Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Emily Dickinson's Home Poem #440

Rita asks: "Please tell me the name of the Emily Dickinson poem about going to the old home" from the new TRIADS video.



Rita, the Emily Dickinson poem is known by the number: #F440. Here it is, quoted from the website PoemHunter.

"Years I had been from home,
And now, before the door
I dared not open, lest a face
I never saw before

Stare vacant into mine
And ask my business there.
My business, - just a life I left,
Was such still dwelling there?

I fumbled at my nerve,
I scanned the windows near;
The silence like an ocean rolled,
And broke against my ear.

I laughed a wooden laugh
That I could fear a door,
Who danger and the dead had faced,
But never quaked before.

I fitted to the latch
My hand, with trembling care,
Lest back the awful door should spring,
And leave me standing there.

I moved my fingers off
As cautiously as glass,
And held my ears, and like a thief
Fled gasping from the house."

There are other variants of F440, including: this one

I Years had been from Home
And now before the Door
I dared not enter, lest a Face
I never saw before

Stare stolid into mine
And ask my Business there –
“My Business but a Life I left
Was such remaining there?”

I leaned upon the Awe –
I lingered with Before –
The Second like an Ocean rolled
And broke against my ear –

I laughed a crumbling Laugh
That I could fear a Door
Who Consternation compassed
And never winced before.

I fitted to the Latch
My Hand, with trembling care
Left back the awful Door should spring
And leave me in the Floor –

Then moved my Fingers off
As cautiously as Glass
And held my ears, and like a Thief
Fled gasping from the House –

The differences apparently derive from the fact that most of Dickinson's poems weren't published when she was alive. She had kept nearly 2,000 poems  hidden away in manuscript form, and they were discovered and divided between two different collections. The editors were baffled by the many marginal notations, second thoughts, and alternate wordings, so it's hard to say which version is the one Dickinson would have wanted.

In this poem, the following stanza is written two different ways:

I fumbled at my nerve,
I scanned the windows near;
The silence like an ocean rolled,
And broke against my ear.
or
I leaned upon the Awe –
I lingered with Before –
The Second like an Ocean rolled
And broke against my ear –

The first version:

"Who danger and the dead had faced,
But never quaked before."

While the second says:

"Who Consternation compassed
And never winced before."

and
"wooden laugh" becomes "crumbling Laugh." 

Here's an interesting analysis of the poem, which suggests that the "Face I never saw before" is not the home's new owner, but rather the ghost of the writer's former self. That's a potential meeting that would fill both the older self and the younger self with trepidation.

4 comments:

Michael Coxon said...

Hi James and Jeanette
Thank you for this post. It reminded me of a book I bought years ago which inspired me, among other things, to make my own "work (still!) in practice.
The book is called "The House" by Robert Innocenti with words by J. Patrick Lewis. It7s beautifully illustrated with a delightful story.
Many Thanks to you.
Michael

Ruth Squitieri said...

Great post as always. I had goosebumps when you recited the poem during your painting lesson.

Sorry to be besides the topic, but do you sell these "Department of Art" patches? I would love to buy one!

James Gurney said...

Ruth, no, I don't sell them because they were made as a gift from a fan to use for winners of our painting challenges. Six winners of the next one, "Sunny Still Life" will receive one.

James Gurney said...

Ruth, here's the link to the challenge: https://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2020/09/triad-challenge-sunny-still-life.html