A Quiet Passion
by writer/director Terence Davies
I first discovered the poetry of Emily Dickinson when I was 18. I had seen Claire Bloom on television in 1963 reading, “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”, but it wasn’t until much later that I began reading her poetry properly.
What I discovered about this extraordinary poet was her ability to distill experience down to the very essence and then deepen the experience with reticence. This makes her great poems profound and modern because she touches our soul because she exposes hers.
What fascinated me about her inner life was that it was extraordinarily rich. Her education and range of reading is quite breathtaking. To have composed nearly 1,800 poems and at the same time producing 3 volumes of letters, an extensive correspondence with Judge Lord, the Master letters, playing the piano, baking, gardening, helping domestically and being in almost constant pain from Bright’s Disease. This is prodigious by any standard. But through all of this her great spiritual search through her poetry continued. Her dilemma was simple—we have this thing called a soul but what if there is no God?
What is moving about this experience is in the oscillation between God and complete extinction. She never despairs but always implies hope.
Her achievement seems all the greater because she was never well known in her lifetime.
If we can start reading her now and experience her genius perhaps she is somewhere in the cosmos looking down with a wry smile and saying, “I feel a poem coming on.”
Because I Could Not Stop for Death (479)
by Emily Dickinson
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.
We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.
Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.
We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.
Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.