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"Compared with that profounder site, that polar privacy, a Soul admitted to Itself; finite Infinity."  
Arctic tern from the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve, images.fws.gov  
Emily Dickinson
< Early Feminist Essays   |   Emily Dickinson's Nature Mysticism >
Emily Dickinson: An Early Imagist, by Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant -- (pg.1)
from The New Republic, 1915, Review of the The Single Hound
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"Criticism is timid," writes Emerson. "When shall we dare to say only that is poetry which cleanses and mans me?" "The Single Hound" is poetry of this tonic sort, and -- though the lifetime it records ended nearly thirty years ago -- throws a searching light on the revolutionary volumes of 1915. For starkness of vision, "quintessentialness" of expression, boldness and solidity of thought, and freedom of form, a New England spinster who flourished between 1830 and 1886 in a elm-shaded college town above the Connecticut valley, might give the imagists "pointers": here is a discovery to quicken the modern New England heart. To this day in western Massachusetts Sundays are almost Sabbaths, "ministers" almost men of awe, and Longfellow is almost a great poet. Where, then, in the golden age of "Evangeline" and the Congregational Church, did Emily Dickinson get her daring inspiration?

Certainly she did not go abroad for it, but dug it out of her native granite. To me she is one of the rarest flowers the sterner New England ever bore, and justifies, as Carlyle justified his narrow Scotch inheritance -- there is a curious analogy between his prose and her nubby, elliptical verse -- the stiff-necked Puritan elders from whom we all sprang. For without those elders and their family Bibles, and the mystical marriage of the absolute and the homely which was the very essence of their minds and hours, Emily Dickinson could never have been on such friendly, not to say familiar terms with God, or sported so whimsically and so stupendously with the mysteries of living and dying. The peculiar quality of her short concentrated poems is that they bring infinity and eternity within a village hedge; and to her, as to the early Puritan, the great earthly experience was poignantly individual:

     Adventure most unto itself
         The Soul condemned to be;
     Attended by a Single Hound --
         Its own Identity.

For Emily Dickinson -- of how few, even among "strong-minded" women, can it be said -- was a genuine solitary.

     There is a solitude of space,
         A solitude of sea,
     A solitude of death, but these
         Society shall be,
     Compared with that profounder site,
         That polar privacy,
     A Soul admitted to Itself;
         Finite Infinity.

The theme finds many variations in "The Single Hound":

     Diviner Crowd at home
     Obliterate the need...

and it was probably this "other loneliness," not occasioned by "want, or friend, or circumstances, or lot," in which she felt herself so richly companioned by her own spirit, that led her to keep her verse out of print during her life.

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Emily Dickinson: Early Feminist Essays
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