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League of Inveterate Poets

The out-of-context contextuality of a foolish sage

Emily Dickinson on What Is Poetry?





By on July 9, 2011

“If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?”

From a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson

In my essay on what it means to be an Inveterate Poet, I quoted from an essay by C. S. Lewis in his book God in the Dock :

The silence of the eternal spaces terrified Pascal, but it was the greatness of Pascal that enabled them to do so. When we are frightened by the greatness of the universe, we are (almost literally) frightened by our own shadows: for these light years and billions of centuries are mere arithmetic until the shadow of man, the poet, the maker of myth, falls upon them. I do not say we are wrong to tremble at his shadow; it is a shadow of an image of God. But if ever the vastness of matter threatens to overcross our spirits, one must remember that it is matter spiritualized which does so. To puny man, the great nebula in Andromeda owes in a sense its greatness.

Obviously Lewis (and Pascal) understood what it meant to “feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off.” What art, literature, music…or just everyday observance has taken the top off your head recently?

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Comments

  • Onebeeandrevery

    Emily dickinson’s work helps me be me. I would not have an English degree or have ever become a nurse if I had never read “If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking.” i love this quote of hers; thank you thank you thank you for posting it on the interwebs and confirming my long-held suspicion that we are of this same ilk. 😉

  • Foolish Sage

    Thank you for your comment and a little bit of your “Emily” story. If you’re on Facebook, you might enjoy following the Secret Life of Emily Dickinson page https://www.facebook.com/SecretLifeOfEmilyDickinson

    I’m co-administrator of this page about the novel of the same title by Jerome Charyn, which I also highly recommend. My review of the novel is at http://foolishsage.com/2010/05/21/the-secret-life-of-emily-dickinson-by-jerome-charyn-a-review/

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