On Loneliness, Part 2

This morning I realized why I was subconsciously drawn to the passage about the narrow corridor in Jelenick’s The Piano Teacher. It reminded me of Emily Dickinson’s poem about loneliness, “The Loneliness One Dare Not Sound.” The only time I ever really got the chance to study Dickinson was with a depressive throw-back to the American Puritans. This man, a surly Italian American (a self-proclaimed “wop from Cincinnati”) sunk in a deep sadness, idolized Puritan intellectuals and felt that they were the one true American intellectual tradition. Dickinson made him visibly uncomfortable. He preferred someone restrained like Anne Bradstreet, wincing when I interpreted Bradstreet’s poetry — though he admitted my readings were probably right, if “secondary” to the “primary” meaning. Dickinson was far too much of a separatist and too “esthetic” for him (Americanists neglect the “a” in aesthetic because their historicist pedantry makes them intrinsically hostile to the concept; they hate undue ornamentation and feel — probably rightly — that aesthetic types, like myself, prioritize form over morals).

The wop described her as ‘that girl who attends Bible Study sitting at a table where everyone to the left of her, to the right of her and everyone across the table all know that they are saved. A couple of them might not have heard the ‘call’ yet, but they know that they will hear it. Dickinson knew she never would be saved… And she never wanted to be.”

Here is the poem where Dickinson puts a speculum up to her isolation, wondering if loneliness creates us or buries us alive.

The Loneliness One dare not sound —
And would as soon surmise
As in its Grave go plumbing
To ascertain the size —

The Loneliness whose worst alarm
Is lest itself should see —
And perish from before itself
For just a scrutiny —

The Horror not to be surveyed —
But skirted in the Dark —
With Consciousness suspended —
And Being under Lock —

I fear me this — is Loneliness —
The Maker of the soul
Its Caverns and its Corridors
Illuminate — or seal —

1863

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