"Autobiographies of great nations are written in three manuscripts – a book of deeds, a book of words, and a book of art.
Of the three, I would choose the latter as truest testimony." - Sir Kenneth Smith, Great Civilisations

"I must write each day without fail, not so much for the success of the work, as in order not to get out of my routine." - Leo Tolstoy

I have never believed that one should wait until one is inspired because I think the pleasures of not writing are so
great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again. - John Updike

"The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour
is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it." - J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Monday, June 26, 2017

Emily Dickinson - A Quiet Passion

Emily Dickinson is considered among the greatest poets in English literature. She is known for her unusual use of form and syntax; and for being “The poet of paradox”. Dickinson was a prolific writer and created nearly 1800 poems but only a handful of them were published during her lifetime.

Movie Quotes by Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me.

This is my letter to the world that never wrote to me.The heart asks pleasure first and then excuse from pain.

We deceive ourselves and then others.

Poems are my solace for the eternity which surrounds us all.

If I can't have equality, then I want nothing of love.

Emily Dickinson: How can you go on loving me?
Vinnie Dickinson: You are so easy to love.

Clarity is one thing; obviousness is quite another.

Movie Review

Neither quiet nor passion
October 29, 2016

The great American poet Emily Dickinson wrote:

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

Whether or not Dickinson stopped for life, it kindly stopped for her and her immortality is enshrined in the legacy of the 1800 exquisite poems she left, only ten of which were published during her lifetime. She did not leave any commentaries to interpret her work, but left them for us to understand and explain. One interpretation of her life and work is provided by Terence Davies in his film, A Quiet Passion, a sympathetic but overwritten and curiously wooden look at her life and the influences that shaped her art. Starring Cynthia Nixon ("The Adderall Diaries") as Emily, Davies traces Dickinson's life in a standard linear format. Raised in the Puritan New England city of Amherst, Massachusetts (the film is shot near Antwerp, Belgium) the poet was lonely and secretive throughout her life, seldom left home, and visitors were few.

She stayed with her family all of her life, living through births, marriages, and deaths but always setting aside the early morning hours in her study to compose. Bright and outgoing as a young woman, Emily is portrayed as becoming more isolated, and bitter as she grows older. Her only companions were her austere and unforgiving father, Edward (Keith Carradine, "Ain't Them Bodies Saints"), a one-term Congressman, her haughty brother, Austin (Duncan Duff, "Island"), who became an attorney and lived next door with his wife Susan Gilbert (Johdi May, "Ginger and Rosa"), and her younger sister, Lavinia (Jennifer Ehle, "Little Men") who was her greatest solace. As the film opens, Emily is tagged as an outsider almost immediately. As a young student (Emma Bell, "See You in Valhalla") at the Mount Holyoke women's seminary, she stands up to the governess by declaring that she does not want either to be saved by divine Providence or forgotten by it and also speaks out for feminism, women's rights and abolitionism.

Her willingness to challenge conventional thinking by dismissing Longfellow's poem "The Song of Hiawatha" as "gruel," and her support for the poorly-regarded Bronte sisters was not appreciated by her family. "If they wanted to be wholesome," she retorted, "I imagine they would crochet." As Davies cleverly morphs the faces of Emily and her well-to-do family from children into adults, a clearer picture emerges of her relationship with her strict father and reserved mother (Joanna Bacon, "Love Actually"). Her only refuge from family conflicts and disappointments was her intimate relationship with Vinnie, the companionship of her best friend Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey, "The Grind"), and the sermons of Reverend Wadsworth (Eric Loren, "Red Lights"). Irreverent and provocative, Emily, Vinnie, and Vryling are shown walking through the gardens, exchanging witty aphorisms while they twirl their parasols, but the element of artifice is overbearing.

We do not see Emily in the process of composition but listen to her poems read aloud in voice-over. They are the highlight of the film, but there are not enough of them and too much time is spent on Emily's sad physical deterioration as she confronts the debilitating Bright's disease. In this regard, there is no subtlety in the film's presentation as the camera unnecessarily lingers over Emily's shaking fits for an inordinate length of time and her last days are an endurance test for the audience. In spite of the family's strong religious approach to life, there is no reflection about her life and legacy or talk about life's meaning and purpose.

Though Emily Dickinson's poetry glimmers with a spiritual glow, the uniqueness of who she is does not fully come across. For all of its fine performances and moments of comic satire, A Quiet Passion is dramatically inert, and its stilted and mannered dialogue is an emotional straitjacket with each character talking to the other as if they were reading a book of aphorisms. Terence Davies has directed some memorable period films in his career such as his remarkable adaptation of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. A Quiet Passion, however, has neither quiet nor passion. Gratitude must be offered, however, to Davies for introducing the poems of Emily Dickinson to a wider audience. Thanks Terence and thanks Emily.

You left me – Sire – two Legacies – (#713)
by Emily Dickinson

You left me – Sire – two Legacies – 
A Legacy of Love
A Heavenly Father would suffice
Had He the offer of –

You left me Boundaries of Pain –
Capacious as the Sea –
Between Eternity and Time –
Your Consciousness – and me –

Poems by Emily Dickinson

And with what body do they come (#10)
by Emily Dickinson

'And with what body do they come?' -
Then they do come - Rejoice!
What Door - What Hour - Run - run - My Soul!
Illuminate the House!

'Body!' Then real - a Face and Eyes -
To know that it is them!
Paul knew the Man that knew the News -
He passed through Bethlehem -

My Cocoon Tightens, Colors Tease (#17)
by Emily Dickinson

MY cocoon tightens, colors tease,
I 'm feeling for the air;
A dim capacity for wings
Degrades the dress I wear.

A power of butterfly must be
The aptitude to fly,
Meadows of majesty concedes
And easy sweeps of sky.

So I must baffle at the hint
And cipher at the sign,
And make much blunder, if at last
I take the clew divine.

For Each Ecstatic Instant (#37)
by Emily Dickinson

FOR each ecstatic instant
We must an anguish pay
In keen and quivering ratio
To the ecstasy.

For each beloved hour
Sharp pittances of years,
Bitter contested farthings
And coffers heaped with tears.

Success Is Counted Sweetest (#67)
by Emily Dickinson

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of victory

As he defeated – dying –
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

Note: In this poem Dickinson uses the image of a victorious army and of a defeated soldier who is dying. Through this image she conveys that success can be understood best by those who have suffered defeat. The popularity of the poem lies in the fact that unlike some of her other poems which talk about losing in romance, ‘Success Is Counted Sweetest’ “can be applied to any situation where there are winners and losers.” - Learnodo Newtonic

Declaiming Waters None May Dread (#126)
by Emily Dickinson

Declaiming Waters none may dread -
But Waters that are still
Are so for that most fatal cause
In Nature - they are full -

On that dear Frame the Years had worn (#135)
by Emily Dickinson

On that dear Frame the Years had worn
Yet precious as the House
In which We first experienced Light
The Witnessing, to Us—

Precious! It was conceiveless fair
As Hands the Grave had grimed
Should softly place within our own
Denying that they died.

“Faith” is a fine invention (#185)
by Emily Dickinson

“Faith” is a fine invention
For Gentlemen who see!
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency!

Notes: An often quoted poem, ‘”Faith” is a fine invention’ gives insight on Dickinson’s views on religion and science. While calling faith an invention and putting it in quotation marks suggests that the poem is pro science yet the ability for only some to ‘see’, or possess a kind a divine power, contradicts that. No wonder Dickinson is famous as the “The poet of paradox”. She goes on to add that it is wiser to use ‘microscopes’, or science, in an emergency. - Learnodo Newtonic

Wild nights – Wild nights! (#249)
by Emily Dickinson

Wild nights – Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile – the winds –
To a Heart in port –
Done with the Compass –
Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden –
Ah – the Sea!
Might I but moor – tonight –
In thee!

Note: 'Wild nights – Wild nights!’ is widely discussed for its implications. It doesn’t tell a story but is an expression of wish or desire. Dickinson uses the sea as an image for passion. It remains one of the most popular romantic poems written by an American. - Learnodo Newtonic

Hope is the Thing with Feathers (#254)
by Emily Dickinson

"Hope" is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Note: The most famous poem by Dickinson, “Hope is the Thing with Feathers” is ranked among the greatest poems in the English language. It metaphorically describes hope as a bird that rests in the soul, sings continuously and never demands anything even in the direst circumstances. - Learnodo Newtonic

I’m nobody! Who are you? (#288)
by Emily Dickinson

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you — Nobody — Too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! They’d banish us — you know!

How dreary — to be — Somebody!
How public — like a Frog —
To tell one’s name — the livelong June —
To an admiring Bog!

Note: In this poem the narrator considers that being nobody is a luxury and it is depressingly repetitive to be somebody, who like a frog has a compulsion to croak all the time. The most talked about detail of Dickinson’s life is perhaps that only 10 of her nearly 1800 works were published during her lifetime and she lived her life in anonymity. This and the fact that the poem is about the popular subject of “us against them” makes it one of the most famous poems written by Dickinson. - Learnodo Newtonic

So From The Mould (#335)
by Emily Dickinson

So from the mould
Scarlet and Gold
Many a Bulb will rise—
Hidden away, cunningly, From sagacious eyes.

So from Cocoon
Many a Worm
Leap so Highland gay,
Peasants like me,
Peasants like Thee
Gaze perplexedly!

Much Madness is divinest Sense (#435)
by Emily Dickinson

Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness –
‘Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail –
Assent – and you are sane –
Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
And handled with a Chain –

Note: "Much Madness" begins with a paradoxical line which equates madness to divine sense. Dickinson talks about the insane society which treats individuality as madness. If you agree with the majority you are sane but if you raise objections you are considered dangerous and need to be controlled. The madness versus sanity theme of the poem can also be interpreted in various other ways adding to the popularity of the poem.- Learnodo Newtonic

The Murmur of a Bee (#443)
by Emily Dickinson

The Murmur of a Bee
A Witchcraft—yieldeth me—
If any ask me why—
'Twere easier to die—
Than tell—

The Red upon the Hill
Taketh away my will—
If anybody sneer—
Take care—for God is here—
That's all.

The Breaking of the Day
Addeth to my Degree—
If any ask me how—
Artist—who drew me so—
Must tell!

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died (#465)
by Emily Dickinson

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –

With Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –

Note: In “I heard a Fly buzz” the narrator is on his or her deathbed in a still room surrounded by loved ones. Everyone is awaiting the arrival of the ‘King’. The figure of death appears as a tiny, often disregarded, fly with a ‘stumbling Buzz’. It comes between the narrator and light and then the narrator ‘could not see to see’ or is dead. The poem remains one of Dickinson’s most discussed and famous works. - Learnodo Newtonic

Because I could not stop for Death (#479)
by Emily Dickinson

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 labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses' Heads
Were toward Eternity –

My Portion is Defeat - Today (#601)
by Emily Dickinson

My Portion is Defeat—today—
A paler luck than Victory—
Less Paeans—fewer Bells—
The Drums don't follow Me—with tunes—
Defeat—a somewhat slower—means—
More Arduous than Balls—

'Tis populous with Bone and stain—
And Men too straight to stoop again—,
And Piles of solid Moan—
And Chips of Blank—in Boyish Eyes—
And scraps of Prayer—
And Death's surprise,
Stamped visible—in Stone—

There's somewhat prouder, over there—
The Trumpets tell it to the Air—
How different Victory
To Him who has it—and the One
Who to have had it, would have been
Contender—to die—

Knows How to Forget! (#620)
by Emily Dickinson

Knows how to forget!
But could It teach it?
Easiest of Arts, they say
When one learn how

Dull Hearts have died
In the Acquisition
Sacrificed for Science
Is common, though, now—

I went to School
But was not wiser
Globe did not teach it
Nor Logarithm Show

"How to forget"!
Ah, to be erudite
Enough to know!

Is it in a Book?
So, I could buy it—
Is it like a Planet?
Telescopes would know—

If it be invention
It must have a Patent.
Rabbi of the Wise Book
Don't you know?

I Tend My Flowers for Thee (#622)
by Emily Dickinson

I tend my flowers for thee—
Bright Absentee!
My Fuchsia's Coral Seams
Rip—while the Sower—dreams—

Geraniums— tint—and spot—
Low Daisies—dot—
My Cactus—splits her Beard
To show her throat—

Carnations—tip their spice—
And Bees—pick up—
A Hyacinth—I hid—
Puts out a Ruffled Head—
And odors fall
From flasks—so small—
You marvel how they held—

Globe Roses—break their satin glake—
Upon my Garden floor—
Yet—thou—not there—
I had as lief they bore
No Crimson—more—

Thy flower—be gay—
Her Lord—away!
It ill becometh me—
I'll dwell in Calyx—Gray—
How modestly—alway—
Thy Daisy—
Draped for thee!

'Tis Good - the Looking Back On Grief (#660)
by Emily Dickinson

'Tis good—the looking back on Grief—
To re-endure a Day—
We thought the Mighty Funeral—
Of All Conceived Joy—

To recollect how Busy Grass
Did meddle—one by one—
Till all the Grief with Summer—waved
And none could see the stone.

And though the Woe you have Today
Be larger—As the Sea
Exceeds its Unremembered Drop—
They're Water—equally—

Because I Could Not Stop For Death (#712)
by Emily Dickinson

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 labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

Note: Many of Dickinson’s poems deal with the themes of death and immortality; and this is the most famous of them all. In it Emily personifies death as a gentle guide who takes a leisurely carriage ride with the poet to her grave. According to prominent American poet Allen Tate, “If the word great means anything in poetry, this poem is one of the greatest in the English language; it is flawless to the last detail.” - Learnodo Newtonic

If I can stop one Heart from breaking (#919)
by Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Note: This simple and often quoted poem by Dickinson talks about the deeds one can do which will insure that one’s life was not is vain. - Learnodo Newtonic

Tell all the truth but tell it slant (#1129)
by Emily Dickinson

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

Note: In this poem Dickinson presents truth as a powerful entity whose dazzling brilliance can bring this world to an end. Hence she suggests that it would be wise to tell the truth but ‘tell it slant’ and to gradually ease it into the world. - Learnodo Newtonic

A Word made Flesh is seldom (#1715)
by Emily Dickinson

A Word made Flesh is seldom
And tremblingly partook
Nor then perhaps reported
But have I not mistook
Each one of us has tasted
With ecstasies of stealth
The very food debated
To our specific strength --

A Word that breathes distinctly
Has not the power to die
Cohesive as the Spirit
It may expire if He --
"Made Flesh and dwelt among us"
Could condescension be
Like this consent of Language
This loved Philology.

Cynthia Nixon plays Emily Dickinson in Terence Davies' new film A Quiet Passion. "I think she was afraid of life," Davies says. "Like a lot of geniuses, she had — skin missing. And that makes you very, very vulnerable." | Johan Voets/Hurricane Films/Courtesy of Music Box Films

New Film Celebrates Emily Dickinson's Poetry
And 'Quiet Passion'

by Lynn Neary
April 13, 2017

Many people are drawn to Emily Dickinson because of her mysterious life — the brilliant poet rarely left her family home in Amherst, Mass., and her work wasn't recognized until after her death.

But British film director Terence Davies says it was her poetry, more than her personal life, that drew him in. Davies discovered Dickinson on television. An actress was reading one of her poems and afterwards Davies immediately ran out to buy one of her collections.

"What moves me about all the poems I've read is everything is distilled down to the bare essential," Davies explains. "But it's the very reticence of that that makes it desperately, desperately moving."

His new film, A Quiet Passion, stars Cynthia Nixon as Dickinson. The movie creates an image of a complicated woman whose poetry is steeped in pain.

In the film Davies uses Dickinson's poetry as a kind of commentary on her life. In the opening scene, Dickinson is severely chastised by the headmistress of her school because she refuses to say she wants to be Christian. Dickinson is dismissed as a "no hoper." As the scene ends she stands alone by a window as Nixon reads one of her poems:

For each ecstatic instant
We must an anguish pay
In keen and quivering ratio
To the ecstasy.

For each beloved hour
Sharp pittances of years,
Bitter contested farthings
And coffers heaped with tears.

Much of A Quiet Passion focuses on Dickinson's spiritual struggles. Davies says he identified with her because he also went through a spiritual crisis in his youth.

Emily Dickinson had a "green thumb"

"From 15 to 22 there was seven years of doubt and I really, really prayed for God to reveal himself, and of course he didn't," he recalls. "So I know what that is like. Faced with mortality, what do we do with this thing we call the soul?"

In the film, Dickinson's refusal to compromise her beliefs often puts her at odds with the conservative religious beliefs of her family and friends. In one scene, she refuses to kneel when a visiting minister leads her family in prayer. Her disobedience infuriates her father.

"My soul is my own," she tells him.

"Your soul is God's!" he replies.

The American Poet, Emily Dickinson

Dickinson had a few close relationships but is heartbroken when friends leave her. The only man she is attracted to is already married. He appreciates her poetry but few others do. She withdraws into her family home, sheltering herself from a world she doesn't really understand.

"To interpret the world you have to be an observer of it," Davies says. "What being an observer does, it puts you on the outside of life. You're never really part of it and life seems almost incomprehensible. How do other people manage their way through the world?"

Dickinson's reclusive life has been always been a source of fascination for artists.

"There's a kind of mystery around Dickinson and where mystery is, stories bloom," says Brenda Wineapple, author of White Heat, about Dickinson's friendship with a well-known abolitionist. Wineapple sees Dickinson as a strong, witty woman who did have lasting friendships. She says Davies has created a Dickinson whose radical life choices cost her a great deal.

"Over time she becomes caustic and angry and disappointed, which is not necessarily how people, particularly in the recent past, have imagined Emily Dickinson," Wineapple says.

But Davies says of course Dickinson was angry — she wanted to be loved and she wanted her work recognized even though she chose to live as a recluse.

"In the end that haven becomes a prison," he says. "It's sort of an emotional prison she can't get away from. That's very sad and very hard to bear, I think."

A Quiet Passion ends with Dickinson's death, before the hundreds of poems that would make her famous, were discovered.


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