Poem VAR #280

I felt a funeral in my brain
and mourners to and fro
kept treading treading till it seemed
that sense was breaking through

And when they all were seated
a service like a drum
kept beating beating till I thought
my mind was going numb

And then I heard them lift a box
and creak across my soul
with those same boots of lead again
Then space began to toll

and all the heavens were a bell
and being but an ear
and I and silence some strange race
wrecked solitary here


HWL's Comment

Date of writing: 1979

Subject: repeated heterosexual intercourse to which she has not yet become accustomed and to which she submits accommodatingly and apparently with great physical pain. This would make it one of her earliest such experiences, the second one indeed, quite certainly. I take my information of that from the poem that describes her defloration experience (Var. 410), in which she tells us that the next intercourse that came to horrify her was a double one, both enormous ones, testifying to the young lover’s impetuosity and cruel unconcern to the beloved’ s suffering in it. The fifth stanza was omitted by the editors of the Nineties publications of her poems. I deplore not to be able to use it, because it gives evidence that the effect was devastating on her and that she pinpointed the beginning of her psychosis with it. The two final stanzas in poem 410 bring this out even clearer. I hope that psychologists probing into the psychic derailments suffered by Emily Dickinson in her love experiences, if they have access to the still copyrighted material in the two poems, will pay special attention to the contents of these three stanzas. For their benefit I will here once again give the meaning of the symbol “day”, since it plays so central a role in poem 410: it very sharply and precisely describes the male phase of climax in heterosexual intercourse, starting with departure of semen from the testicles, rising up through the urethra, coming to ejaculation through glans, down to the final quantum and ensuing collapse of penis (though not his removal from vagina, since, if female orgasm has not been achieved in mutual climax during this action, her phase could still be initiated by an attempt at crumb orgasm (which, however, requires the presence of p. in vagina until his final demise). But to conclude my “subject” discussion: The poem is a doubledouble hybrid. The cruel second heterosexual intercourse she experienced was chosen for the very fact of the manifest cruelty shown in it by the lover. She sees now in Bowles’ unfeeling destruction of the two women’s hope for freedom and emancipation an exact replica of the sacrificial act to which he put E. after her seduction some ten years before, and uses it for matrix to describe the effects on her of the recent, second event, when Kate and she both became the lambs of sacrifice.