Poems for Pleasure 5
Some keep the Sabbath
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard for a Dome.
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for church –
Our little Sexton – sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I'm going, all along!
The above is a fine short poem by Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). Indeed all her poems are short and fine. Early editors and anthologists managed to destroy her unique system of punctuation by long dashes instead of the usual commas, full stops, colons, semicolons etc. If you search for her poems on line you will find them mostly destroyed by editors who did not know better in the early twentieth century. Thankfully later editors knew better and reverted to what was in Emily’s manuscripts. virtually unknown in her lifetime, Dickinson has come to be regarded, along with Walt Whitman as one of the two quintessential American poets of the 19th century. Emily is famous for being a recluse and upon her relatively early death by modern standards (56), her family found 40 hand-bound volumes of more than 1700 of her poems.
The above little poem appeals to me because Emily was a strongheaded and strongwilled woman in that she refused to go to formal Church services. She was simply not to be “hemmed in” or suffocated by any system of religion. The Wikipedia, always a good source of information I find, informs us that “In 1847, at 17, Dickinson began attending Mary Lyon’s Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (which would later become Mount Holyoke College) in South Hadley. Austin (her brother) was sent to bring her home after less than a year at the Seminary, and she did not return to the school. Some speculate that she was homesick, however there is also speculation that she refused to sign an oath stating she would devote her life to Jesus Christ, and realizing she no longer wanted to attend there, went home and never returned.” (q.v. Wikipedia article on Emily).
Emily is my kind of person, strong in her opinions and raedy to stand up for her beliefs. In the above poem a “bobolink” is a songbird. Outside that note the poem is fairly readily accessible. Another fact to note is that Emily used capital letters wherever and wherever she wanted, rather like William Blake who died in 1827, just three years before Emily was born. Like Blake, once you compare her badly and wrongly edited poems with their originals, you will be quite horrified with the dreadful results. Not alone does the poem not look right, it also does not sound right. After all, poems are made for the ear more than the eye.
I must also admit that I subscribe aslo to her radical theology for an 1860s American. If only we more of such radicals in contemporary USA today.