Sunday, August 8, 2010

Emily Dickinson - Pagan Sphinx and Linking to Today's Flowers

Those of you who know me a lot or a little or who read here a lot or a little, are aware that I have a thing for Emily Dickinson - her life, her poems and her home turned museum in Amherst, part of my Western Massachusetts stomping ground.

The title of the blog The Pagan Sphinx was actually inspired by an article I read online by a certain Gary Sloan, a literature professor somewhere I don't recall. The topic of the article is Emily Dickinson's views on religion and faith, as known through her poetry and letters. The only items we "know" Emily at all by. The conclusion of the article is that Emily died somewhat of a pagan, having gone back and forth in her mind, throughout her adult life doubting the existence of god.


"Faith" is a fine invention, when gentlemen can see
But microscopes are prudent, in an emergency.
-- Emily Dickinson, "Faith" (ca. 1860), quoted from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief


I am one who continues to think about issues of faith and doubt. I sometimes feel a quick pull toward something slightly akin to faith but just as quickly, I am snatched away by my thoughts of both joy and despair and by matters that need my direct and immediate attention. For example, what is happening with my family. Looking after WP, four daughters, an in-law, and a boyfriend or two (of the girls'  :-), a few other family members as well as a couple of close friends. I try to get back to that place that I know makes me a better person.

I was almost persuaded to be a Christian. I thought I never again could be thoughtless and worldly. But I soon forgot my morning prayer or else it was irksome to me. One by one my old habits returned and I cared less for religion than ever.
-- Emily Dickinson, at age 15, shortly after a Christian revival in her home town of Amherst, Massachusetts, in a letter to her friend Abiah Root, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)




On subjects of which we know nothing, we both believe and disbelieve a hundred times an hour, which keeps believing nimble.
-- Emily Dickinson, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)






This last visit to Emily's garden was made on a very hot and humid Amherst, Massachusetts afternoon. I don't usually do the audio tour, though I made a mental note that next time I would, to see how it is compiled. There were several people around the garden with the audio and I just snapped away at the phlox and cone flowers, the snapdragons and a couple of elegant orchids.


Those who lift their hats shall see Nature as devout do God.
-- Emily Dickinson



Those who lift their hats shall see Nature as devout do God.
-- Emily Dickinson, more naturalism or pantheism, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)


They say that God is everywhere, and yet we always think of Him as somewhat of a recluse.
-- Emily Dickinson (attributed: source unknown)
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10 comments:

  1. Beautiful post and flowers! Have a great day!

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  2. Enjoyed reading your post and also looking at all these marvelous photos of Emily's flowers. This is a place I would love to visit as I have been a fan of her prose for many years. Thanks for sharing, and thanks also for stopping by.
    An English Girl Rambles

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  3. I love Emily Dickinson and am a little envious of how all this is on your doorstep! The photos are lovely. As for her thoughts on religion, as a Christian, I have a lot of sympathy with her position. I've never yet been able to be completely and utterly sure of what 'the truth' is and am wary of those who think they have a handle on it. For me, it doesn't work like that and I see the struggle between faith and doubt as a noble and very human thing.

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  4. These are wonderful pictures. Emily was a cool woman. Wish I knew her.

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  5. Very interesting post. I have to admit that I don't know anything about her except in the broadest general sense. Your comments intrigue me.

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  6. I love your Emily Dickinson quotes, and the flowers are exquisite!

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  7. I love those snapdragons!! So proud, compared to the ones I have seen around here!!

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  8. I quote Emily Dickinson more often on my blog than I do anyone else..I find her facinating. Thank you for putting up the badge in Bobbie's memory..I miss her....Michelle

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  9. Correction: I understand that what I thought to be an orchid, is actually a tiger lily. Sorry 'bout that.

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  10. I'm not conviced Dickinson (not after a certain age, anyway) went back and forth in her theological beliefs. That would suggest Christianity was toying with her, and I could sooner believe she was the one toying with Christianity. She recognized the emotional utility of Christian symbols and looked to re-appropriate those symbols to serve her own ends. If she goes back and forth, it is in the extend to which this attempt is ironic.

    You see this, for example, in poem 508, where she overrides her baptism into Christianity with a baptism into Christian symbolism - choosing 'just a Crown.' That is, just the symbol.

    ReplyDelete

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