What Home could be

My favourite Saturdays are spent at home. There’s pleasure in housekeeping on these days, I think because I don’t have to do it every day. And after chores are done, there’s rest and solace. I’ve been beguiled lately by the images of home in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. In their little house in the big woods of Wisconsin, or on the Oklahoma prairie, there’s a sweet simplicity. Outside, wolves might howl in an immense darkness, but inside there’s a fire, a table, a book or two, and the music of Pa’s fiddle. Everything they have fits in one small room. Anything they need, Pa or Ma can make, or mend.  Life is rhythmic, simple, charming. 

Someone who never quite believed this picture, or never found it for herself, was Emily Dickinson, who was just a little older than Laura’s Ma. Readers of her poetry note the way she kept house and home at a conceptual distance from one another. Despite living out her days a deliberate recluse in the Amherst house she was born in, she once asked her friend Thomas Wentworth Higginson “Could you tell me what home is?” This poem - fragmentary, grasping -  is a rare glimpse of what home seemed to her, or what she had learned a home could be. Strange at first, but lovely, vivid, blessed. In the end it’s beautiful, but unattainable. “This seems a Home - and Home is not.” The picture fades. 

I learned - at least - what Home could be -
How ignorant I had been
Of pretty ways of Covenant -
How awkward at the Hymn
Round our new Fireside - but for this -
This pattern - of the Way -
Whose Memory drowns me, like the Dip
Of a Celestial Sea -
What Mornings in our Garden - guessed -
What Bees - for us - to hum -
With only Birds to interrupt
The Ripple of our Theme -
And Task for Both -
When Play be done -
Your Problem - of the Brain -
And mine - some foolisher effect -
A Ruffle - or a Tune -
The Afternoons - Together spent -
And Twilight - in the Lanes -
Some ministry to poorer lives -
Seen poorest - thro' our gains -
And then Return - and Night - and Home -
And then away to You to pass -
A new - diviner - care -
Till Sunrise take us back to Scene -
Transmuted - Vivider -
This seems a Home -
And Home is not -
But what that Place could be -
Afflicts me - as a Setting Sun -
Where Dawn - knows how to be -

Split the lark

When she died at 55 in May of 1886, Emily Dickinson’s white dress (the only colour she would wear) was tiny. About the size of a twelve-year-old child’s. Also tiny were the cloth packets, sewn up with twine, that were found hidden in her bedroom afterwards. Tightly bound with red and white thread, they contained more than 800 poems on leaves stitched together, or in loose fragments. While she lived, seven of her poems appeared in print, most likely without her consent. She’s now known to have written more than 1700. Unlike her diminutive frame and reclusive life, her poetry is vast in scope as in scale. It is wild, prolific, kinetic, staccato, aposeopetic. It is full of awe and magnitude, though often condensed to a few broken lines.

Split the Lark – and you'll find the Music –
Bulb after Bulb, in Silver rolled –
Scantily dealt to the Summer Morning
Saved for your Ear when Lutes be old. 

Loose the Flood – you shall find it patent –
Gush after Gush, reserved for you –
Scarlet Experiment! Sceptic Thomas!
Now, do you doubt that your Bird was true?

This poem, quick and sharp, is a picture of largeness hidden in little. It’s also a lance, piercing scepticism that kills things to see inside them. For Emily, as for Christ the Bird, death loosed the flood, split the lark, and found the music.

A brittle heaven

Enough of Christmas - the new year is upon us, and Christmas is again a year away. I thought this poem by Emily Dickinson was apt for anyone meditating new year's resolutions as I am.  This time of year always fills me with hopes, always convinces me that there is a centre toward which my life will at last converge. Usually lasts till about March.

Each life converges to some centre
Expressed or still;
Exists in every human nature
A goal,

Admitted scarcely to itself, it may be,
Too fair
For credibility's temerity
To dare.

Adored with caution, as a brittle heaven,
To reach
Were hopeless as the rainbow's raiment
To touch,

Yet persevered toward, surer for the distance;
How high
Unto the saints' slow diligence
The sky!

Ungained, it may be, by a life's low venture,
But then,
Eternity enables the endeavoring