What Today Brings
“Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a God.” - Aristotle
Emily Dickinson’s famous poem, “There Is No Frigate Like a Book,” is a perfect illustration of how one artist experienced life. Emily Dickinson was famously reclusive but she knew that a person need not travel further than the nearest bookshelf to encounter the magnitude of the human experience. The middle child of an extremely close-knit family, Dickinson was born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts. Highly educated for the Victorian era, she was by all accounts a good student, attending several schools including a brief stint at Mary Lyons Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.
In her lifetime, Emily never developed deep or lasting friendships and was prone to fits of melancholy. A string of illnesses and chronic depression caused her to retreat from society. She was a dutiful daughter, comfortable in the role of nurse and homebody. Emily took care of her bedridden mother, tending to her every need until the end. This seclusion began her journey inward, focusing on reading and writing poems. Dickinson’s isolated life made her imagination her only friend. An eccentric who produced art, she was possibly agoraphobic and not only stayed in her house, it was rumored that she rarely left her bedroom.
A secluded life is perfect soil for creativity. Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” J.D. Salinger of “The Catcher in the Rye,” and Cormac McCarthy, all considered among America’s greatest writers, found solace being alone.
Without a constant barrage of ideas and influences from others, they allowed their true voices to shine. Choosing to shy away from society, these brilliant minds were inaccessible which only furthered their popularity and mystique.
Mystique must have been the furthest thing from Emily Dickinson’s mind being that only a few poems were published in her lifetime. When Dickinson died in May 1886, her sister Lavinia was astonished by what she found. At her fingertips were some eighteen hundred poems. From that moment, Lavinia became obsessed with getting her work out and succeeded in 1890 a few years after Emily’s death.
In her beautiful poem, “There Is No Frigate Like a Book,” Dickinson expresses the magical ability of words to take readers directly to the human soul. As the poem progresses, she uses different carriers as symbols. First is a frigate, a warship created to carry guns in times of battle, a protective ship. Then she uses horses, “Nor any coursers like a page.” A courser was a war horse used in the middle ages. Both are strong, forceful means of transformation. A book is compared to a strong ship carrying much needed ammunition to its destination while a page is compared to a warhorse fast and swift in battle. In other words, they are reliable. The final vehicle she refers to is the most romantic, a chariot. The ceremonial carriage is what will “bear the human soul.”
Another point Dickinson makes clear is that there is no material cost for something so valuable as books and poetry to the human experience. “This traverse may the poorest take.” This journey is available for free, “without oppress of toll.” How lovely to attach virtues to words, calling them frugal, referring to them as swift and reliable. While they carry the most important thing we possess, our hearts.
Most of Dickinson’s poetry was short, concise and to the point. She wrote in what is called Iambic rhythms, a singsong tempo. “There Is No Frigate Like a Book,” follows her usual way of writing poetry using short stanzas that rhyme every other line or in triplets. Her metaphors were rich and her messages deep. She grasped the reader’s attention by using these popular hymns.
Dickinson proves by her own life that there is no better way to discover the thoughts, ideas, and experiences of another human being like reading and writing. What a gift and what an insight this poem is. Never should anyone say that entertainment is expensive because now a reader can travel back in time and visit the soul of Emily Dickinson. This artist wrote her poetry to connect. Emily had the time and took that time to go inward. If she had been a major part of her community she may have been too shy, too guarded to let what was truly inside come out. We may never have known what was inside this extraordinary woman if she had not shown it to everyone. There is something beautiful about her solitude, but clearly Emily yearned for connection or she would not have written 1,800 messages in a bottle for us to find.
At the moment, I am not experiencing the kind of solitude that I love and from where my best writing has always come.
There will be a time of solitude again, I know that for sure.
But for now, it is a time to share, celebrate and immerse myself in the words of others. On Aristotle’s views of those of us who love solitude? He can rightly claim God, a father of theatre, poetry, philosophy, science, logic, the metaphysical and so much more… I can only claim wild beast. Come join me at Rabbit House Books & Notions, 190 N. Main Street and find your own kindred of the written word.