Friday, November 17, 2006

Lit Stuff

I'm not sure why I'm in such a posty mood the last week or so ... probably because I've been swamped with work and am trying to procrastinate as much as possible. Following that line of thought, remember that stuff I studied for many years at BYU? Literature? Yeah. That's the stuff. Turns out my mom wanted to cash in on her investment in my education.

She was out visiting an elderly member of my home ward the other day and he quoted her one of his favorite poems by Emily Dickinson (#766):

My Faith is larger than the Hills -
So when the Hills decay -
My Faith must take the Purple Wheel
To show the Sun the way -
'Tis first He steps upon the Vane -
And then - upon the Hill -
And then abroad the World He go
To do His Golden Will -

And if His Yellow feet should miss -
The Day would not arise -
The Flowers would slumber on their Stems -
No Bells have Paradise -

How dare I, therefore, stint a faith
On which so vast depends -
Lest Firmament should fail for me -
The Rivet in the Bands

Then he asked my mom what she thought the Purple Wheel was. She didn't know. But then she remembered her daughter, the one who spent eight years studying literature ... and she promised him she would find out.

I did a bit of searching around and this is what I came up with (from an email I sent her):

"Dickinson is known for her focus on light and physical imagery, so the Purple Wheel could be an image of the pre-dawn clouds/sky through which her faith must guide/bring the sun.

Purple's associations with royalty create an echo of the mythical image of Apollo's chariot, which brings the sun through the sky—again, the idea is that her faith must bring the dawn to the darkened sky.

While our modern association with wheel and movent tends toward the image of a steering wheel (taking control of something and steering/guiding it), for Dickinson's time period a more appropriate image would be that of a cart/wagon wheel—think of "Put your shoulder to the wheel"—the wheel needs to be guided or pushed by hand/body. In
other words, the image isn't so much about taking control as it is about becoming invested, body and soul, in the work. It's a movement that requires effort.

All of these things combine into an overall interpretation of the first four lines. Something along the lines of "I have great/large faith, and when the earth crumbles (things go wrong and the world appears dark and full of destruction) I have to take that faith and use it in order to bring back light and order into the world. This is hard work; it does not come easily. But I am the one responsible for guiding that light back into my world."

The rest of the poem can be read as describing Jesus going forth into all the world, the realization that all life, here and afterwards, depends on him, and the realization that she must continue to nurture her faith (she cannot cut it off—basically saying that she doesn't feel like she can say what God can and cannot do—she has to assume everything is possible) and realize how many things (all things) depend on God.

So the poem as a whole describes a possible loss of faith or at least a significant trial (the hills decay), a realization that she needs to work to bring back faith, the act of meditating on God and realizing his greatness, a reassment of her faith—in the first line of the poem she quantifies her faith as "larger than the hills," and in the first line of the last verse she basically reverses that quantification saying that she cannot "stint [her] faith" (now her faith isn't just "larger than," it's endless)."

After re-reading that, I realize I probably ought to get some of my money back because it is fairly clear I don't know what I'm talking about half of the time. But, I decided, I really do like the poem. So I thought I'd share. And ask for more opinions/interpretations/help. Any ideas? On the Purple Wheel? The poem as a whole? A nice older gentleman is waiting for an answer ... preferably better than the one I just gave.

PS Sorry this is so long. If you're still reading, I apologize.