Tuesday, October 02, 2018

"I Died For Beauty"

You know, it’s crazy how much you can discover if you try.

For the longest time, I had been familiar with the poem “I Died for Beauty” by Emily Dickinson, but I never really could quite get past the first line:

I died for beauty, but was scarce,
Adjusted in the tomb

What did Dickinson mean by that? That beauty was scarce? I didn't get it.

Then yesterday I had another look at the poem and finally noticed what she was saying. It's easy to see once one realizes that the poem's first line continues on in the second:

I died for beauty, but was scarce,
Adjusted in the tomb

Ah, so after she died for beauty -- whatever that might mean, but OK -- she scarcely had had a chance to get adjusted to her new home, the tomb, before something happened. That something, of course, provides the substance of the rest of the poem.

Let’s have a look.

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.  
He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth,—the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.  
And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

OK, pretty cool. I kinda got it. These “people” in the tomb were after two things, “beauty” and “truth,” and they died in pursuit of them.

But I still felt I didn't understand the poem all that well,  so I went to a blog about Emily Dickinson poems called "The Prowling Bee." There, I learned that the nucleus of "I Died for Beauty" is actually a line from the John Keats poem "Ode on a Grecian Urn"

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

OK, even cooler. But now I had a new idea to think about. After forming my own thoughts on the Keats line,  I texted it to my girlfriend, as I still wanted more input. I liked her response so much I thought I'd post it here.

Of the Keats line, she said:

I like it, I guess, cause it seems to me that the meaning is cooked down to the very essence. The structure of the quote is very simple but then there is a lot to think about. So this little quote brings you to a deeper layer of sensing, feeling, knowing…

Pretty cool -- her comment and the line, and the poem...all of it. As I said, it’s crazy how much you can discover -- about writing, about people's thoughts on writing, whatever -- if you try.

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