Posted by Michael Fong
March 18, 2009
"Wild nights - Wild nights! / Were I with thee / Wild nights should be / Our luxury! / Futile - the winds - / To a Heart in port - / Done with the Compass - / Done with the Chart! / Rowing in Eden - / Ah - the Sea! / Might I but moor - tonight - / In thee!" (Emily Dickinson "Wild nights - Wild nights!"
Sometimes I wonder if we as readers could dismiss the biography of the poet, as least for a moment, and just read the poem as a piece of work that stands alone. Relatively speaking I am rather unfamiliar to Dickinson's poetry, but this particular poem is one of the first that I have read since I first started reading poetry. I knew nothing at that time. Nothing about iambic pentameters, nothing rhyming, nothing about Emily Dickinson, nothing. And the first thing that struck me was, "Wow, this is a really beautiful poem!" If someone asks me at that time what do I think the poet is saying I do not think that I can give a definite answer. Now I might be able to say that this possibly a love poem, but still much is left blank. However, does it really matter if she wrote it to Susan Gilbert, or to Higginson, or to herself? Does it matter if she's heterosexual or homosexual? Does it matter there is indeed sexual connotations intended?
Higginson once said that he feared that malicious readers might infer much more from the poem than the virgin recluse intended there to be. My position is similar. As a poem, as a piece of art, Dickinson's poetry possesses a transcendental nature. Her depiction of love, pain, and emotions is simply beautiful. As readers, I think it is best to just stand back for a moment once in a while, and admire the poetry, the use of language, and the wit of Dickinson. One may say that further understanding of Dickinson's life may enhance the pleasure derived during reading the poem, but I do not see it as of any importance (unless you're an English major). People always seek to understand and to make sense of everything. But poetry is not logical, one cannot seek to "understand" poetry. Instead of trying to determine who's the lover in Shakespeare's sonnets, why not just admire them instead? I am sure that admiring the secret smile of Mona Lisa is just as well as satisfying without knowing who she is, or why Da Vinci drew her.