Wednesday, May 15, 2013

RIP: Emily Dickinson - Dec. 10, 1830 - May 15, 1886

I bought this book in 1959 at the little newsstand that stood against a wall just outside the Mess Hall at Camp Muenchweiler in Germany. At $1.25 it was high-end, but those Doubleday Anchor paperbacks were better built than the usual. I've read often from this particular one; I've marked it up; I was cruel to its spine; I glued poems written by a friend onto the blank pages at the end of it; I've carelessly tossed it on a table or dropped it on a floor. I stuffed it into box after box after box and moved it to a hundred cities. It has held up well.

I see that the cover was designed by Leonard Baskin, and the cover's typography by Edward Gorey. Neither of these names would have meant a thing to me in 1959. Later, around 1964, in Lansing, my friend Dennis Little, who must have been one of Gorey's earliest fans, turned me onto the fabulously twisted humor of Edward Gorey.  Dennis owned those early little Gorey books that Gorey was printing himself in editions of just a few hundred.

And Leonard Baskin, in the fifties, founded Gehenna Press, which published exquisite and limited editions, usually of his own woodcuts, and sometimes the writings of others with Baskin's woodcuts as illustrations. He eventually was teaching printmaking and sculpture at Smith College, where, in the late fifties, he met Sylvia Plath and her husband Ted Hughes. He provided many illustrations for Hughes' books from the early sixties up to the time of their deaths -- that of Hughes in 1998 and Baskin's in 2000.

(Gorey probably designed way more Anchor covers than Baskin; this is the only one I've seen by Baskin whereas I've noticed thirty or forty designed by Gorey.)

But, setting aside Baskin and Gorey, this is Emily's deathday! And of the 1800-or-so poems she wrote, below is one of my favorites, one that I long ago committed to memory. It's amazing how comfortable she is with death, how charmingly and casually she speaks of him (is seduced by him, some have posited).

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

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labour, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school where children played,
Their lessons scarcely done;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 'tis centuries; but each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.

1 comment:


    Emily's resting place...1775 poems..."Nun of Amherst" name given to her after her father's death...she kept to herself...

    A Book

    There is no frigate like a book
    To take us lands away,
    Nor any coursers like a page
    Of prancing poetry.
    This traverse may the poorest take
    Without oppress of toll;
    How frugal is the chariot
    That bears a human soul!

    I'd love to have heard her voice...