Dec. 10, 2007

1100 The last Night that She lived

by Emily Dickinson

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Poem: "The Last Night That She Lived" by Emily Dickinson. Public Domain. (buy now)

The Last Night That She Lived

The last night that she lived,
It was a common night,
Except the dying; this to us
Made nature different.

We noticed smallest things,—
Things overlooked before,
By this great light upon our minds
Italicized, as 'twere.

That other could exist
While she must finish quite,
A jealousy for her arose
So nearly infinite.

We waited while she passed;
It was a narrow time,
Too jostled were our souls to speak,
At length the notice came.

She mentioned, and forgot;
Then lightly as a reed
Bent to the water, shivered scarce,
Consented, and was dead.

And we, we placed the hair,
And drew the head erect;
And then an awful leisure was,
Our faith to regulate.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It is the birthday of poet Thomas Lux, (books by this author) born in Northampton, Massachusetts (1946), known for his surreal, funny poems with titles like "Commercial Leech Farming Today," "Traveling Exhibition of Torture Instruments," "The Oxymoron Sisters," and "Walt Whitman's Brain Dropped on Laboratory Floor."

It's the birthday of poet Carolyn Kizer, (books by this author) born in Spokane, Washington (1925), whose mother encouraged her to write poems from an early age, and by the time Kizer was 17, she had published a poem in The New Yorker. But Kizer felt suffocated by her mother's encouragement, and after her mother's death, Kizer said, "At last I could write, without pressure, without blackmail, without bargains, without the hot breath of her expectations." Her book Cool, Calm & Collected came out in 2000.

It's the birthday of the poet Emily Dickinson, (books by this author) born in Amherst, Massachusetts (1830), who dropped out of college at Mount Holyoke to take care of the family household when her mother had a nervous breakdown. She didn't enjoy being a housekeeper, hated dusting, and hated hosting all the men who stopped by to talk politics with her father every day. She watched as her friends got married and moved away, and she grew increasingly isolated from her community, in part because she did not consider herself a Christian and so she did not go to church. Many biographers have tried to find some other reason why she withdrew from the world, suggesting that she may have fallen in love with a man who rejected her. But there's no definite evidence for that theory.

What we do know is that Dickinson spent most of her adult life in her corner bedroom, which contained a writing table, a dresser, a Franklin stove, a clock, a ruby decanter, and pictures on the wall of three writers: George Eliot, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Thomas Carlyle. She wrote on scraps of paper and old grocery lists, compiled her poetry and tucked it away neatly in her desk drawer. After a few years of writing, she began collecting her handwritten poems into packets of folded paper, stitching the spines herself. She often included poems in her numerous letters to friends.

Dickinson eventually wrote more than 1,700 poems, most of them composed during the Civil War. She wrote 366 poems in 1862 alone, about one per day. Only seven of all her poems were published in her lifetime. Her sister Lavinia found the huge stash of the rest of her poems after Dickinson's death, but they were heavily edited when they finally came out in 1890. For a while, Dickinson was considered an interesting minor poet. It wasn't until 1955 that a more complete edition of her poetry was published, with the original punctuation intact. She's now considered the first great lyric poet in American history.

Emily Dickinson said, "To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else."

It's the birthday of the man who made it easier for people to find library books, Melvil Dewey, born in Adams Centre, New York (1851). He started out as a librarian at Amherst College, where, like most libraries, the books were organized by size and color. Librarians just had to memorize where books were located, and it often took hours to find obscure titles. Dewey decided he could come up with a better way. The result was his Dewey Decimal System.

He divided all human knowledge into 10 main categories and then assigned each category a numerical value: 000-099 would be general works; 100-199 would be philosophy and psychology; 200-299 would be religion, and so on. And then each subject within the major categories could be assigned a numerical value within that range, allowing for infinite subdivisions, so that all books on similar subjects could be shelved near each other. Dewey first published his idea in 1876. His organizational system has since been translated into more than 30 languages, and it is in use in libraries in more than 100 countries around the world.

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