A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Poem of the Day: Emily Dickinson

Tell 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 --
--Emily Dickinson

"The truth is rarely pure and never simple," as Oscar Wilde observed, and as anyone who has ever given a deposition or served as a witness or on a jury is likely to agree. But I think this is also a case of Emily Dickinson anticipating Paul Verlaine, who proclaimed (remember?) in "Art Poétique": Il faut aussi que tu n'ailles point / Choisir tes mots sans quelque méprise (You must never set out to choose your words without some imprecision). Maybe that's why so many people dislike poetry: If it's any good, it never takes the easy way. I won't go so far as Plato to call poets liars, but maybe this puts a different spin on Shelley's claim that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind. We know how everybody feels about legislators and their tenuous connection to the truth these days. Still, maybe the real explication of Dickinson's lyric belongs to Jack Nicholson: