Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Considering Emily

Lake George, New York
as seen from Black Mountain Summit

integrity \in-ˈte-grə-tē\
from Latin integritat-, integritas, from integr-, integer entire 1 : firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values 2 : an unimpaired condition 3 : the quality or state of being complete or undivided

“There was never a good knife made of bad steel.”
Benjamin Franklin

“Many human desires are coterminous with their object. A person desires a good meal and- as though by magic- the person’s desire for a good meal seems to end at just about the time the good meal ends. But our desire for beauty is likely to outlast its object because, as Kant once observed, unlike all other pleasures, the pleasure we take in beauty is inexhaustible. No matter how long beautiful things endure, they cannot outlast our longing for them.”
Elaine Scarry, On Beauty and Being Just

Emily Dickinson was born on December 10, 1830. When she died, nearly fifty-six years later, Emily's sister discovered 40 hand bound volumes in a locked trunk. They contained almost 1800 poems in Emily's handwriting. That is 32 poems a year for 56 years. Emily's ability to articulate emotions astounds me. And then, she makes this statement- "I have found the words to every thought I ever had-but One-". And throughout her words is seen the enigmatic 'dash'. Deirdre Fagan said, "The dashes become a thread between the sayable and the unsayable, a caesura between life and death, a pause, a gasp, sometimes a chasm over which one must make a leap of understanding, all of which critics have pointed out."
Artists live in a world of dots and dashes (for, after all, a dash is just an impatient dot that kept going). I wonder- in the mind of an artist is the dash between needs and desires removed? Or, like a bridal veil, is the dash less rigid- more breathable- allowing reason and emotion to brush shoulders? Why write 1800 poems, without recognition or pay (published, of course, posthumously)? When I consider this I remember a Dutch painter who completed nearly 900 paintings in the last 10 years of his life, signed Vincent, and sold only one.
According to Ezra Pound, the Chinese word for integrity is xin, a set of calligraphic 'dashes' that combine two thoughts- man and words- taken literally, a man standing by his words. Perhaps this issue is one of integrity- a knowing of purpose and staying the course. Perhaps the mystery of the creative nature is summed up in Emily's dash.

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies-

The heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing,
Did not ourselves the cubits warp
For fear to be a king.

Emily Dickinson

No comments:

Post a Comment