Emily Dickinson, as this poem testifies, was a proud spirit in a humble situation. Nothing new in that, of course: there’s many a maker who has passed unnoticed during life, or received no more than a few crumbs of recognition from those who cut the literary cake. Those who do not belong must create their own belonging – in a way that’s much of what being a poet is about – and this Emily most powerfully did. I admire this poem’s uncompromising rejection of populism, its insistence on the essential privacy of the poetic act and the incorruptibility of its individual truth. Of course, to trust the soul’s selection while keeping the valves of one’s attention not entirely petrified would be an even better trick.
Am I alone, though, in finding Emily’s eccentric punctuation – the proliferation of dashes, the arbitrary capitalisations – something of an irritation? But I suppose one has to respect the right of a poet to create a poem’s shape on the page, even though in the end what matters is a poem’s shape in the mind, so I have preserved her own typography.
The Soul selects
The Soul selects her own Society–
Then–shuts the Door–
To her divine Majority–
Present no more–
Unmoved–she notes the Chariots–pausing–
At her low Gate–
Unmoved–an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her mat–
I’ve known her–from an ample nation–
Then–close the Valves of her attention–