A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Poem of the Day: Emily Dickinson

The Bible is an antique Volume --
Written by faded Men
At the suggestion of Holy Spectres --
Subjects -- Bethlehem --
Eden -- the ancient Homestead --
Satan -- the Brigadier --
Judas -- the Great Defaulter --
David -- the Troubadour --
Sin -- a distinguished Precipice
Others must resist --
Boys that "believe" are very lonesome --
Other Boys are "lost"--
Had but the Tale a warbling Teller --
All the Boys would come --
Orpheus' Sermon captivated --
It did not condemn --
--Emily Dickinson

To understand the unsettled consciousness of nineteenth-century writers, you have to know a little about the higher criticism, and how it shook their world view. Treating the Bible as a man-made text was faith-shattering for many of them, Dickinson included. Thomas Hardy had a different view of it:

The Respectable Burgher on "The Higher Criticism"

Since Reverend Doctors now declare
That clerks and people must prepare
To doubt if Adam ever were;
To hold the flood a local scare;
To argue, though with stolid stare,
That everything had happened ere,
The prophets to its happening sware;
That David was no giant-slayer,
Nor one to call a God-obeyer
In certain details we would spare,
But rather was a debonair
Shrewd bandit, skilled as banjo-player:
That Solomon sang the fleshly Fair,
And gave the Church no thought whate'er,
That Esther with her royal wear,
And Mordecai, the son of Jair,
And Joshua's triumphs, Job's despair,
And Balaam's ass's bitter blare;
Nebuchadnezzar's furnace-flare,
And Daniel and the den affair,
And other stories rich and rare,
Were writ to make old doctrine wear
Something of a romantic air:
That the Nain widow's only heir,
And Lazarus with cadaverous glare
(As done in oils by Piombo's care)
Did not return from Sheol's lair:
That Jael set a fiendish snare,
That Pontius Pilate acted square,
That never a sword cut Malchus' ear;
And (but for shame I must forbear)
That —— —— did not reappear!...
— Since thus they hint, nor turn a hair,
All churchgoing will I forswear,
And sit on Sundays in my chair,
And read that moderate man Voltaire
--Thomas Hardy

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