Comment 10 of 125, added on September 15th, 2005 at 8:56 AM.
TYING ONE ON WITH EMILY
I could never be a wine connoisseur. My sense of smell is not keen, and a
discriminating olfactory sense is a sine qua non for precise discernment
and evaluation. Yes, I know when a wine is downright awful, but in a
blind taste test comparing elegant vintage wines and their Two-Buck Chuck
counterparts, I'll choose the cheap stuff probably half the time.
The same goes for my appreciation of pictorial art. I skipped the college
course in art appreciation. I recognize the beauty of the classics and
have my own unschooled preferences, but that's about it. When my wife
thinks about foreign travel, she focuses on museums and art galleries. I
think about wandering through exotic cities or quaint neighborhoods, trying
new cuisines and quaffing brews with the locals. Sally can sit and revel in
a single painting for the same amount of time it takes me to stroll one
wing of the Louvre.
I am led to this musing by contemplation of Emily Dickinson's "I taste a
liquor never brewed," wherein the poet celebrates her enchantment with
nature in a playful extended metaphor.
The poem makes me aware that words and language delight and intoxicate me
the way a Chateau Lafitte Rothschild pleases an oenophile, the Uffizi
gallery excites an art buff, and Emily gets drunk on warmth, sunshine and
Savoring Emily's four quatrains—rolling them about on my tongue and
ear—gives me the heady satisfaction that the little lady from Amherst gets
from air. Her poem is a synergy of ingredients that gives me a
Massachusetts variation of a Rocky Mountain High.
Line one with its direct statement of the metaphor is like the first sip
of a perfect martini—stirred, not shaken—sipped from a chilled glass of
finest crystal. Her "tankards of pearl" with that key word "scooped"
trigger an image of fluffy white clouds, due perhaps to my fondness for
ice cream and not to any intention of the poet. Others will respond with
their own images. "Vats upon the Rhine" generates vowel music that tickles
palate and ear and transports me to Burton-on-Trent and the lively liquor
of A. E. Housman's "Terence, this is stupid stuff," a favorite poem from my
teaching days. Housman was writing about beer, not liquor; still, an
intoxicant's and intoxicant. The first quatrain's half-rhyme of "pearl"
with "alcohol" produces a tang that a perfect rhyme would not convey.
Lines 5 and 6 are my favorites -- the olive or lemon twist in the cocktail
of my own metaphor. The vowel alliteration of "Inebriate of air am I"
enriches the dictionary meaning—an example of sound's interplay with sense
that epitomizes poetry. The first word can be construed as a past
participle lacking the concluding "d" or as a noun. Thus, the line could be
paraphrased either as "I am inebriated by or with air" or "I am an
inebriate or habitual drunkard whose intoxicant is air." Both ideas are
implicit in Dickinson's shaping of the sentence, and the duality imports a
tinge of drunken confusion and stagger. The exquisite word choice
"debauchee" reinforces the long-e assonance of "Inebriate" and alliterates
with "dew" to underline the humorous hyperbole that the poet is an orgiast,
in danger of overdosing on dewdrops. "Reeling" begins line 7 with a
metrical variation—a trochaic substitution in the established iambic
metrical pattern. (Remember your high school English class? An iambic foot
is an unstressed syllable followed by one that is stressed, as in
"vermouth"; a trochaic foot is the opposite or reverse, as in "Boodles.")
My head reels as does the poetic line. The adjective "molten" is arresting
in "Inns of molten blue." I discard the image of inns created by a process
of heating something blue until it was liquefied and then pouring it into a
mold, and I settle for summer skies that are molten in the sense of being
heated so that they glow.
Stanza three makes me giggle tipsily. Bees getting drunk on nectar and
being cut off and tossed out of the Foxglove Pub; butterflies swearing off
spirituous pollen; and a snockered Belle of Amherst-- all are images that
strike my funny bone. A happy drunk am I!
I have a wee problem with the concluding stanza.. I see seraphs and
saints—regular inhabitants of those heavenly inns but free from problems of
overindulgence or addiction
—hustling to the window to watch Emily stumble out and lean against the sun
for balance. "Little tippler" is another epitome of sound supporting
sense, the short i's and consonant l's (I'm using consonant as an
adjective, not a noun) sound like someone taking repetitive sips of liquid.
I suck on the pastille trochee "Leaning" in the poem's concluding line and
taste the giddiness introduced earlier by "Reeling." (Pastilles in a
martini? Metaphorically the spritz of vermouth tempering the icy
gin--Noilly Prat befitting Beefeater.)
I have to hiccup when I swallow "seraphs swing their snowy hats." I've
never pictured a seraph wearing a hat, snowy or otherwise. Maybe a halo,
but I usually reserve those for saints, not angels with six wings. Is it
another cloud image? I'm not sure.
Is that lack of surety the poem's problem? Is that something black
floating in my cocktail? Ah, it's just an eyelash—one of my own. My
fault, not the author/bartender's. I fish it out and finish the drink.
Good! I'll have another.
from United States