"If fame belonged to me, I could not escape her" [E.D.]
mily Dickinson long eluded her pursuer; but no sooner had she left her chrysalis than Fame, also a winged elf, flew by her side, became her unescapable companion. In life she was arrogantly shy of a public that now shares her innermost confidence, and touches with rude or hallowed finger the flesh of her sensitive poetry; the soul of it, happily only the sympathetic can reach.
Many obvious, many contradictory things, have been said about this profound thinker and virile writer on a few great themes. Those who cling to the old order and regard perfect form essential to greatness, have had their fling at her eccentricities, her blemishes, her crudities; they place her with the purveyors of raw material to the artistic producers of the race. They deny her rank with the creators of permanent beauty and value. Others such as hail a Wagner, a Whitman, or a Turner, as an originator of new types and a contributor of fresh streams of life blood to art or literature, accept Emily Dickinson as another proof of Nature's fecundity, versatility and daring. All acknowledge in her elements of power and originality; but especially a certain probing quality that penetrates and discloses like an X-ray.
By long-accepted standards, doubtless, she does not measure up to greatness. The first bullet was an innovation to one who drew the long bow. He did not know what to make of hot shot without the whiz and the grace of the arrow -- least of all when it struck home and shattered his pet notions. Emily Dickinson's power of condensation, the rhythmic hammer of her thoughts, whether in prose or verse, is so phenomenal that it calls for a new system of weights and measures. Perhaps there is nothing essentially new here. Franklin merely identified an acquaintance of Noah's when he flew his kite; Newton, had he talked the apple over with Eve, might have found her intelligent on the fall; but both philosophers drew as near to originality as mortal is ever permitted to draw by the jealous gods. Emily Dickinson, whatever her size, is of nobody's kind but her own. The nearest approach to a family resemblance in her intellectual physiognomy is a feminine idiosyncracy, the counterpart of Thoreau's masculine one; but it begins and ends in mere suggestion. I make bold to attach "Dickinsonian" to such verse as this:
We play at paste,
Till qualified for pearl.
The truth never flaunted a sign.
The vane a little to the east
Scares muslin souls away.
No squirrel went abroad;
A dog's belated feet
Like intermittent plush were heard
Adown the empty street.
Also to this prose: "Enough is so vast a sweetness, I suppose it never occurs, only pathetic counterfeits" ... "Tis not what well conferred it, the dying soldier asks, it is only the water." ... "We dignify our faith when we can cross the ocean with it, though most prefer ships." ... "The golden rule is so lovely it needs no police to enforce it." ... "Thomas's faith in anatomy was stronger than his faith." ... "How vast is the chastisement of beauty, given us by our maker!" ... "Was he not an aborigine in the sky?" ... "Memory's fog is rising." ... "A morning call from Gabriel is always a surprise. Were we more fresh from Eden we were expecting him -- but Genesis is a 'far journey.'" ... "It is true that the unknown is the largest need of the intellect, though for it, no one thinks to thank God." ... "We must be careful what we say. No bird resumes its egg." ... "Truth, like ancestors' brocades can stand alone." ... "To multiply the harbors does not reduce the sea." ... "Not what the stars have done, but what they are to do, detains the sky."