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 -