This is my last post of the week, which has me thinking of endings, knowing when to stop and how. I think the first time I truly understood what could be done by changing the end of a poem was in a poetry class with Deborah Digges. We were discussing two versions of Emily Dickinson's poem beginning "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain." The first is the version you probably know, with all the poet's own peculiar capitalizations and dashes:
Among the many neutering liberties it takes, the second version (which was the first to appear in print), lops off the last stanza, leaving the speaker wrecked solitary, without ever falling into those other worlds:
For a long time that was the story of this poem for me: an indignant condemnation of the overreaching editing of Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. I remember thinking of this poem when I heard of Deborah's death, grateful to her for having taught me how to read Dickinson (and so many others). I did not think there was more to know--I thought the poem and I were Finished.
But since then I have become a teacher of poetry myself, and in preparing for a class I was teaching this fall, on poetry and technology, it occurred to me that an examination of Dickinson's manuscripts might help us to explore the different possibilities and limitations in moving between a handwrittten and printed text. (This was before Amherst College's exciting announcement that it was making their collection of Dickinson manuscripts available to anyone with access to the internet. Have you looked at it yet? Incredible!)
When I found the manuscript for the poem (not part of Amherst College's collection), I was surprised to see that the ending I had imagined as authoritative, certain, pure, in fact had alternate words just below: "crash" for "plunge," and "got through" for "Finished."
What is the difference between being finished with knowing and getting through it? A state is replaced with a process. I don't know--I am not finished with knowing--what I make of this. And then how noisy to think of crashing into worlds, when all these years I'd been imagining the quieter plunging.
It is hard to know how to say goodbye, how to end something. Maybe Dickinson begins to waver between words at the poem's close because, as Spicer says:
Luckily, even a fool can end a week of posting on a blog without too much fuss. Thank you for this space and time. It has been a pleasure.