To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Friday, September 21, 2018

Toward a Poetry & Poetics of the Americas (14): Emily Dickinson, “A Letter to the Master,” lineated

Summer 1861

           If you saw a bullet
hit a Bird - and he told you
he was'nt shot - you might weep
at his courtesy, but you would
certainly doubt his word -
One drop more from the gash
that stains your Daisy's
bosom - then would you believe?
Thomas' faith in Anatomy, was
stronger than his faith in faith.
God made me - [Sir] Master –
I did'nt be - myself. I dont know how
it was done. He built the
heart in me - Bye and bye
it outgrew me - and like
the little mother - with the
big child - I got tired
holding him. I heard of a
thing called "Redemption" - which
rested men and women –
You remember I asked you
for it - you gave me something
else. I forgot the Redemption
 [in the Redeemed - I did'nt
 tell you for a long time, but
I knew you had altered me –
I] and was tired - no more - [so dear
did this stranger become, that
were it, or my breath - the
Alternative - I had tossed
the fellow away with a smile.]
I am older - tonight, Master –
but the love is the same –
so are the moon and the
crescent. If it had been
God's will that I might
breathe where you breathed –
and find the place - myself –
at night - if I (can) never forget
that I am not with you –
and that sorrow and frost
are nearer than I - if I wish
with a might I cannot
repress - that mine were the
Queen's place - the love of
the Plantagenet is my only
apology - To come nearer than
presbyteries - and nearer than
the new Coat - that the Tailor
made - the prank of the Heart
at play on the Heart - in holy
Holiday - is forbidden me –
You make me say it over –
I fear you laugh - when I do
not see - [but] "Chillon" is not
funny. Have you the Heart in
your breast - Sir - is it set
like mine - a little to the left –
has it the misgiving - if it
wake in the night - perchance –
 itself to it - a timbrel is it –
itself to it a tune?
These things are [reverent] holy, Sir,
I touch them [reverently] hallowed, but
persons who pray - dare remark
[our] "Father"! You say I do
not tell you all - Daisy “confessed –
and denied not.”
Vesuvius dont talk - Etna - dont –
[They] one of them - said a syllable –
a thousand years ago, and
Pompeii heard it, and hid
forever - She could'nt look the
world in the face, afterward –
I suppose - Bashfull Pompeii!
"Tell you of the want" - you
know what a leech is, dont
you - and [remember that] Daisy's arm is small –
and you have felt the Horizon
hav'nt you – and did the
sea - never come so close as
to make you dance?
I dont know what you can
do for it - thank you - Master –
but if I had the Beard on
my cheek - like you - and you - had Daisy's
petals - and you cared so for
me - what would become of you?
Could you forget me in fight, or
flight - or the foreign land?
Could'nt Carlo, and you and I
walk in the meadows an hour –
and nobody care but the Bobolink –
and his – a silver scruple?
I used to think when I died –
I could see you - so I died
as fast as I could - but the
"Corporation" are going too - so [Eternity] Heaven
wont be sequestered - now [at all] –
Say I may wait for you –
say I need go with no stranger
to the to me - untried [country] fold –
I waited a long time - Master –
but I can wait more - wait
till my hazel hair is dappled –
and you carry the cane –
then I can look at my
watch -- and if the Day is
too far declined - we can take
the chances [of] for Heaven –
What would you do with me
if I came "in white?"
Have you the little chest to
put the Alive - in?
I want to see you more - Sir –
than all I wish for in
this world - and the wish –
altered a little - will be my
only one - for the skies -
Could you come to New England –
[this summer - could] Would you come
to Amherst - Would you like
to come - Master?
[Would it do harm - yet we both
fear God -] Would Daisy disappoint
you - no - she would'nt - Sir –
it were comfort forever - just
to look in your face, while
you looked in mine - then I
could play in the woods till
Dark - till you take me
where Sundown cannot find
us - and the true keep
coming - till the town is full.
[Will you tell me if you will?]

I did'nt think to tell you, you
did'nt come to me "in white" –                                                                                                                  nor ever told me why,

No Rose, yet felt myself
No Bird - yet rode in Ether.

note.  I published this earlier in a non-lineated prose rendering in America a Prophecy, co-edited with George Quasha in the early 1970s.  Well enough known as one of three Dickinson letters addressed to an unidentified “Master,” this version, following closely her handwritten draft, emerges (for me at least) as a near-projective forerunner to what would become a dominant form of experimental composition a century after her own writing.  The result anyway is based on the transcription in The Master Letters of Emily Dickinson, edited by R.W. Franklin & published by Amherst College Press in 1986.  It will likely be the version used by me & Heriberto Yépez in our transnational anthology of North and South American poetry, now in preparation for University of California Press. (J.R.)

No comments: