1, the text: Emily Dickinson’s “Bloom opon the mountain stated,” poem 787 in the Franklin edition, is accessible online, in manuscript facsimile and in diplomatic transcript, at the Emily Dickinson Archive, http://www.edickinson.org/.
2, the textual history: thanks to R. W. Franklin’s chronological reordering of the manuscripts, we can now see that during the second half of 1863, when Dickinson wrote “Bloom opon the mountain,” she was thinking about the incommensurability between human language and the impassivity of the phenomenal world. From this period, three other poems that explore the theme are Fr768, “The mountains grow unnoticed”; Fr776, “Drama’s vitallest expression”; and that deep exploration of the void, Fr778, “Four trees opon a solitary acre.”
3, the glosses:
For stanza 1, the 1844 dictionary that Dickinson used (online at the Dickinson Archive) defines “stated” (line 1) as “Established; fixed; non-fluctuating; regularly occurring.” This may mean that the mountain and the sunset obey a natural law that has no concern for such merely human contingencies as emotion or (more generally) life itself. I suppose Dickinson could have been influenced in that idea by Tennyson’s In Memoriam, Clough’s Dipsychus, or any number of other anguished midcentury texts. At least one more of the poems from this 1863 group, Fr780, “The birds reported from the south,” may also allude (as Cristanne Miller says) to the vast silent grief that come flooding northward to Amherst from the battlefields of the Civil War. But Dickinson was already exploring the silent void beyond words two years earlier, in Fr259, “A clock stopped.”
In “Bloom opon the mountain,” then, I read the beginning of stanza 2, “Seed had I,” as a subjunctive: “If I had seed.” If the poet had words, she might think of bringing them to the mountain for the tilling/telling. But on the mountain, words cannot be uttered. As in “A clock stopped,” the phenomenal replies to any human proposition only with a monosyllable from which any possible meaning in human terms (Dickinson’s precise term is “concern”) has been drained. In the emptied interiority that remains, the word “concern” has been so completely freed from the strictures of what used to be meaning that it now plays a game with its own combining form. In the absence of anything else to do, concern bats syntax back and forth with “cool – concernless No,” and the score is never anything but zero.
Advised by “A clock stopped” to read concernlessly, I read stanza 3 of “Bloom opon the mountain” as beginning with an implicit “However.” She who brings her seed to the mountain in a poet’s effort to endow the day with a light of her own will only go to zero herself. For its part, the mountain, having effected the annihilation of the lightbearer’s seed, will continue passing, unhearing and unchangeable, on its route through time toward the stated moment when bloom goes dark everywhere.
Work cited: Cristanne Miller, Reading in Time: Emily Dickinson in the Nineteenth Century. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012. 160.
At Amazon.com in 2011, somebody named M. C. Hewins wrote of her college composition text, The Little Seagull Handbook:
“This was required for a writing class I took this quarter, but has proved useful in several other classes as well. The handbook is very well organized with no fluff or nonsense. Most college writing focuses on MLA style, which this book covers in excellent detail, but occasionally you will be asked to write in a different and unfamiliar style and at that time, this book will come to the rescue. I was able to write a history paper in Chicago style with the help of the Little Seagull.
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Thereupon, this site
engaged itself in a process of what I suppose Foucault might have called plagiotraduction. In a similar spirit before the cyber era, Emily Dickinson produced several copies of an all-purpose social text in three major variant forms which begin, respectively, “Going to him! happy letter!,” “Going to her! happy letter!,” and “Going to them! happy letter!”
Such a beau geste privileges expressivity over mere words. It reduces language to an ancilla, humbly-dumbly serving the primary necessities of emotion and commerce. In tribute to the beau geste, then, let us affix a Zamenhof stamp,
kiss the page, and read from the blog:
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Additionally the book has an online website for advertence and added details, with complete sample affidavit in all the styles, that you can analyze in depth. I acclimated the website ability on assorted occasions this endure division and my affidavit benefited from the absorption to detail on style.
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Are organized Decays –
— Fr1010, “Crumbling is not an instant’s act”
For the visual study of poetry in English, the most important manuscript publication of the last half-century must certainly be Valerie Eliot’s 1971 facsimile of the manuscripts of The Waste Land, with their annotations by Vivien Eliot and Ezra Pound. By clearing and opening the trace of Eliot’s inspiration, Mrs. Eliot institutionalized a permanent corpus of theses about the modernist canon. In that canon, the proper interpretive questions now come to us as mere obvious corollaries, not followed but preceded by their crushingly definitive textual answers. Question: what did Eliot mean when he called Ezra Pound il miglior fabbro? Answer: you’ve already passed through the life-originating darkness of Pound’s thick pencil strokes. Question: what did Eliot mean when he wrote, “Only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things”? Answer: you’ve already overheard, as from behind a hastily closed door, the muffled quaverings of Vivien Eliot’s marginalia to “A Game of Chess.”
Because those answers come to us fully saturated with immer schon, they don’t need the confirmation of beautiful detail. The facsimile publication comes to us as a set of low-resolution black-and-white photographs facing pages of diplomatic transcript in conventional letterpress, and for reading The Waste Land in a room furnished with a black- or whiteboard, the letterpress is to be preferred. Running in parallel but a few steps off the trail to institutional certainty, the facsimile pages represent a distraction, even a threat. We would rather consult them only as it may be necessary to verify Mrs. Eliot’s editorial accuracy. Canonical fences, the confinements of diplomatic transcript render the poem of the twentieth century safe for readers to look at.
But the wing-shaped, brilliantly colored creatures of Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings slip through the bars. These tiny manuscripts, each written on a scrap of an envelope, pre-fragmented yet complete, represent a lexicon arising out of antonyms to The Waste Land. They are not fragments shored against ruins; they are assemblages and rebuildings. In her introductory essay to the volume, “Studies in Scale,” Jen Bervin quotes the principle from a book that Dickinson’s mother owned, Lydia Maria Child’s The Frugal Housewife: “The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments, so that nothing is lost” (9). As Mrs. Dickinson and her daughter would have understood, Mrs. Child was alluding to the nourishing miracle of the loaves and the fishes: John 6.12, “When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” She added, “Preserve the backs of old letters to write upon.”
But The Gorgeous Nothings comes to us pleading the inadequacy of preservation. Of the two envelope manuscripts on the cover, one may be a display of prosodic purpose across the centuries: a found name in bold black ink, Mi∫s Emily Dickinson, past which flutter two tiny orthogonal lines in delicate pencil
to light, and
with the last two letters of “Dickinson” thrusting upward to force a pause after “then.” The other communication is visually bolder still: the entire inner front of an envelope covered with the pencil trace, and a brown chevron at the left margin. But of course this second boldness shows no trace of human agency. It’s only the mark left by the passage of entropy through the system marked down by the poet on her bit of paper — specifically, the oxidation of the glue on the envelope flap. Having failed of the touch of a tongue, the glue now darkens its way through a poet’s web of words.
The Gorgeous Nothings, then, arrives in read life to mark a brief pause in the poetics of browning and crumbling. Its date of publication was a memento mori of impending escape from the uniqueness of a manuscript touched by a poet’s hand to the impersonal memorandum of letterpress. As long as I can remember a poem and say it back without a piece of paper in my hand, I won’t regret the loss of the part of it that I once might have seen. But during this moment I am grateful, while I can be, for the visual testament of The Gorgeous Nothings.
T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts, Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound. Ed. Valerie Eliot. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971.
Marta Werner and Jen Bervin, Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings. New York: New Directions, 2013.
The Eliot quotation is from “Tradition and the Individual Talent.”
Photographs by Jonathan Morse, October 26, 2013.
Ten years ago, Wikipedia’s article about Emily Dickinson read like a high school project full of beginner’s mistakes. That’s the Wikipedia problem in general, I would tell my students during the last days of the floppy disc. Sure, Wikipedia is handy. Sure, I use it myself. But you can’t trust it.
But Wikipedia’s crowdsourcing algorithm has kept on doing its relentless eugenic good. Now, in the tablet era, Wikipedia’s article about Dickinson has become as useful an introduction as you’d find in a reputable print encyclopedia. The entire process of reference is evolving through a sequence of change as earnestly, unidrectionally Victorian as the project of “Locksley Hall”:
Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new;
That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do.
But about those men . . .
Early in 2013, the writer Amanda Filipacchi discovered that her Wikipedia entry had been moved from the category “American novelists” to a brand new category, “American women novelists.” The change seemed to have been the unexamined idea of a single Wikipedia editor (male), and after Filipacchi complained in print she was joined in protest by a number of other writers, female and male. Immediately after that, her Wikipedia article was re-edited in an apparent attempt to trash her into oblivion.
The news brought me back to this memory.
A few years ago I was surprised and gratified to find an article of mine cited in Wikipedia’s article about Ezra Pound. The next time I looked, however, my article was gone. Some time later it was put back, and then it disappeared again. Puzzled, I went searching through the pages reserved for Wikipedia’s editorial use, and that’s when I discovered what men they were who had taken charge of my online reputation.
Well, not exactly men, or at least not men yet. One of the Pound boys had given himself the modest nom de guerre of “Truthtalker” and another, no doubt in the spirit of the Master himself, wrote for the Wikisource as Malleus Fatuorum, “the hammer of fools.” A third boy wanted to call the others’ attention to something interesting from his own experience. He had met several people named Ezra, this boy said, and every one of them without exception was Jewish. So could it be, asked the boy, that Ezra Pound was a Jew?
Well, you know along what river of knowledge these young belated Victorians steam. No, it isn’t the Congo. This is still one of the dark places on the earth, and Mistah Kurtz — he dead. The River Wikipedia is a comment stream, and on its banks its bands of savages still shriek and gesticulate. The only difference is that the old savages lived in grass huts and the new savages live in their mothers’ basements.
A Lava step at any time
Am I inclined to climb
A Crater I may contemplate
Vesuvius at Home
Archives of American Art,
Dickinson, Fr1691, “Volcanoes be in Sicily.” I read the first two lines as a subjunctive: “If at any time I am inclined to climb a lava step.”