Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Sting of Eternity.

If you were coming in the fall, 
I'd brush the summer by 
With half a smile and half a spurn, 
As housewives do a fly.

If I could see you in a year, 
I'd wind the months in balls, 
And put them each in separate drawers, 
Until their time befalls.

If only centuries delayed, 
I'd count them on my hand, 
Subtracting till my fingers dropped 
Into Van Diemens land.

If certain, when this life was out, 
That yours and mine should be, 
I'd toss it yonder like a rind, 
And taste eternity.

But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time's uncertain wing, 
It goads me, like the goblin bee, 
That will not state its sting.

- Emily Dickinson

This astonishingly beautiful poem by Emily Dickinson reminded me of a novel I am currently reading, The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.  Mann does not automatically come to mind when thinking of the poetry of our American nineteenth century genius, but I would suggest they do share some common interests that are demonstrated in this poem.  
In particular, Mann's novel The Magic Mountain has time as one of if not it's primary theme.  The philosopher Paul Ricoeur noted that "The narrative technique employed in the work confirms, in turn, the characterization of the novel as a Zeitroman"(novel of time).(Time and Narrative volume 2, p 113)  
Thus I was reminded of this aspect while reading Dickinson's sublime lines about "time's uncertain wing" that keeps her apart from the "taste of eternity".  Wonderful stuff and a good way to begin the first complete month of Autumn.

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson.  Little, Brown & Company, 1955.
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.  Vintage Books, 1996 (1924).
Time and Narrative: Volume 2 by Paul Ricoeur.  University of Chicago Press, 1985.


Brian Joseph said...

Indeed this is a great poem to beckon in the new season.

The different ways that we human perceive of time is such a curious thing. I love it when great artists address these issues. The results are so often fruitful.

James said...


Thanks for your keen observation. This is one of Emily's poems that just gets better every time I read it. It literally takes my breath away by the last stanza.