What mystery pervades a well

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Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886)
Personal Helicon
By Seamus Heaney
for Michael Longley
As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.
One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.
A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.
Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.
Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.
What mystery pervades a well!
That water lives so far -A neighbor from another world
Residing in a jar
Whose limit none have ever seen,
But just his lid of glass -Like looking every time you please
In an abyss's face!
The grass does not appear afraid,
I often wonder he
Can stand so close and look so bold
At what is awe to me.
Related somehow they may be,
The sedge stands next the sea -Where he is floorless
And does no timidity betray
But nature is a stranger yet;
The ones that cite her most
Have never passed her haunted house,
Nor simplified her ghost.
To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her, know her less
The nearer her they get.
Departure Points
• Compare Wordsworth: “It is a beauteous
evening calm and free.”
• Consider Heaney’s Personal Helicon.
• Charles Robert Darwin (12 February
1809 – 19 April 1882) Origin of the
Species (1859)
• Darwin’s theory of evolution: shattering
and disturbing.The world as our home, no
other place to be.
• Attempt to find beauty in transience.
William Wordsworth : It is a Beauteous Evening
•
IT is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquillity;
What mystery pervades a well!
That water lives so far -A neighbor from another world
Residing in a jar
• Four iambic feet per line (tetrameter )
• Three iambic feet per line (tetrimeter)
• Neighbouring relation to an unknown entity. A reflection
on the strangeness of nature.
• Juxtaposition between abstract “mystery” and the
physical “well”
• Child-like sense of distance and fear.
• Full rhyme in lines 2 and 4.
• Imagery of contained and uncontained spaces.
• Use of enjambment breaks the stanza form
Whose limit none have ever seen,
But just his lid of glass -Like looking every time you please
In an abyss's face!
• Beyond the surface ”lid” the limits are
unknowable .
• The well is an emblem of the unfathomable:
“Whose limit none have ever seen” and “an
abyss’s face”-unknown, frightening.
• Abyss-deep chasm, immeasurable depth.
• Use of metaphor and simile in an attempt to
tackle the mystery of the well.
• Use of slant rhyme.
The grass does not appear afraid,
I often wonder he
Can stand so close and look so bold
At what is awe to me.
• Dickinson personifies the calm grass, the
sedge, with her own acute sense of awe.
• Contained stanza and full rhyme.
Related somehow they may be,
The sedge stands next the sea -Where he is floorless
And does no timidity betray
• Movement away from the well to a consideration
of the sea-concentric cirlces on the surface of the
water.
• Sedge-waterside marsh plant, coarse grass.
• Imagery of depth “floorless” transfers easily from
the well to the sea.
• Uncontainable nature suggested by the
enjambment and the way that Dickinson breaks
full rhyme (sea, timidity)
But nature is a stranger yet;
The ones that cite her most
Have never passed her haunted house,
Nor simplified her ghost.
• “Far from being a Romantic assertion of wonder
and redemptive agency of nature, here
Dickinson talks about nature as “a stranger”,
with a haunted house.
•
Blake’s The Tyger “Did he who made the lamb make thee?”
• Sense of the enormity of nature and the fear (of
the unknown) and wonder that it can inspire.
To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her, know her less
The nearer her they get.
• The poem has a sense of never quite fully
belonging to nature.
• “We are left with no sense of the possibility of
knowledge or connection. The nearer one gets
to nature (something that is always fraught with
danger and fear), the less one knows.”
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