I discovered a poem I liked by Emily Dickinson in a poetry anthology. Her words seemed fresh, direct and unaffected. So I looked to see whether she was still writing. A surprise then to see she wrote the words in 1862.
I asked my partner who knows more about literature than me. ‘She’s American, I think’ she said. Transpires she is, from Massachusetts. Reclusive and introverted, Emily lived through letters. But, as with many writers throughout history, it only became evident how much she’d written after her death. Thousands of poems.
She lived much of her later life in what she called the ‘undiscovered continent’ of the mind and soul. She seemed to think of it as an almost a physical place you can inhabit and explore.
This set me thinking – puttering through slow traffic today – of Socrates. He thought everything could be discovered by earnest dialogue and reason – the answers are all there to be found in our heads if we are rigourous and vigourous enough.
Or Berkeley the ‘idealist’ philosopher, who argued that everything we see, touch and feel is ‘mind’ not matter. Then there are contemporary philosophers, who tease undergraduates with solipsism, asking ‘Are we sure it’s not all in our heads’.
The ‘undiscovered continent’ of the mind is a tempting destination. But it’s attractions need to be treated with care. Life is enriched by real world observation and experience and is best explored with friends.
A reclusive life might find order. But the beauty and brutality of nature, the intense experiences of life and the fickle gods of chance are in the material world. The ‘undiscovered continent’ is a place I like to visit, but isn’t a place to live I feel.
Here’s the line from Emily Dickinson which drew me to her and her poetry.
I dwell in possibility, a fairer house than prose, more numerous of windows – superior for doors.