Monday, December 13, 2010

Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes by Billy Collins and Three Poems by Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson's grave at West Cemetery, Amherst, Massachusetts
Born:  12/19/1830 -  Died:  5/15/1886
Emily wrote around 1,800 poems in her lifetime.


I love Billy Collins and own all of his books, but I don't include a lot of his poetry here because it's all over the web---he's that popular. But this poem does me in (slays me, as Terresa of the fiery hair often says) every single time I read it. 

In the last verse of his poem, Mr. Collins alludes to three of Emily Dickinson's most famous poems and you can't really understand the poem without having read them, so I also include them after his poem for your pure reading delight.  Enjoy!!!!  Love & Blessings,  ~Marion


Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes
By Billy Collins

First, her tippet made of tulle,
easily lifted off her shoulders and laid
on the back of a wooden chair.

And her bonnet,
the bow undone with a light forward pull.

Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
before my hands can part the fabric,
like a swimmer's dividing water,
and slip inside.

You will want to know
that she was standing
by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,
motionless, a little wide-eyed,
looking out at the orchard below,
the white dress puddled at her feet
on the wide-board, hardwood floor.

The complexity of women's undergarments
in nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.

Later, I wrote in a notebook
it was like riding a swan into the night,
but, of course, I cannot tell you everything -
the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,
how her hair tumbled free of its pins,
how there were sudden dashes
whenever we spoke.

What I can tell you is
it was terribly quiet in Amherst
that Sabbath afternoon,
nothing but a carriage passing the house,
a fly buzzing in a windowpane.
So I could plainly hear her inhale
when I undid the very top
hook-and-eye fastener of her corset

and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,
the way some readers sigh when they realize
that Hope has feathers,
that reason is a plank,
that life is a loaded gun
that looks right at you with a yellow eye.


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.


I Felt a Funeral In My Brain
By Emily Dickinson

I felt a funeral in my brain,
And mourners, to and fro,
Kept treading, treading, till it seemed
That sense was breaking through.

And when they all were seated,
A service like a drum
Kept beating, beating, till I thought
My mind was going numb.

And then I heard them lift a box,
And creak across my soul
With those same boots of lead,
Then space began to toll

As all the heavens were a bell,
And Being but an ear,
And I and silence some strange race,
Wrecked, solitary, here.

And then a plank in reason, broke,
And I dropped down and down--
And hit a world at every plunge,
And finished knowing--then--


My Life Has Stood--A Loaded Gun
By Emily Dickinson

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -
In Corners - till a Day
The Owner passed - identified -
And carried Me away -
And now We roam in Sovereign Woods -
And now We hunt the Doe -
And every time I speak for Him -
The Mountains straight reply -

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow -
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through -

And when at Night - Our good Day done -
I guard My Master's Head -
'Tis better than the Eider-Duck's
Deep Pillow - to have shared -

To foe of His - I'm deadly foe -
None stir the second time -
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye -
Or an emphatic Thumb -

Though I than He - may longer live
He longer must - than I -
For I have but the power to kill,
Without--the power to die--


"It is the job of poetry to clean up our word-clogged reality by creating silences around things." ~Stephen Mallarme


"Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes" by Billy Collins is from this PRIMO anthology, "Staying Alive:  Real Poems forUnreal Times", pages 250, 251

If you're in need of a book that overflows with poems/poets, then I highly recommend this amazing anthology.  My copy is dog-earred, highlighted and worn from much wear.



Kelly said...

What a great post, Marion! I always enjoy when you share Billy Collins poems. This one is exceptional!

I'm freezing today!! (which I hesitate to say too loudly since what we have is NOTHING like the folks up north!)

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

I love Billy Collins, too. Learned of him from a fellow blogger and wondered how I'd lived so long without remembering even hearing his name. He was on PHC over the weekend and read 3 funny, simple poems, "Snow Day", "Tension", "Oh My God" and talked about Emily, too...his poetry sometimes reminds me of a Far Side cartoon, something we have all thought at one time but never put pen to paper...

Terresa said...

Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes -- the title alone is enough to make me smile. Thanks for sharing these, I have a Dickinson book on my nightstand, waiting to be cracked.

Dick Jones said...

You might be interested in this -

Dominic Rivron said...

I love Emily Dickinson and I've read the Billy Collins poem before. It's a good one! It's so clever, what with all that water and ice stuff in it.

Serena said...

Truly dynamite poetry today, Princess Dragonfly. If you're still in shorts today, I'm insanely jealous. We have snow!

Woman in a Window said...

I read it, Marion, I read it! And you know why? Your generous heart gifted me that poem. It laid into me like a thumbprint. I loved it then before I read Emily's, but now it rings home.

I love this as well: ""It is the job of poetry to clean up our word-clogged reality by creating silences around things." Have you heard Tess Kincaid read, from the Willow Manor blog? I think of her voice and how it convinces me of these things.


Rick said...

I heard Garrison keilor do the emily's clothes post on the writers almanac. He did it well
Loved the crumb line too

Fireblossom said...

Billy dear, methinks you're barking up the wrong tree.

Emily is my patron and my favorite. Hopefully, she's with her Susan now for all eternity.