Monday, March 7, 2011

Emily Dickinson's Puzzle Poems

Emily Dickinson's poetry is characterized by its highly compressed, idiosyncratic use of language to convey intense emotions. But she also wrote a series of light "riddle" poems in which the subject is never directly stated, leaving the reader to determine what the poem is about. They aren't difficult as riddles (except maybe for #1489), but they're important because of their use of language.

Here is the first, with the other three after the jump. I'll leave off the solutions for now in case readers want to solve them.

It sifts from Leaden Sieves --
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road --

It makes an Even Face
Of Mountain, and of Plain --
Unbroken Forehead from the East
Unto the East again --

It reaches to the Fence --
It wraps it Rail by Rail
Till it is lost in Fleeces --
It deals Celestial Vail

To Stump, and Stack -- and Stem --
A Summer's empty Room --
Acres of Joints, where Harvests were,
Recordless, but for them--

It Ruffles Wrists of Posts
As Ankles of a Queen --
Then stills its Artisans -- like Ghosts --
Denying they have been --

A Route of Evanescence,
With a revolving Wheel –
A Resonance of Emerald
A Rush of Cochineal –
And every Blossom on the Bush
Adjusts it’s tumbled Head –
The Mail from Tunis – probably,
An easy Morning’s Ride –

A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides –
You may have met Him - Did you not
His notice sudden is –

The Grass divides as with a Comb –
A spotted Shaft is seen,
And then it closes at your Feet
And opens further on –

He likes a Boggy Acre
A Floor too cool for Corn –
But when a Boy, and Barefoot
I more than once at Noon
Have passed, I thought, a Whip lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled, and was gone –

Several of Nature’s People
I know and they know me –
I feel for them a transport
Of Cordiality –

But never met this Fellow
Attended or alone
Without a tighter Breathing
And Zero at the Bone.

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 its Ribs
And crawl between
Complaining all the while
In horrid — hooting stanza —
Then chase itself down Hill —

And neigh like Boanerges —
Then — punctual as a Star
Stop — docile and omnipotent
At its own stable door —


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