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Thank You, Ms. Dickinson


A Quiet Passion

(dir. Terence Davies)

Thank you, Ms. Dickinson.

Emily Dickinson is immortal, a sea. Her revolution: the quiet and the gushing of her poetry. She is one that could not be discouraged, not toward her poetry. Constantly flowing. When one dispiriting publisher Thomas Wentworth Higginson tried, she wrote:

I smile when you suggest that I delay “to publish” –– that being foreign to my thought, as Firmament to Fin.

If fame belonged to me, I could not escape her –– if she did not, the longest day would pass me on the chase –– and the approbation of my Dog, would forsake me –– then. My Barefoot-Rank is better.

You think my gait “spasmodic.” I am in danger, Sir.

You think me “uncontrolled.” I have no Tribunal. . . .

The Sailor cannot see the North, but the Needle can.

The Needle can. Ms. Dickinson knew to let her poems be the Needle, the informer of her fate.

During her lifetime when not even a dozen of her 1775 poems was published, she kept writing. These that were published were considerably altered, kept anonymous, to suit the convention that Ms. Dickinson was not, still she kept writing. Higginson claimed he altered the four poems “to make (her) meaning clearer to the reader”; now, anyone messing with her punctuations, she did not endure: “Clarity is one thing, sir, Obviousness quite another,” she told him, “The only person qualified to interfere with the poet’s work is the poet herself.” How was that to put a pause to her flow? Ms. Dickinson went on with her writing.

Death and Immortality were recurring themes in her poems. After she died of Bright’s disease in 1886, her younger sister, Lavinia (‘Vinnie’ to her), found a collection of her works and set out to get them published. Four years later, a 115 of her poems were published, altered however. Emily Dickinson has remained immortal ever since.

Terence Davies’s A Quite Passion is quite aware of the genius Ms. Dickinson is, the poetry she is. Cynthia Nixon plays Emily Dickinson, and one is thankful she does, because no one else could, not with the same voice and quiet. Instead of employing voice-overs, the movie employs Ms. Nixon’s recitations of Ms. Dickinson’s poetry. It’s a needle effect, inspire silent tears.

While one might not have been there to thank Ms. Dickinson for her poems, personally or in letters, it befits that the movie reminds us to thank her, her poems and biographies let us thank her.

My favorite of her poems remains: Because I could not stop for Death (479).

This Thanksgiving, thank an artist who did not hear your THANKS she deserved, in her lifetime.

~ Hardik Yadav


(Illustration by Antoine Maillard for The New Yorker)


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