Yesterday I shared an Emily Dickinson Poem, “I Felt a Funeral in my Brain”.
I had listened to Billy Collins and Marie Howe discuss the ambiguity of the poem, the nuance, and multiple meanings.
A friend questioned the last line concerned because it ended with a dash. Had I forgotten to post the whole poem? Well, that’s Emily; she loved her dashes.
Researching the poem further, I now learn that not all editions include this last stanza, but, for me, it’s the most important of all.
And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –
Why do I and others find this poem important? In living, we play with the ground, with the responding aliveness and lift from the pull of gravity. We’re in a dance, and yet, for many of us, when we start to question our “existence”, there comes an awareness of the space between the molecules. Where is our support? We’re mainly air.
Her “then” and dash open up this dance of connection and exchange. We don’t know what she “Finished knowing”, but we know that she wrote and examined and explored her inner world and she did her domestic tasks. Her inner world was vast and she “went downstairs and made cookies”, as Collins and Howe put it.
This poem reminds me of the work of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. He said we’re always coming back to balance. Think of walking. Unless we shuffle, there’s great courage in allowing one foot to leave the ground, explore the air, and come back down. We may do it thoughtlessly, unconsciously, but when slowed down and analyzed, we can see it is a big deal to take a step.
For her, a “plank in reason” broke, and she fell down, down, down. Did she fall down into her own knowing, essence, and strength as she explored world after world? Did her “fall” take her further downward or bring her out? She leaves the poem open for our own exploration, for us to figure out.
I prefer to believe that she fulfilled what Morihei Ueshiba spoke of when he said:
“Iron is full of impurities that weaken it; through forging, by exposure to heat, cold and hammering, the impurities are forced out and the iron is transformed into razor-sharp steel. Human beings develop in the same fashion.”
I think Emily Dickinson used poetry as a way to forge, hammer, examine, and transform, and that is why she leaves the poem with a simple word and a dash – next –
And with that the breath moves in and out like summer fog on a ridge.