A recent online exchange with a fellow blogger about the inexpressible and inexplicable nature of really great books brought to mind the following poem by Emily Dickinson. I thought I’d share it with you for it captures so concisely and aphoristically, in Dickinson’s own inimitable way, the often ridiculous and ultimately doomed human tendency to want to tear great things apart (and thus kill or ruin them) in order to figure out how they “work”—or worse, to determine if they are really “real.”
Literary criticism and analysis can only go so far. True, it can elucidate and open up previously unappreciated aspects of great works and place them in context, thereby enhancing a reader’s appreciation and enjoyment. But when all is said and done, there is no satisfying explanation for authentic genius and inspiration for it defies our means and categories at every turn.
Split the Lark—and you’ll find the Music—
Bulb after Bulb, in Silver rolled—
Scantily dealt to the Summer Morning
Saved for your ear when Lutes be old.
Loose the Flood—you shall find it patent—
Gush after Gush, reserved for you—
Scarlet Experiment! Sceptic Thomas!
Now, do you doubt that your Bird was true?
EMILY DICKINSON, 1864