We’ve been taking a closer look at Emily Dickinson’s poetry this term with the girls, and this Christmas I was serendipitously gifted an unabridged collection of her poems. Yes. I squealed.
Poetry is not something I used to appreciate, but little by little I take in what I can, for the sake of tuning the listeners of my home to beautiful things. Even if some days we are all left with a simple “not sure what any of that meant.” More often than not, certain ideas are left drifting quietly in our minds for days on end and someone finally breaks the silence to reopen the conversation.
Today I gift your hearts with Dickinson’s “The Soul Selects Her Own Society.” If you’re new to poetry like us, here is a simple practice:
- Read it in it’s entirety.
- Sit and think about what it could generally be talking about.
- Read again one section at a time with that perceived perspective, underlining (or in your case, writing down) words or phrases that stand out.
- When you’ve reached the end, take your nuggets of mental pictures and phrases and/or corrected perceptions and read it all again.
- Go about your day and let these thoughts continue their deep work in your mind, content with whatever you gathered on your own. Worthy ideas are always alive ones that will surely bloom again.
Go ahead, give it a first read:
"The soul selects her own society Then shuts the door; On her divine majority Obtrude no more. Unmoved, she notes the chariot's pausing At her low gate; Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling Upon her mat. I've known her from an ample nation Choose one; Then close the valves of her attention Like stone." -Emily Dickinson
Now let’s take it bit by bit. I will add my own brief inner dialogue, but you might take an entirely different route with your thoughts. That’s the beauty I have found with good ideas embedded in words. They’re like seeds cast in the wind in a million directions.
When I read this first line I had just decided to take a bit of a hibernation from social media. The timing felt impeccable to read “The soul selects her own society, then shuts the door”. My thoughts continued as follows:
How often do I build rhythms to protect my heart enough to actually choose that which influences it?
If obtrude means to “impose on others with undue insistence or invitation” what have I let seep in uninvited? Am I the master of my devices or am I the slave?
Am I brave enough to choose a few and then shut the door with confidence? Even if only for a little while? What do I fear if not?
Once I choose that which will have impressions on my heart, do I stand strong and unmoved? No matter how interesting the “chariot” or how influential the “emperor”?
Will I remain steadfast trusting that every opportunity to stand unmoved I am actually strengthening my will toward the chosen best and beautiful?
Is there a plentiful, more than enough and ample nation we could fix our gaze on? Do we trust that once we choose the One aim all other “low hanging fruits” will not be as seductive?
In the satisfying portion of that choice, will we find strength to close all other valves of our attention?
What does this fixed attention look like on a large scale? How does that fixed trajectory to my life affect proper attention in the smaller things? The eye contact with a child. The lingering over a sunset. The diligence in the mundane.
Now let’s read it all over again with fresher eyes:
"The soul selects her own society Then shuts the door; On her divine majority Obtrude no more. At her low gate; Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling Upon her mat. I've known her from an ample nation Choose one; Then close the valves of her attention Like stone." -Emily Dickinson
I would love to hear how this poem spoke to you and what lines stood out. Or if it even reminds you of another collection of words. Thats my absolute favorite!