God is indeed a jealous God–
He cannot bear to see
That we had rather not with Him
But with each other play.
–1719, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
I’m still plugging away at that biography of Emily Dickinson, My Wars Are Laid Away In Books by Alfred Habegger. My opinions of Emily have deepened from general respect and admiration to specific respect, admiration for her fantastic manipulation of language, and sorrow for a rather sad and complicated life. I believe I feel most sorry for the way people have dug into her personal life to find out about her and make assumptions about her strangenesses. I think she would be aghast at the rumors spreading in the name of biography. She deserves some privacy, even now. (And yet, I’m still reading her biography, but I think Habegger is good at not making sweeping judgments about her without providing strong evidence for it.)
Emily Dickinson was a strange lady, and her mind worked in ways other minds do not. She struggled with religion, and in her way, these struggles came out in little plays on words so they look lighthearted and flippant, removed from seriousness. Is that her way of pushing away the problems? Or is it her way of thinking them through? Or does she write them to reveal her theology to her devout friends and family without preaching at them or getting a sermon in return? I’m not sure. I do know that I don’t agree with Emily’s theology, but if I received this poem in a personal letter from her, I wouldn’t know how to respond to it, and I also wouldn’t forget it.