November 15, 2011
The Dickinson Project--Poem No. 657
A fairer House than Prose--
More numerous of Windows--
Of Chambers as the Cedars--
Impregnable of eye--
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky--
Of Visitors--the fairest--
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise--
This is an interesting little poem that has always appealed to me. The first couplet gives away the subject of the poem--Poetry--which, in Dickinson's opinion, is a fairer House than Prose. Personally, I agree with her. I think most people would think that a writer has more latitude and flexibility in plotting and being descriptive with prose, so Dickinson plays on that perception with her description of her 'House' with all of its windows and doors. In other words, Dickinson, through her poetry, chooses to let us in in through the poem's 'windows' into her soul; or, she can effectively block us with a 'door' of her own construction (or, even by living as a recluse?). Conversely, a 'door' is also an entrance, isn't it? It is another way that Emily lets us into her 'House'. Although it may take some work, our access depends upon our interpretation of Emily's poem, line-by-line, and word-by-word. It is, after all, her 'House'.
In the second stanza she describes the overall architecture of her 'House'. It isn't made of brick or clapboard. No, Emily uses Cedar, a very long-lasting aromatic smelling wood. The Gambrels, or roof, of her house is the ever-expansive and infinite Sky. I think she's hoping that her poetry may live a long life, and that the 'Possibilities' of her poetry are as infinite and expansive as the sky above.
The last stanza, to me, speaks to her having moved in, and made herself at home in her 'House'. She is the Poet, and any Visitors that she receives are those entirely receptive to poetry, i.e., they are the fairest, in her opinion. Finally, I love the image created with the concluding couplet, that of Emily's use of her Hands/to gather Paradise to her through the crafting of her lines of poetry. Each time I finish reading this poem I'm left with a sense of 'admiration'. Admiration for what she's created in these 12 short lines, and also the recognition of how much she admires the craft of poetry.
This poem, No. 657 in Thomas Johnson's 1955 edition of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, is thought to have been written by Emily sometime around 1862. This is also poem No. 466 in Ralph W. Franklin's Reading Edition of The Poems of Emily Dickinson (1999). From this point forward, I will reference both the Johnson and Franklin numbers for the poems, as many readers have one, or both, collections of her poetry.
Finally, I want to briefly mention the photograph that I've attached to this posting. This is a photograph I took of Willa Cather's house in the tiny prairie town of Red Cloud, Nebraska. I thought it appropriate to use a photograph of the house of a famous American writer of prose to illustrate and accompany one of the works of one of America's greatest poets. My oldest daughter, Amber, and I enjoyed an incredibly fascinating day touring all of the Cather sites in and around Red Cloud, and visiting Willa's house was one of the high-points. Oh, and do 'click' on the photograph and avail yourself of the larger view.