Thursday, March 3, 2016

Classics Club 25: The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

After reading The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson in one month I'm not sure I can recommend it. Not the book itself but the reading of it in one concentrated chunk. I believe that poems are best savoured in small mouthfuls and by reading Dickinson's entire work in one large gulp I denied myself this pleasure. It felt like most of the individual poems disappeared into the collection as a whole. The poems that I was already familiar tended to stand out and every now and again one particular poem did catch my attention. But as a whole the reading experience felt a little like the reverse of the old saying - while I was seeing the wood I missed most of the individual trees.

However, there were some advantages to this concentrated reading. I felt like I gained a good understanding of Dickinson's style and themes as a whole. If I was presented with a group of previously undiscovered poems by a variety of poets I'm confident I could correctly identify any written by Dickinson. When my children were younger we read a series of books about artists by Richard Muhlberger- What Makes a Monet a Monet? and the like. If someone were to publish a similar series about poets I feel  I could make a good fist of authoring the volume on Emily Dickinson! Short, lyric poems, often about nature or domestic affairs. Lots of imagery from nature and religion. A focus on love, death and immortality. It seems that the dash was her preferred punctuation mark and she tended to capitalise all nouns, not just those at the start of a line. For seemingly simple poems (short stanzas with short lines) her use of allegory, symbolism, metaphors from a wide variety of arenas makes them surprisingly dense. There is definitely more to them than first meets the eye.

While I enjoy Emily Dickinson's poems and recommend them if you're unfamiliar with her, I suggest using The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson as a resource to dip in and out of as the mood takes you. For me reading it in one chunk felt like work and took away much of the pleasure of the individual poems.

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