Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Belle of Amherst
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Julie Harris


Emily Dickinson

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church
I keep it staying at home
With a bobolink for a Chorister
And an orchard for a Dome.

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice
I just spread my wings
And instead of sounding the Bell for Church
Our little Sexton sings.

God preaches –- a noted clergyman ––
And the sermon is never long.
So instead of getting to Heaven at last
I'm going all along!

Julie Harris as Emily (1976)


  1. Replies
    1. It's hard to believe that YOU of all people would say such a thing, FJ. You who have spent so much time quoting copiously frim the works of ancient Greek and nineteenth-century German philosophers and poets.

      We could learn more about life –– and about ourselves and our true needs –– from studying and learning to appreciate the best aspects of the past than we could from anything "contemporary" culture has to offer.

      I kept this remark in place, and answered it only because we are friends of longstanding, but the SUBJECT is JULIE HARRIS'S remarkable portrayal of EMILY DICKINSON –– one of the most brilliant, evocative, insightful, poignant and charming theatrical experiences in Broadway's history.

      If you don't want to enrich your life by watching it, that's all right with me, but to denigrate it so rudely without even giving it a chance is inacceptable –– even from a good friend.

      If you're invited to a HALLOWEEN PARTY, please DON'T come equipped to participate in a GOLF GAME, an EASTER EGG HUNT, or a TENNIS MATCH ––– capisce?

  2. Don't know much about Emily Dickenson's personal life, but my understanding is she didn't get out much, yet her writings encompass so much. She must have been well-educated and an avid reader.

    1. If you took the time to watch The Belle of Amherst, you would not only learn a great deal, you would experience one of the most absorbing, intriguing, beguiling, and enlightening theater pieces ever produced.

    2. Miss Dickinson was unusually well educated for a woman of her time, yes, but the unique quality of her poetry –– the sole reason we remember her with affection, respect and reverence –– was much more the product of Insight than of Knowledge.

      That, I'm sure, is true for all the great artists, aiuhors, poets, playwrights and architects and doubtless for those who made seminal discoveries in Science, Engineering, Medicine and Technology as well.

  3. ________________ NOTICE ________________

    Any comments not related to The Belle of
    Amherst will be deleted.

  4. I have a DVD copy of The Belle of Amherst. When I cover Emily Dickinson's poetry in the American Literature class, the students and I always watch this film.

    1. How fortunate you are! I had not seen it since 1976, when it first came out –– an unfrgettable experience, as it turned out.

      My parents and I watched it in our dining room on a 10" black and white portable TV. We found it absolutely entrancing.

      The only time I ever saw my father cry was during that televised performance.

      I came to the conclusion long ago that the only things in life that really matter are the things that touch our hearts.

    2. FT,
      I, too, watched the original telecast of The Belle of Amherst back in 1976.

      "Antenna" television at that time did offer some excellent options for viewing -- typically specials. I recall seeing Mark Twain Tonight and Spoon River; both were specials. Mark Twain Tonight is available on YouTube, but the production that I saw of Spoon River isn't available.

      Mark Twain Tonight seems to have been the most popular such production, but I think that The Belle of Amherst is better. My students like both of those productions.

  5. I took my power in my hand
    And went against the world;
    ’T was not so much as David had,
    But I was twice as bold.

    I aimed my pebble, but myself 5
    Was all the one that fell.
    Was it Goliath was too large,
    Or only I too small?

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1839-1886)

  6. The Soul selects her own Society —
    Then — shuts the Door —
    To her divine Majority —
    Present no more —

    Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
    At her low Gate —
    Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
    Upon her Mat —

    I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
    Choose One —
    Then — close the Valves of her attention —
    Like Stone —

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

  7. I'm Nobody –– who are you?
    Are you Nobody too?

    Then there's a pair of us. Don't tell!
    They'd banish us, you know.

    How dreary to be Somebody! How public –– like a frog ––
    To tell your name the uiveing day to an admiring bog!

    ~ Emily

  8. I reason Earth is short ––
    And Anguish absolute ––
    And many hurt

    But what of that?

    I reason we could die ––
    The best Vitality ––
    Cannot excel Decay

    But what of that?

    I reason that in Heaven ––
    Somehow it will be even ––
    A New Equation given ––

    But what of that?

    ~ Emily

  9. Safe in the their Alabaster Chambers ––
    Untouched by Morning –– untouched by Noon ––
    Lie the meek Members of the Resurrection ––
    Rafter of Satin –– roof of Stone.

    Light laughs the Breeze in her Castle of Sunshine ––
    Babbles the Bee in a stolid Ear ––
    Pipe the sweet Birds in ignorant Cadence ––
    Ah! What Sagacity perished here!

    Grand go the years in the Crescent above them ––
    Worlds scoop their Arcs and Firmaments row ––
    Diadems drop, and Doges surrender ––
    Soundless as Dots on a Disc of Snow.

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

    1. FT,
      That particular poem is one of my favorites.

    2. It was the first of the four poems she sent to Thomas Wentworth Higginson when she unitiated their relationship.

    3. Here's anpther:

      I'll tell you how the sun rose,--
      A ribbon at a time.
      The steeples swam in amethyst,
      The news like squirrels ran.
      The hills untied their bonnets,
      The bobolinks begun.
      Then I said softly to myself,
      "That must have been the sun!"

      But how he set, I know not.
      There seemed a purple stile
      Which little yellow boys and girls
      Were climbing all the while
      Till when they reached the other side,
      A dominie in gray
      Put gently up the evening bars,
      And led the flock away.

      ~ Emily

    4. "I'll tell you how the sun rose" has a much lighter tone. My younger students like that one.

    5. Early in "The Belle ..." Julie Harris as Emily tells us "I have found my heaven right here at home in Amherst," or something very like that. She also lets it be known that much of her "eccentricity" is at least in part a show she deliberately puts on for her gossipy, potentially meddlesome neighbors and townspeople to keep them at bay, for she finds them unbearably dull. Apparently, she gets a great deal of amusement at their expense watching their vain attempts to get a peek at her to find out what she is really all about.

      So we know she had a whimsical, satirical streak, and a great sense of humor and irony quite capable of mirth. We also learn she was a good cook who bent to her culinary labors wth considerable enthusiasm, and an award winning gardener as well.

      However, along with her own peculiar brand of enlightenment brought about by keen insight she was no stranger to anguish either, as this poem all too readily attests:

      The heart asks pleasure first,
      And then excuse from pain,
      And then those little anodynes
      That deaden suffering ...

      And the to go to sleep,
      And then, if it should be
      The Will of its Inquisitor,
      The liberty to die.

      ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

  10. I taste a liquor never brewed ––
    From Tankards scooped in Pearl ––
    Not all the Vats upon the Rhine
    Yield such an Alcohol!

    Inebriate of air –– am I ––
    And Debauchee of Dew ––
    Reeling – thro’ endless summer days ––
    From inns of molten Blue ––

    Not till the Landlord turn the Bee
    Out of the Foxglove’s door ––
    When Butterflies –– renounce their “drams” ––
    I shall but drink the more!

    Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats ––
    And Saints –– to windows run ––
    To see the little Tippler
    Leaning against the –– Sun!

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

  11. She sweeps with many-colored brooms,
    And leaves the shreds behind;
    Oh, housewife in the evening west,
    Come back, and dust the pond!

    You dropped a purple ravelling in,
    You dropped an amber thread;
    And now you've littered all the East
    With duds of emerald!

    And still she plies her spotted brooms,
    And still the aprons fly,
    Till brooms fade softly into stars -
    And then I come away.

    ~ Emily

  12. I cannot live with you
    It would be Life ––
    And Life is over there ––
    Behind the Shelf

    The one Sexton keeps the Key to ––
    Putting up
    Our Life –– His Porcelain ––
    Like a Cup ––

    Discarded of the Housewife ––
    Quaint –– or Broke ––
    A newer Sevres pleases ––
    Old Ones crack ––

    I could not die –– with You ––
    For One must wait
    To shut the Other’s Gaze down ––
    You –– could not ––

    And I –– could I stand by
    And see You –– freeze ––
    Without my Right of Frost ––
    Death’s privilege?

    Nor could I rise –– with You ––
    Because Your Face
    Would put out Jesus’ ––
    That New Grace

    Glow plain –– and foreign
    On my homesick Eye ––
    Except that You than He
    Shone closer by ––

    They’d judge Us –– How ––
    For You –– served Heaven –– You know ––
    Or sought to ––
    I could not ––

    Because You saturated Sight ––
    And I had no more Eyes
    For sordid excellence
    As Paradise

    And were You lost, I would be ––
    Though My Name
    Rang loudest
    On the Heavenly fame ––

    And were You –– saved ––
    And I –– condemned to be
    Where You were not ––
    That self –– were Hell to Me ––

    So We must meet apart ––
    You there –– I –– here ––
    With just the Door ajar
    That Oceans are –– and Prayer ––
    And that Pale Sustenance ––
    Despair ––

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

  13. To make a Prairie
    It takes a clover –– and one bee ––
    And Reverie.
    The Reverie alone will do ––
    If bees are few.

    ~ Emily

  14. If you were coming in the Fall,
    I'd brush the Summer by
    With half a smile, and half a spurn,
    As Housewives do, a Fly.

    If I could see you in a year,
    I'd wind the months in balls ––
    And put them each in separate Drawers,
    Until their time befalls ––

    If only Centuries, delayed,
    I'd count them on my Hand ––
    Subtracting, til my fingers dropped ––
    Into Van Dieman's Land ––

    If certain, when this life was out ––
    That yours and mine, should be
    I'd toss it yonder, like a Rind ––
    And taste Eternity ––

    But, now, all ignorant of the length
    Of Time's uncertain wing ––
    It goads me, like the Goblin Bee ––
    That will not state –– its sting.

    ~ Emily

  15. Our lives are Swiss ––
So still –– so Cool ––

    Till some odd afternoon

    The Alps neglect their Curtains

    And we see farther on

    Italy stands the other side!

    While like a guard between ––

    The solemn Alps ––
The siren Alps
Forever intervene!

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

  16. A charm invests a face
    Imperfectly beheld —
    The lady dare not lift her veil
    For fear it be dispelled.
    But peers beyond her mesh,
      And wishes, and denies —
    Lest interview annul a want
    That image satisfies.

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

  17. Arcturus his other name,—
    I ’d rather call him star!
    It ’s so unkind of science
    To go and interfere!

    I pull a flower from the woods,—
    A monster with a glass
    Computes the stamens in a breath,
    And has her in a class.

    Whereas I took the butterfly
    Aforetime in my hat,
    He sits erect in cabinets,
    The clover-bells forgot.

    What once was heaven, is zenith now.
    Where I proposed to go
    When time’s brief masquerade was done,
    Is mapped, and charted too!

    What if the poles should frisk about
    And stand upon their heads!
    I hope I’m ready for the worst,
    Whatever prank betides!
    Perhaps the kingdom of Heaven’s changed!
    I hope the children there
    Won’t be new-fashioned when I come,
    And laugh at me, and stare!
    I hope the father in the skies
    Will lift his little girl,—
    Old-fashioned, naughty, everything,—
    Over the stile of pearl!

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)


  18. He preached upon 'Breadth' till it argued him narrow ––
    The Broad are too broad to define
    And of 'Truth' until it proclaimed him a Liar ––
    The Truth never flaunted a Sign ––

    Simplicity fled from his counterfeit presence
    As Gold the Pyrites would shun ––
    What confusion would cover the innocent Jesus
    To meet so enabled a Man!

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

  19. I measure every Grief I meet

    With narrow, probing, eyes –– 

    I wonder if It weighs like Mine –– 

    Or has an Easier size.

    I wonder if They bore it long ––

    Or did it just begin –– 

    I could not tell the Date of Mine ––

    It feels so old a pain –– 


I wonder if it hurts to live –– 

    And if They have to try –– 
And whether –– could They choose between –– 

    It would not be –– to die –– 


I note that Some –– gone patient long –– 

    At length, renew their smile –– 
An imitation of a Light

    That has so little Oil –– 

    I wonder if when Years have piled ––  

    Some Thousands –– on the Harm ––  

    That hurt them early –– such a lapse

    Could give them any Balm –– 

    Or would they go on aching still

    Through Centuries of Nerve –– 
Enlightened to a larger Pain –– 
In Contrast with the Love –– 

    The Grieved –– are many –– I am told –– 

    There is the various Cause ––  

    Death –– is but one ––  and comes but once –– 

    And only nails the eyes –– 

    There’s Grief of Want –– and grief of Cold  ––  

    A sort they call “Despair” ––  
    here’s Banishment from native Eyes ––
In sight of Native Air ––  

    And though I may not guess the kind –– 
Correctly –– yet to me

    A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary ––  

    To note the fashions –– of the Cross ––  

    And how they’re mostly worn –– 

    Still fascinated to presume
That Some –– are like my own ––

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

  20. I like to see it lap the Miles ––
    And lick the Valleys up ––
    And stop to feed itself at Tanks ––
    And then –– prodigious step

    Around a Pile of Mountains ––
    And supercilious peer
    In Shanties –– by the sides of Roads -
    And then a Quarry pare

    To fit it's sides
    And crawl between
    Complaining all the while
    In horrid –– hooting stanza ––
    Then chase itself down Hill ––

    And neigh like Boanerges ––
    Then - prompter than a Star
    Stop - docile and omnipotent
    At it's own stable door ––

    ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

    1. "I like to see it lap the Miles" is a bit of a mystery to students today. So many have never ridden on a train! **sigh**

    2. I love the way she lets her unique imagery speak for itself without any sort of didactic introductory words. Her work is filled with endless subtlety. We rarely have any idea what she is talking about until her words make it possible for us to experience it for ourselves.

      "A narrow fellow in the grass" is another good case in point. She never once mentions the word "snake." Instead, she deftly, –– even thrillingly –– evokes the creature's presence.

    3. My younger students immediately grasp who the "narrow fellow" is. They have, after all, seen a snake.

      I wonder how Emily would have described an airplane?

    4. Possibly s]mething like this:

      A distant grinding far above
      Then roaring fills the sky
      A raucous, shining metal bird ––
      A pterodactyl come to life!

      A wonder –– yet a terror ––
      What might it mean for me ––
      Who so far gazed at birds and clouds
      Through branches of a tree?

      As soon as it was heard
      As quickly disappeared
      Leaving just a trail of steam
      And Silence once again.

      ~ FT

    5. FT,
      I love "A distant grinding far above." You've captured her style, tone, and spirit.

      I don't have the gift of writing verse, but I surely can evaluate it.

    6. "Praise from Caesar ..." };^)>

      Thank you kindly, AOW. It came in a flash. I would never have thought to write it, had you not asked a stimulating question, so in a sense you are responsible as I for its creation, such as it is..

  21. Replies
    1. Obviously, I do too,Doris. I first became acquainted with Miss Dickinson whan I was fourteen in a Frehman English textbook anthology. I knew right away that I had found a friend, –– a soulmate, –– a confidante, –– an alter-ego –– the Big Sister I never had..

      Sixty-two years later Emily and I are better friends than ever. We've been through a lot together, she and I, and very frankly I might have becime a Lost Soul had I not become privy to her remarkable Inner Vision.

      This may seem odd, since Emily died 55 years before I was born (!), but she remains fully alive thanks to the poems and letters she left behind after she departed this life.

  22. Marvin KrummschitzJuly 25, 2017 at 4:56 PM

    Very enlightening, Mr. FreeThink, but can we move on now. McCain has slithered back into the Senate.

    1. You mght enjoy our most recent post more, Marvin, but I have to say that dwelling on "Current Events" is rarely enlightening or enlivening. In fact it's far more apt to be downright enervating.

      If I had the right –– or the temerity –– to give this poem a name, I would call it “To Those Left Behind.” Emily never gave titles to her poems, they are always identified by simply the first line.

      We think always of the brave men horribly killed in battle, but too little attention has been paid –– I feel –– to the widows and orphans, mothers, fathers, younger siblings and close friends forced to suffer the pain of losing a loved one, a helpmate, a guide, and a companion.

      After all, for the dead it is over –– their suffering, one would hope, is at an end. Those left behind, however, must somehow carry on and find find new purpose in living. This poem, I feel, addresses their situation eloquently.

      We grow accustomed to the Dark ––
      When Light is put away ––
      As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
      To witness her Good bye ––
      A Moment –– We uncertain step
      For newness of the night ––
      Then –– fit our Vision to the Dark –– 
      And meet the Road –– erect –– 
      And so of larger –– Darknesses ––
      Those Evenings of the Brain ––
      When not a Moon disclose a sign ––
      Or Star –– come out –– within ––
      The Bravest –– grope a little ––
      And sometimes hit a Tree
      Directly in the Forehead ––
      But as they learn to see ––
      Either the Darkness alters ––
      Or something in the sight
      Adjusts itself to Midnight ––
      And Life steps almost straight.

      ~ Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

      Now that could hardly be called "A FUN READ" but it says something of eternal, inestimable value, –– something that could, if rightky understood, stand us in good stead and help sustain us for a lifetime.

  23. _________ Emily Dickinson _________

    Eking out Existence phrase by phrase
    Moved by deep desire, maimed by dread
    Inward-seeing –– words like “chrysoprase” 
    Lay beneath the commonplaces said
    Yesterday aloud in pale Austerity.
    Dumb 'neath neat white frock a passion soared
    In silent self-made world, and saw the Verity 
    Contained in visions stark, but leading toward
    Kashmir! Perhaps Brazil? –– the Alps! –– the Grave.
    In life unknown, a lonely wraith –– a mist ––-
    No one heard the meek, majestic rave
    Starved for Solace –– praying to be kissed.
    On secret Stiles of Silence one may climb
    Nunlike –– quite unnoticed in one's time.

    ~ FreeThinke - The Sandpiper

  24. _____ Her House _____

    Creamy quiet rooms
    ____ filled with light ––
    ________ white and cream ––
    Sparsely furnished rooms 
    ____ filled with light––
    ________ almost black
    An island here and there ––
    ____ polished wood ––
    ________ darkly gleams.

    Beeswax and bureau scarves ––
    ____ echoes of lavender from Before ––
    ________ captured in a drawer.

    A solitary bee
    ____ for company.

    A dainty Windsor chair ––
    ____ a skeleton in black
    ________ against the light ––
    A churchyard framed in white ––
    ____ crisp unspotted white.

    A stillness so pure
    ____ one could hear
    ________ the waltzing whir
    ________ of moth wings ––

    ________ Somewhere
    ____________ in the attic.

    ~ FreeThinke - The Sandpiper

    [NOTE: This description of Emily's house may seem at odds with the impression of Victorian darkness given in The Belle of Amherst, but in truth The Homestead, as it was called, was delghtfully out of date, and nothing like the impressin given n the play. Built in the Federal Style of the first quarter of the nineteenth century the Homestead was filled with light and furnished more in the lean, clean elegant styles of Sheraton, Duncan Phyfe and Hitchcock than any of the bulkier, heavier pieces that later characteized the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Emily's room was sparsely, but elegantly furnished. My imagination conjured up "a dainty Windsor chair" but in fact it was a dainty HITCHCOCK chair that Emily used to support her tny frame when writing at her small table by the window in the southeast crner of the house. Otherwise, I still managed to get the mood and tine of the place right.]



We welcome Conversation
But without Vituperation.
If your aim is Vilification ––
Other forms of Denigration ––
Unfounded Accusation --
Determined Obfuscation ––
Alienation with Self-Justification ––


Gratuitous Displays of Extraneous Knowledge Offered Not To Shed Light Or Enhance the Discussion, But For The Primary Purpose Of Giving An Impression Of Superiority are obnoxiously SELF-AGGRANDIZING, and therefore, Subject to Removal at the Discretion of the Censor-in-Residence.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.