Tuesday, September 10, 2013

ModPo 2013 #1 To Those Who Are Invited: On Dickinson's "I dwell in Possibility"

From Sony Pictures

Note: I am currently taking a course on called Modern and Contemporary American Poetry taught by Al Filreis of the University of Pennsylvania. I will be posting my thoughts on the course discussions here.

I dwell in Possibility – (466)


I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

Reprinted electronically by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin, ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, 1983, 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Source: The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)

I thoroughly enjoyed the video discussion of "I dwell in Possibility." I've missed this kind of discussion of poetry for a long time.

While I loved the close reading of each line, I particularly liked the emphasis on whether Dickinson was celebrating the "exclusivity" of poetry (and therefore of possibility). Is the persona of the poem implying that the tallness of the chambers, the impregnability of the "house", the doors that need permission for entry....are only for those who engage in-THIS (now I love this word!)- this occupation: the occupation of writing, of reading poetry? Is Paradise only for those who are invited?

How timely, too, that I read the poem in conjunction with watching the film, Elysium. Is the persona saying that the joys of possibility and the everlasting roof  (very similar to the structures of the satellite of Elysium, exclusively made for those who can afford it) are only for those who are invited, for those who do "this" work (those who are privileged to appreciate language...perhaps the same people who are privileged in general)?

Very explosive stuff.

Which brings me to the question: Is possibility restricted? Is there a ticket for possibility?

And here is where I digress. While it is tempting to conclude that Dickinson celebrates exclusivity, elitism, the ivory tower, as Whitman celebrates the least common denominator, I see the nature of possibility not in the domain of exclusivity (a few versus the many) but in the private struggle of any individual.

All are invited. That is possibility. We know it as a truth that any worthwhile thing is achieved with *some* work (hard work, in fact). And where is where I believe Dickinson's persona is coming from. The persona already describes her hands as narrow. She acknowledges this, humbly. And yet, with work (with occupation, *this*), she opens them wide to gather Paradise.

For those who are invited and for those who heed the invitation, Possibility is Paradise. But it is not inherited, it is not a given. It requires the scaling of chambers of Cedar, it requires knocking on the door. It requires occupation. And even with narrow hands, one may gather the numinous. And that, for me, is poetry.

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