Friday, October 07, 2016

Poetry Friday: Emily Dickinson on a Hurricane

We had two unexpected days off this week as Hurricane Matthew barrelled through Haiti.  Port-au-Prince was not badly hit, but the southern part of the island is a real mess.  We are gradually learning the extent of the mess.

I've lived in Haiti for a long time, and I've had many Poetry Fridays that fell during visits from tropical storms and hurricanes.  But I'd never seen this poem before.  It's not in my Kindle version of Emily Dickinson's poems (which is supposed to be complete!).

I love this poem because, whether Emily intended this or not, for me it touches on the effect of huge events (earthquakes, hurricanes, loss of love in whatever way that happens) on the human heart.  "Calm is but a Wall of unattempted Gauze," we learn, when everything in our lives is shaken.

The heart breaks, and it also enlarges, and lets in new people; and those people are there to stay, no matter what comes later.  The heart dissolves, and convulses; the heart is demolished.  And somehow, in my experience, you never go back to that pre-disaster confidence in the trustworthiness of your own heart.

All the articles on Haiti's hurricane damage refer to the fact that Haiti is still recovering from the earthquake six years ago.  Much as I hate my beloved adopted country being associated with nothing but natural disasters, it's true that we are still recovering, individually and corporately.  And now there's something else to clean up. 


The Heart has narrow Banks
It measures like the Sea
In mighty—unremitting Bass
And Blue Monotony

Till Hurricane bisect
And as itself discerns
Its sufficient Area
The Heart convulsive learns

That Calm is but a Wall
Of unattempted Gauze
An instant's Push demolishes
A Questioning—dissolves.

Violet Nesdoly has today's roundup.


Tabatha said...

I'm relieved to hear that you are safe. It seems rather poetic that even "complete" versions of Emily's poems don't hold all her secrets.
That last stanza really says it all...

Doraine Bennett said...

So glad to know you're safe, but sorrowful that there is more destruction. Keeping you all in my heart. Yes, Emily says it as no one else can.

Linda B said...

We are receiving news about Haiti finally, and the Bahamas, too. The parts hit do not sound good, Ruth. I'm glad you are okay, but see that one more thing doesn't help your country. I am guessing that Emily D. is not talking about weather's hurricanes, but something in the soul. It feels true about the gauze, and I agree with what you said. One doesn't re-gain the trust. Thank you, hope you also are feeling much better!

Jane @ said...

That last stanza gives me goosebumps, it's so evocative.

Nature can be so beautiful and inspiring, but is also capable of absolutely breaking our hearts. Stay safe.

Violet Nesdoly said...

Wow! I have never seen this poem either. But a friend of mine described the diagnosis of her daughter's autism using a similar metaphor of gauze (I think she called it a filament). So glad to know you're safe. Every time I hear about a Haiti event, like the Matthew storm, I think of you (and say a prayer).

Mary Lee said...

Glad for you, but sad for Haiti all over again.

I love that last stanza, but the first line also resonated. The heart's narrow banks make flooding and disaster constantly imminent. There's no escaping it, really. But (thinking as I write) those narrow banks also make it easier for our hearts to overflow with joy as well. Hmm...that's good/that's bad.

Diane Mayr said...

I don't know why Emily didn't title her poems! It would have made it so much easier for us to remember certain ones. I'm happy to hear you and yours have made it through, but I'm sorry for your adopted country. Be strong and spread your spirit.

Heidi Mordhorst said...

All well wishes and strength coming to you and your adopted country, Ruth. This poem is also new to me and so striking, so modern, even as it is so Emily as to be instantly recognizable. You reflect beautifully on the habits of the heart.

Brenda Harsham said...

You're right, Ruth, this is a perfect poem for those who have been through life-changing major traumas. It's similar to waiting for the other shoe to drop, anticipating always the next disaster. Yet life is best lived by allowing that gauze curtain to be solid as 50 feet of granite. Such is the progress of life, two steps forward, three back.

I am glad to know you and those near you are well. If it helps, I think of Haiti as a place of amazing natural beauty, that like the highest mountain, is as fragile as its weather makes it. I think you are lucky to live there, but I imagine that the price paid for such beauty is high. I wish your country all the best as it recovers.