Sunday, December 26, 1982

“Forever – is composed of Nows –”

I drove back with Robert and Carol after dinner. All the way to Saxton I sat quietly as Robert intoned his Buddhist beliefs at me.

Boxing Day passed quietly; I read a long introduction to a volume of Emily Dickinson’s poems, which I found quite interesting. Her poems and letters seem very strange, very advanced for her age, the letters almost like poetry written as prose, so unlike other poets’ workaday communications. For the last few decades of her life she took to dressing in white and like Helen Vaughan she lived like a recluse and had no friends outside her family circle, apart from those she communicated with via letters. She died quite young, aged 56. I was captivated by a fascinating photo of her in 1847, at age 17—plain-faced, thin-framed, her dark hair swept back in Puritan fashion—a really sad melancholy photo.

The editor of the book – I can’t remember his name – mentioned that it’s this strange brooding aspect of her existence that in his opinion arouses an interest that obscures the poems; but no doubt it’s this very strange seclusion, added with some indefinable constituent of a particular personality, that creates the conditions that are ripe for poetic creation. But there were many men and women like Dickinson living in New England in relative isolation from society and friends, yet only she seems to have been affected by her seclusion in a poetic way.

Robert showed me the small shrine where he meditates, an alcove in the back bedroom between a bookcase and the wall in which there's a table covered in embroidered fabric on which sits a small Buddha, an array of symbolic offerings before him. Mum said she’s seen it and finds it touching, although she hopes he doesn’t become “morbid.”

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