Emily

The road was full of mud and mirrors where the sky peeked at itself. The yellow house slipped down behind the hedge as we came near.

This morning Lucy brought me Emily by Michael Bedard and Barbara Cooney and crawled onto my lap and together we read it slowly and carefully looking at the pictures in all their details and savoring the words and discussing the meanings. Bella and Sophie and Ben joined in and we feasted on this delightful treat inspired by Emily’s words.

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We were still new to the house the day the letter dropped through the slot. I heard it whisper to the floor and ran to pick it up. I peeked through the narrow window in the door. There was no one there but winter, all in white.

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Bedard’s text doesn’t explicate the poems; instead, it invites us into a world where every sentence and image has echoes of Emily as we accompany a nameless narrator who lives across the street from the Myth, the famous reclusive poet of Amherst, and who goes to visit her and meets her and gets a poem from her hand. And yet as Emily, the character, says, the little girl is herself a poem. And in reading the poetry-infused prose of her story, we step onto the threshold of Emily’s poems: the story is a world sensitive to nature– the interplay of winter and spring, of light and puddles– and to music and to the delicate relationships between people.

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“What is poetry?” I asked.

He laid the wilted petals in his palm. “Listen to Mother play. She practices and practices a piece, and sometimes a magic happens and it seems the music starts to breathe. It sends a shiver through you. You can’t explain it, really; it’s a mystery. Well, when words do that, we call it poetry.”

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And reading that launched me directly into my The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson . I love opening the volume at random and then reading her slowly, then slowly breaking open the text line by line, image by image, and then reading the whole thing through again another time or two. And I love that my kids can accompany me on the journey into her poems, listening patiently and savoring the words and drinking deeply. Sometimes I just read one and then stop and Sophie prompts me to explain further, to help her to understand. And so we dive in deep again.

To hear an oriole sing
May be a common thing,
Or only a divine.

It is not of the bird
Who sings the same, unheard,
As unto crowd.

The fashion of the ear
Attireth that it hear
In dun or fair.

So whether it be rune,
Or whether it be none,
Is of within;

The “tune is in the tree,”
The sceptic showeth me;
“No, sir! In thee!”

The skies can’t keep their secret!
They tell it to the hills–
The hills just tell the orchards–
And they the daffodils!

A bird, by chance, that goes that way
Sodt overheard the whole.
If I should bribe the little bird,
Who knows but she would tell?

I think I won’t, however,
It’s finer not to know;
If summer were an axiom,
What sorcery had snow?

So keep your secret, Father!
I would not, if I could,
Know what the sapphire fellows do,
In your new-fashioned world!

I dreaded that first robin so,
But he is mastered now,
And I’m accustomed to him grown,–
He hurts a little, though.

I thought if I could only live
Till that first shout got by,
Not all the pianos in the woods
Had power to mangle me.

I dared not meet the daffodils,
For fear their yellow gown
Would pierce me with a fashion
So foreign to my own.

I wished the grass would hurry,
So when ‘t was time to see,
He’d be too tall, the tallest one
Could stretch to look at me.

I could not bear the bees should come,
I wished they’d stay away
In those dim countries where they go:
What word had they for me?

They’re here, though; not a creature failed,
No blossom stayed away
In gentle deference to me,
The Queen of Calvary.

Each one salutes me as he goes,
And I my childish plumes
Lift, in bereaved acknowledgement
Of their unthinking drums.

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