For today’s Poetically Speaking post I’m taking over to talk about “I Died for Beauty” by Emily Dickinson.
Emily Dickinson is one of my favorite poets. She’s one of the first poets I read as a child and when I’m not worried about sounding arrogant I like to think she’s a poet whose style is similar to my own.
It’s a strange thing that even poems you haven’t read or considered for years can come back to you like familiar friends. I hadn’t thought about this poem for years until I read it again in Maggie Stiefvater’s novella “Ladylike.”
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.
I’ve always found Dickinson’s style comforting and calming–even when she’s discussing morbid things like death or burial. It’s an odd dichotomy. The only other time I’ve had a similar feeling was exploring the cemetery near St. Paul’s Chapel when I was in college.
Beyond the sense of peace here, I like the style. Dickinson did her own thing in poems and that included determining her own meter and structure. The poem feels carefully organized–because it is–but it’s according to Dickinson’s own choices. There is an obvious cadence and rhythm to each line but it’s one that isn’t always visible in its printed form. The rhymes here comes across more as the poem is being read aloud–a nice reminder that poetry isn’t always meant to sit on a page.
I’ve always liked the idea that the truth–honesty and things that are sometimes ugly in their revelations, especially in the wake of a lie–can be seen as beautiful. At the same time I love that beauty can be something real and true.
I think a lot about how I shape the narrative of my own life; how I want to tell my own story, if you will. It’s something I’ve been gravitating to more recently in the books I read and something that I know has colored a lot of the choices I’ve made this year (usually for the better).
I think about the face I put forth in the world and the reality I create for myself. Sometimes that means presenting things differently to create an actual narrative arc–something, it turns out, that isn’t always easy to find in real life.
This year I’ve been trying to get to some kind of inner truth about myself–my life–and who I want to be moving forward. In seeking those answers and trying to shape my own narrative, I’ve realized that sometimes the truth is the easiest story to follow. Sometimes it’s also the best one, even when it isn’t as grand as I might have imagined. Even if that honesty can be a small thing, as Emily Dickinson clearly knew, it can have its own kind of beauty.
Talk to me about your favorite poems or poetic forms in the comments and be sure to check back every day this April for more poetry-related posts and guest posts.