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Emily Dickinson is Chinese

Emily Dickinson was Chinese in another life. I'm sure of it. She is everything the Chinese love in art and life.

Chinese literature: terse, tight, short, concise, hard as a nut, nature, painterly and intellectual. Goes for the jugular, humorous, impish, a puzzle, musical and tonal (E.D.'s prevalent form and meter is the hymns she learned to sing in church.) Excellence in Chinese literature is mainly signified by the phrase, "hidden dragons, concealed tigers," (in English cannons under roses), whether in poetry or in novels or paintings (not the gaudy, overworked tourist stuff.) The more economical the better.

If you want to get a sense of Chinese literature, read Emily Dickinson. Some of her flower pieces are like a miniature Chinese painting in the "birds and flower" genre. And then her broader vision akin to Chinese landscape painting. Her mystical work is Zen (Chan in Chinese-same character). Oh, and she is an ecstatic as the Zen poets.

Highest ideal of the Chinese life: meditative, reclusive, living beyond the world of the "red dust." Emily Dickinson was reclusive but she loved people and was gregarious, frequenting the Evergreens--the home her brother and sister-in-law built right next door on her father's property--for evenings of laughter and literature among intellectuals.

(E.D. would be happy in the above painting by my father, Joseph Yang.)

Emily, for me, was hard won. When I first approached her, some years ago, I said to someone, I really want to understand her, but I am coming up against a barricade. My friend replied, Well, there are other great poets, start with the ones you can understand.

But I refused. I like difficulty, I like puzzles and I wanted to enter her world. So I began to memorize her when I took my evening walk until I could really made her mine. I had a little Shambala edition for my back pocket and memorized over two dozen poems, just in case I was kidnapped, imprisoned and had to resort to the library in my mind. I now own over a dozen Emily Dickinson editions. My favorite biography is Alfred Habegger's "My Wars Are Laid Away in books."

Learning Emily is like learning to ride a bicycle. You fall every which way and scrape your knees, but once you are upright and going forward, you can't fall even if you try. Sure, there are plenty of poems, I can't decipher, but to continue the bicycle analogy, there will be difficult terrain and you'll love the precariousness of it. When you "accomplish" a Dickinson poem, when you decode it, when you solve it, you feel intensely rewarded.

I love poetry, but I am not a poet. I will continue to write a little enough to love and appreciate the craft. Doesn't a good poet need equally good readers?

We cannot all be concert pianist, but isn't it grand for us to learn to play enough to enjoy others and applaud them?

Emily Dickinson said she knows it's poetry when she feels that the top of her head has been taken off. Life continues to take the top off my head every day.

Belle of Carmel

PS--E.D.'s grammar is oftentimes odd and Chinese. Where the noun or verb should be plural or singular, she does the opposite. I need to find an example for you later.

Here is poem 901 in the Franklin edition. I've not seen it in an anthology.



The Soul's distinct connection

With immortality

Is best disclosed by Danger

Or quick Calamity

As Ligtning on a Landscape

Exhibits Sheets of Place

Not yet suspected - but for Flash

And Click - and Suddenness.




Belle's vidoe on Youtube, a time lapse of a graphic novel page in the making, please click here.



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That was just as intriguing as I imagined it would be, Belle. Thanks for giving me a new way to approach Dickinson.  And thanks for your devotion to poetry in general!  I'm typing in my favorite Dickinson poem here, in honor of your post:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant --

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind --


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Truth Will Out

Emily Dickinson's poems were actually written by the Earl of Amherst.

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Evie, Ivy, Over- that's one of my fave's too.

And too many to choose. I'll find a more obscure one to share. (See above, poem 901, Franklin edtion) E.D. is wickedly funny, too.

And her obssessive look at mortality is also characteristic of Chinese scholar/elites. When I say very Chinese, this really pertains to the learned, not the peasant society, which has its own exuberant ideas of what is beautiful (and its values are something to be cherished equally).

My father is a poet of nearly 1000 Seven-Legged Essays. I don't understand deeply enough to explain. The ending TONES have to match in 3 of the vertical lines and within and across the lines. We are talking tone and rhyme.

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In my first Chinese language

In my first Chinese language class, our instructor, Lan Ping, (who's also head of the economics department at UAF) gave us a pretty comprehensive lesson in classic Chinese poetry.  He even made us recite some of it...before we even had a clue what we were saying....just to get us used to the sound and flow of Chinese.  It was great stuff. 


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Emily Dickinson was obsessed

Emily Dickinson was obsessed with death for a very good reason.  Just about everyone she knew ended up dying on her, which is probably one reason she became a recluse.

She also lived during the Civil War.  Although relatively isolated from it, living in the Northeast, she was very aware of it...probably had a much better grasp of it than a lot of politicians at the time....which was pretty hard to do, considering the degree of information technology at the time (or lack thereof).

And, like all true geniuses, she was odd.


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And one of the houses

she had lived in overlooked a cemetery.

I never considered the sounds of my first language, but have been listening to it as if I've never heard it before. I used to hate that people said Chinese was sing-songy. But now I see that it is in comparison to English.