Perhaps I asked too large
Perhaps I asked too large –
I take – no less than skies –
For Earths, grow thick as
Berries, in my native town –
My Basket holds – just –Firmaments –
Those – dangle easy – on my arm,
But smaller bundles – Cram.
-Emily Dickinson [Review by - Sumudu Samarawickrama]
Woman’s roles in civilized society have undergone a change more drastic in the last 100 years than in the 1000 before it.
The joke about history is that it is His-Story – women’s voices are largely absent in our understanding of various historical eras. We see women in oil paintings and rock paintings, as decorations – silent, alluring, existing to please. We hear of them in poems and songs, novels and operas. They are largely either perfect, virtuous loves, or wicked temptresses.
Emily Dickinson, considered one of America’s most important poets, never published in her lifetime; her sister only found her nearly eighteen hundred poems after her death. Dickinson’s poems are highly unconventional in structure and subject matter. They are short; oddly punctuated and capitalized; hardly ever titled, and deal with death and immortality. Considering she was writing in the 19th century (published in 1890) it is astonishing how modern and fresh a writer she seems.
The first line of this poem, ‘ Perhaps I asked too large’, speaks of something you wouldn’t expect to see from a male writer of the same time and place. Men would never doubt that the world was theirs, and to ask of it what they wanted.
But Dickinson is only demurring for convention’s sake – in the next line she declares she takes ‘no less than skies’. What a massive condition to set!
It must be understood that Dickinson was highly educated and the daughter of wealthy and well-connected people. The ‘Earths’ which ‘grow thick as Berries’ may be seen as the creative minds found in books and friends of her circle. After all, the human ‘is much bigger on the inside’*.
Or perhaps, wonderfully, these ‘Earths’ were the memory of each day, captured by her pen in her poems. So her ‘Basket holds – just – Firmaments’. If a firmament describes the heavens in all their unthinkable dimensions, and her ‘Basket’ is her own life, then what Dickinson is saying in this line is revolutionary. Her basket, though sized for infinity cannot fit those ‘smaller bundles’ of material concerns.
Imagination, invention, creativity and knowledge are the things of her life, and the mundane duty of being a woman of that time and place seem not to fit into her ‘Basket’. There simply wasn’t any room!
*Doctor Who – The Doctor’s Wife
Additional information care of Wikipedia