a local music shop called Crowley’s, who offered to fix a new set of strings on it and give it a quick polish. I then bought the guitar a case before bringing if home.
I started teaching myself in my room, although I’m not sure how. Somewhere in the middle of snapping many, many strings into my face, blistering my fingers and hours hung over the body of the guitar I started to figure a few things out. I have been writing poetry to a certain extent for quite some time now and I realised I could put these lyrical ideas to simple melodies based around three or four chords. It’s always been about the story or message behind a song I’m writing. I definitely have advanced from basing things around simplistic ideas but I am not writing to impress anyone, I’m writing to turn valuable parts of my life that are often left behind into music that will journey with me into my future.
During my schooling life meeting Lara Al Waber, our drummer in our band called Deaf Weekend, and my bestfriend came unexpectedly. I was sitting in a junior certificate exam hall and Lara, who I had never spoken to properly before, sat before me drumming her pencils against the table. I tapped her on the back and she turned, her hair draped over her face, the sunlight breaking her eyes into different shades of brown. I asked her did she drum. She told me she was starting to teach herself. I told her I was beginning to teach myself guitar. I asked her did she ever see herself playing in a band, and that’s when it all unfolded.
I now play in a three piece, indie pop band called Deaf Weekend with my two bestfriends Lara and Anna. We consider ourselves very much amateur in the music world, but between studio time, new projects, writing and playing together we have grown so much in the last year it is overwhelming. What I want to emphasise in this post is that I never believed I would uncover me for a long time, but now at eighteen I think it’s becoming clear to me exactly the person I am. Stay determined – allow time for your horizons to amend themselves, for it’s not your vision that needs to alter and soon you will see a clear view approaching.

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An Overview

My name is Alison. (I’m pretty sure this constitutes enough to officially declare you know me, and so we might as well call ourselves friends. Okay, okay. I leaped over the line. Cyber acquaintances.) 

I decided to start this blog because who doesn’t have a blog in the twenty-first century? And I must fit in for fear of being rejected from our prosperous society. Besides, a pen and paper I have decided are just a complete and utter overkill when you have the click, click of your keyboard beneath the reach of your finger tips and personally speaking, anything I write usually ends up in the bin, under my bed or buried at the end of my schoolbag.

I’m going to reveal a little more about myself as I’m feeling generous. The very words you scrutinize(if you know me) or skip(if you don’t know me, I won’t take offense) are typed from a red-bricked house lost in a cluster of green fields in Southern Ireland. Exciting times. And so we conclude I’m Irish…

But it’s not my biography, but my blog, so I’m going to move on to today.

I finally obtained my own copy of Sylvia Plath’s only published novel The Bell Jar. Why this day hasn’t come sooner I will never know seeing as I have probably have read it six or seven times since I first borrowed it from one of my bestfriends called Anna, whose copy had personality and history to it… All of the pages were soft to touch, brown in age while others had fallen out from the spine of the book, defeated by time. It was tattered and venerable but nevertheless wonderful in its own right and led me to a budding fascination of the author and poet, Sylvia Plath. hughesplath

“I feel very still and very empty, the way the eye of the tornado must feel” 

is definitely the first of many lines that grabbed me, not only emotionally but physically. It was as though Sylvia’s words stretched from the book itself and punched me in the stomach and left a sickly feeling to sit there. Quite often in conversational and everyday speech we use the word very for emphasis on a certain feeling… Its synonyms(yes.. I just used autocorrect to spell synonym) include extremely, exceedingly, tremendously, immensely… The list goes on. Yet what strikes me about this particular line is the monotonous repetition of the word very twice. Plath deliberately chose to use the word twice, to show the repetitious and wearisome manner that life sometimes follows causing us to feel that stillness and emptiness. Although the world may be bustling around us, it may be not be congruent with our needs and wishes. The world is the tornado, and we are the eye.