This week I returned again to one of my old loves — literature, watching the BBC version’s of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, and Coriolanus on a university data base.

Obscure as the plays are they move me. I grieve over Coriolanus’s hubris, and recognize my own. In Cymbeline I am reminded that “Great griefs … med’cine the less.” So do great joys. What a silly play. What a silly life. All’s well.

I also spent a Day and night — with Emily Dickinson. I fell in love with her years ago when I was teaching literature to 11th graders. I inflicted her on them. It was revenge for how they treated me. This week I went back to her like a neglectful lover and found her still as charmingly odd as ever.

Why love a weird, reclusive, abstruse 19th Century American poetess? Because when you read her, as when you read Shakespeare, bumbling through some odd bits and pieces of fusty language, you get the top of your head nicely blown off by improvised verbal explosive devices. Love that feeling!

Here is one of my favorites:

Did life’s penurious length
Italicize its sweetness,
The men that daily live
Would stand so deep in joy
That it would clog the cogs
Of that revolving reason
Whose esoteric belt
Protects our sanity.

In Emily we get truth condensed, but there is more than that. In her we find the universal longing for life and love and affection and attention and affirmation which we all share — and the not getting it — and the attendant gorgeous genius that follows. What does one do with unrequited love?

One makes the world pay by reinventing the language, by blowing up the literary universe into splendid little pieces — then hiding.

In honor of her I wrote a small set of proverbials, included below, each one drawing something from her poems, a fragment of a line, a piece of a thought, a slight verbal posture. In doing so, I incorporate her into my self and am the better. I sooth myself the way she did.

Weird little sister, I adore you! If I had known you I would have taken your hand, walked through Amherst with you, and we would have talked and named the flowers, and I would have loved you.

…..

When good men are very few, then Revery will more than do.

The soul selects its own society — then ducks.

Success is sweetest in suppose, a loyal love, a longer nose.

Charge into the danger zone, a heated brain — zero at the bone.

Tell the truth — add a slant — make a beeline — end tangent.

It’s okay now and again to be seen without our Diadem.

Love is never dead if it be fed — and plainly said.

Measure sadness and surprise with anything but analytic eyes.

Madness makes a kind of sense; sense has a slightly unhinged bent.

We outgrow everything but love.

Some show off, some hide their powers — reclining shyly within flowers.

Emily will more than do if Eloquence be lost and bees be few.

More of my proverbials may be found at http://www.modernproverbs.net. Check out the recent Franklins, anti-proverbs based on the proverbs of Benjamin Franklin.

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