Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Emily Dickinson: This World is not Conclusion

"If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold I know no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?"

Emily in sepia with top of head intact

The two previous Poet-in-Residence posts (see below), Waiting for Godot and The Dream of Gerontius, and also this post are all variations on a theme.

Emily Dickinson was convinced (as Poet-in-Residence is) that there exists an unseen dimension beyond this physical world and that the invisible has a place there. The Large Hadron Collider is looking. And the poets are looking too.

This World is not Conclusion°

this world is not conclusion
a species stands beyond -
invisible, as music -
but positive as sound -

it beckons, and it baffles
philosophy - don't know -
and through a riddle, at the last -
sagacity must go -

to guess it, puzzles scholars -
to gain it, men have borne
contempt of generations
and crucifixion, shown -

faith slips - and laughs, and rallies -
blushes, if any see -
plucks at a twig of evidence -
and asks a vane, the way -

much gesture, from the pulpit -
strong hallelujahs roll -
narcotics cannot still the tooth
that nibbles at the soul -

°rewritten without Dickinson's many dashes and capital letters for ease of reading.

Update: 13th December 2009 - the Dickinson dashes - now inserted! See Dominic Rivron's comment. My Compromise - I meet Emily agreeably halfway. But, sorry to say, as much as I love the Poem - I must insist on my editorial Right to refuse the mixture of capitalized Nouns and Line commencements - not to mention the cramped Verse Structure of the Original.
2nd update: OK. I relent. You may now attempt the original. But please don't blame Poet-in-Residence for any resulting optical illusion that may give you a migraine or a severe headache. To deduce why words like soul, twig and scholars are lower case and nouns like Tooth, Vane and Pulpit are capitalized, and why the tight unbroken verse strutcture with its abundance of Capital Letters and dashes aggrieves one's eyesight, is obviously a matter for a professor of optics rather than a simple Poet-in-Residence:

This World is not Conclusion

This World is not Conclusion
A Species stands beyond -
Invisible, as Music -
But positive, as Sound -
It beckons, and it baffles -
Philosophy - don't know -
And through a Riddle, at the last -
Sagacity, must go -
To guess it, puzzles scholars -
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown -
Faith slips - and laughs, and rallies -
Blushes, if any see -
Plucks at a twig of Evidence -
And asks a Vane, the way -
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit -
Strong Hallelujahs roll -
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul -

Emily Dickinson 10th December 1830 - 15th May 1886


  1. Here's to unseen dimensions...

  2. It's an interesting challenge to try and guess where she put the dashes. I've just tried, and got it wrong!

  3. Thanks Jinksy.
    Dominic, I will now put the original dashed version below. Didn't have time before.

  4. well, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

  5. The capitalized words become more intractable, like objects in the physical world. Emily Dickinson was surely rather intractable?

    Sometimes I laugh in the presence of Art I am Moved by - Not stuff that's intended to be funny.

  6. Sparker, Opticians and researchers into dyslexia should find a use for Emily's poem. To me it has the universal resonance of organized chaos; almost like one of those cards we use to check if a person is colour blind. Your sharp end-sentence strikes a familiar chord.

  7. So much flavour could hinge on the delivery of the sixth line.

    I'd never read this before. Now I fear I'll have to investigate Dickinson properly.

    Thanks for posting this...

  8. burslemisbohemia, line 6, yes and thanks,- and now I must dash!


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