Wednesday, April 02, 2014

From the Vault of Favored Poems: Dickinson's "The Master" (#PoemMo)

Between 1858 and 1861 or 1862, when Emily Dickinson was in her late twenties and early thirties, she wrote several intimate letters to someone known only as "the Master." Drafts of three of the letters survive. Though rich in imagery, poetic language, and emotional nuance, there is no way of knowing whether they were ever mailed. (Dickinson asked at least one person to burn all correspondence after her death...)

To this day, the Master's identity remains a mystery.

I didn't know any of this backstory when, in university, I was introduced to a poem of Dickinson's sometimes called "the Master." (She did not title it so.) I just knew that I liked it far more than her poems about death. It spoke to me then in a way that still resonates:

The Master
by Emily Dickinson

He fumbles at your Soul
As Players at the Keys,
Before they drop full Music on --
He stuns you by degrees --

Prepares your brittle substance
For the Ethereal Blow
By fainter Hammers -- further heard --
Then nearer -- then so - slow -

Your Breath has time to straighten,
Your Brain -- to bubble cool --
Deals one imperial Thunderbolt
That scalps your naked soul.

The poem was written in 1862 and appears in Fascicle 22. Thanks to the internet, one can view the handwritten original.

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