All aboard. People I very much appreciate:

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Miss Dickinson And The Paper Chase

I have written and read poems, analyzed them, parsed them out for meter and meaning long enough to know when I am in one. Emily Dickinson was 16 years old in this tintype --I believe it is the only photo ever taken of her. In 1846, a photoportrait exposure consumed several minutes, yet, some measure of her mischief comes through.
This brings us to the paper chase. During her lifetime, Emily Dickinson wrote thousands of poems, many hundreds of which she sewed into booklets and tucked under her bed. If you wish to see how she really punctuated --mainly with dashes for stops combined with continuities and capitalizations suggesting topical allusions-- you must find a book like this one.
It is 770 pages long. 

That's a lot of paper. When I was 18, a couple years older than Miss Dickinson was in her tintype, I bought a record of two songs written by the admirable Jimmy Webb. Side A was a popular puzzle, sung by the incomparable Richard Harris, but it was side B that got me going on the enigma of Emily Dickinson. A paper chase is a game of hide and seek conducted with paper scraps left as markers  by the "fox" for the "hounds".  I learned that from a lovely friend from New Zealand that same year, 1968. Here is the song, sung and declaimed by a true dramatic artist: Harris,Paper Chase;
It begins and ends with an harpsichord, but the chase continues even now --all these years later. I hope, yes the thing with feathers, that this chase has no foreseeable end.

30 comments:

  1. I never know what you will write about next, George. I really like the tintype of Emily Dickenson, I can see the mischief in her mouth. I enjoyed the song as well. This post reminds me that I need to work more poetry into my life. Hope all is well with you and Norma.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I seldom know what I'll write about either, Louise. Sometimes we create our own paper chases and have little idea where they'll lead.

      Delete
  2. I feel as though I've been transported, to some sweet place. A) This is the first time I've seen an image of Ms Dickinson and that is lovely. B) Hearing Richard Harris again is time trip. I heard PaperChase when it was the flip side of Macarthur Park but that was in an aeon long ago, so now I am in the time slipstream and headed for a listening of Macarthur Park. And suddenly my evening has been transformed, delightfully. What magic and even with harpsichord.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tom, the young lady was full of life, and took copious notes on it. I'm glad her fair copies were found and published over the years. Each poem reaches for others --hence the paper chase. As for Harris, as an interpreter of lyrics, he could turn each line into gold.

      Delete
  3. I've seen that tintype of remarkable Emily Dickinson before, but I never knew it was taken when she was sixteen. She is one of the (many) poets who inspired the poetic efforts of my youth.

    I always loved MacArthur Park (the song) but I never heard of Paper Chase. Thanks for sharing it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As I recall, Jon, many of her poems were absquatulated by relatives and rearranged, repunctuated, according to the fashion of the time. Happily, the originals were preserved and published by others. Last batch I know of came out in the 1940's but the paper chase continues still.

      Delete
  4. Someone (Rumi?) said that poetry is the language of the heart. And how true it is. It quickens, it falters, it brings us to life, and when it stops one poetry reading is over. To be picked up by others. Like yourself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mevlana might well have said that. It's been 17 years since I last joined the Sufis in Dances of Universal Peace, but I still keep his poetry on my shelf and admire how he considered the universe his beloved companion.

      Delete
  5. SHe was attractive at 16, but looks much older. The wife of a dude that I spent several years studying, who was 23 when she was married in 1863, but she looks as if she could have been 63. I don't remember the song, but the best part was the harpsichord at the beginning and end.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I too have always enjoyed a well-played harpsichord, Sage. There is a quiet dignity in the sound that is peculiar to the instrument. As for 1800's photos, even babies looked old and less than comfortable in them. Faster film emulsions made a huge difference.

      Delete
  6. Just last week, I heard the wonderful McArthur's Park on the radio for the first time in years. I never knew what that song was about, but I loved it and always sang along with it. I never heard it's B side, Paper Chase, but thanks to you, Geo, I have now had the pleasure.

    When I went to grammar school, poetry was part of the curriculum. It was always a nice time in the day when we were told to take out our poetry book. Although I did not always understand their meanings, I knew that I liked it. A poet passes on the feelings of his/her heart to another, and another, and another. From your two blogs, I know your heart is always full of the loveliest and the most interesting of things.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My pleasure too, Arleen. And yes, poems are more than note-takings on life; they contain and retain the original emotional charge of experience.

      Delete
  7. I had never heard Paper Chase before.....thank you so much for posting it. Emily looks like a scamp doesn't she?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. By golly, she DOES look like a scamp. Don't know if she was fidgety but imagine a flurry of thoughts behind that face as she sat still for the photo.

      Delete
    2. Probably writing an x rated (for the day) poem about the photographer.

      Delete
  8. Hi JJ - fascinating I never knew about this ... or Richard Harris' take on the PaperChase before ... and Emily does look delightful doesn't she ... cheers Hilary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Hilary. Yes, Emily looks delightful sitting in 1846. In a world without refrigerators or antibiotics, she and her contemporaries turned themselves out rather well.

      Delete
  9. There was a time, 50 years ago, when I owned two albums, 'Beggar's Banquet', and 'MacArthur Park'.........I was always rather fond of Harris's effort, but do you know it's almost on everyone's 'Worst Rock Song Ever' list? What do the masses know, anyway.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah true Mike, 50 years ago real poets were raising the bar on popular lyrics --good thing too. Expanding minds really meant expanding aesthetic experience. Then came Disco, and though much of it was good, much was just grunts and beat. I was glad when the 1980s rescued poetic lyrics.

      Delete
  10. Emily Dickinson is an enigmatic character. How lucky we are to have her poems at all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Truly Emma, she is one of the most delightful and rewarding puzzles of American literature.

      Delete
  11. As I had only a sketchy idea of Emily Dickinson's background, I took some time to read up on her, and I'm so glad I did. Her life is intriguing but rather tragic, isn't it - she did not have an easy time. Imagine what she might have written as the years went by, had her health been better and her life longer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. True Jenny, Emily didn't have an easy time. It's been many years since I read of her in Louis Untermeyer's "Lives of The Poets" but am still impressed with the courage described there, and the fierce independence of mind. I believe she succumbed to Bright's disease in her 50's, but her effect upon poetry --and the language itself-- still exceeds analysis.

      Delete
  12. Wow, dear Geo: thank you for this article! I am an ardent lover of Emiliy Dickinson - and if ever I would say I regret something it is that I let me be talked into writing my Master thesis on Dashiell Hammett instead of her (and my professor being a German specialist on Emily!! It was not him who talked me into Hammett - being very young and not so resistant at that time, I followed another lead).
    I have huge tomes of her work - three huge volumes "The Poems of Emily Dickinson"by The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, and from them also her letters.
    Yes, a real paper chase - and much fun!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Brigitta, your work as translator for publishers and television has placed me in awe --and in appreciation of the fascinating puzzles poetry poses. I should like to see how Nick and Nora Charles would set about solving the mystery of Emily Dickinson. I think you chose a very appropriate Master thesis.

      Delete
  13. Very nice post. I don't think I'd ever heard the song, but I have played a game very similar to what you describe. I'm a fan of Emily Dickinson's style.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Lori. I find my experiences with hide and seek games in youth helped a lot with appreciating Miss Dickinson. Her poems invite us into the fun.

      Delete
  14. Loved Richard Harris! Made a great King Arthur.

    Emily Dickinson has been down played, some hating her rhythmic, predictable beat. But she says so much in those few words. Meaningful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed on both counts, Susan, Dickinson and Harris are treasures in the arts.

      Delete

I value your comments. Say hello. Reach out a bit. I do.