literature, Personal story

Echoes of Emily

This morning I was dipping into Emily Dickinson’s Complete Poems, and I found by chance the following poem, which she composed, it is speculated by scholars, in 1874. It is poem 1293 in the Complete Poems.

The things we thought that we should do

We other things have done

But those peculiar industries

Have never been begun –


The Lands we thought that we should seek

When large enough to run

By Speculation ceded

To Speculation’s Son –


The Heaven, in which we hoped to pause

When Discipline was done

Untenable to Logic

But possibly the one –

by Emily Dickinson c. 1874


What is this Heaven that offers rest from both discipline and logic? Is it purely poetry, the house of possibility, in which Emily dwelt, and there found a deeper satisfaction than the plans and possessions of a mere worldly self?

I heard in the first stanza of this poem an echo of a poem I wrote, and while I do not compare myself in skill to the poetess of Amherst, except to declare myself like her only ever of “Barefoot-Rank”, I will set it down here, and let that echo sound. This poem was published in Australian Poetry Journal, volume 5, issue 1 (2015).

Not getting things done

They are evasive – those things

That will not be done.


Like lifting a hero’s burden,

Unravelling mysteries,


Forgetting about money, or

Making sense of your super.


They slide from your grasp

Like an eel to be cut.


Politics freed from corruption.

Emotions made into intelligence.


Power’s maze escaped.

A mentor’s influence overcome.


Secure from lifehackers –

they slow you down like a virus in your boot sector.


They pile in corners, messed up, with no priorities,

But asking you each day to return to their call.


When, after all, will you get around

To relinquishing your youthful strength,


Saying, at last, comfort is attained,

Settling on the meaning of your dreams?


You know you want to spurn productivity,

Refuse luxury, and tarnish beauty’s sheen,


But those undone duties

Make their way to daily lists,


Debts demanding payment,

At the bottom of the diary’s page.


Heartache unmended, dreams undiscovered,

Quests unheeded, pain undressed.


As the day proceeds more futility is added

to the list for ticking off;


In meticulous notebooks they wait,

Expecting never to be.


Whole careers, projects without plans,

Journeys of recovery and feats of weakness


Pile like chaos in the attic

Awaiting defeat


By distraction and habit and boredom and chance:

Four deadly horsemen more real than the rest.


Jeff Rich


In this poem it seems to me today I told my autobiography as a kind of negative possibility, like Keats crossed with Emily.


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