I am so thankful that a friend (thanks Susan!) plugged me into Coursera with its many, many FR*& University courses. And very very grateful for my husband, Jeff, who brings me to such wonderful places to get me away from the computer…
Still, I am presently enjoying myself ploughing through Modern and Contemporary American Poetry and reading poetry that I had only heard of.
It is stretching me and giving me some little self-discipline in paying attention and staying
organized somewhat less distract able.
In fact, I’m so thankful that I’m going to go waaaay out on a limb, like some trembling scarlet leaf, and share my first assignment with you. It is a short essay about Emily Dickinson‘s poem, “I taste a liquor never brewed” which for the sake of ease on your part I have included within this post.“I taste a liquor never brewed — From Tankards scooped in Pearl — Not all the Vats upon the Rhine Yield such an Alcohol! Inebriate of Air — am I — And Debauchee of Dew — Reeling — thro endless summer days — From inns of Molten Blue — When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee Out of the Foxglove’s door — When Butterflies — renounce their “drams” — I shall but drink the more! Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats — And Saints — to windows run — To see the little Tippler Leaning against the — Sun —
One cannot help but be struck with the resonance of this poem with transcendentalism. Other poets such as Ralph Waldo Emerson (who was a visitor in the home where Emily lived) were immersed in transcendentalism, but Emily dances on Ockham’s razor and seems reluctant to fling away her Calvinist Christian roots yet experiences God in the natural world with far greater joy and ease than within the confines of “original sin” which she eschews. Gerard Manly Hopkins manages to stun us with his visceral experience of God in nature in his poem, “God’s Grandeur” from whence I have taken my title for this essay.
This introverted (not ‘shy’) Enneagram Nine woman resists being sucked into the Calvinist vortex of Revival with its social seduction of both earthly acceptance and eternal life with a select few. It is possible to hear these personality traits and the panentheistic (note this is not Pantheistic) leanings of Universalism and Unitarianism which was heavily influenced by her contact with nature and her reading of Emerson and his ilk.
Imagine this young woman who had to leave school – which it would seem agreed with her – and remain in the confines of her home – though some say it was a lifestyle choice. Regardless of the reasons behind her choices, you can hear the abandon of a child set loose in many of her poems, this one in particular for me.
She whirls around with metaphors from both her social world and that of nature. For instance she compares herself as “inebriate of air” on “a liquor never brewed” with the “drunken bees”. Both risk being turned out of the foxgloves by developers who would tame and subdue the wildness of nature – and of Emily?
The “drams” refer to both the nectar sipped by butterflies and a small drink of ‘spirits’ sipped in the parlour by her friends and family after a hearty meal. All of us in both worlds gluttons and drunkards and hence kin of sorts.
The “molten blue” refers to the incredible intense blue of early Autumn and late summer skies – a contrast to that flat pale blue of winter when Emily with her frequent cough and kidney disease would have been ‘caged’ inside her home for fear of exacerbating her condition.
Imagine how free she felt then to be out under that open sky, clouds scudding overhead frolicking in a nearby meadow – a freedom she compares to that of the winged world of bees, butterflies, Seraph and Saints.
The world “reeling” connotes both a dizziness and a dance where logic is overtaken by sheer unadulterated joy and visceral sensation.
Picture the Seraphs swinging their “snowy hats” (halos perhaps?) in contrast to the theological reality of Seraphim and Cherubim who would have been understood to be fearsome and awesome Creatures dwelling in and protecting the place where God resides and not confused with cherubic little angels holding hearts on ribbons in some Valentine’s Day postcard.
Saints too dwell in the presence of God – a light that blazes so brightly that we would be consumed and blinded by it. Yet these heavenly Creatures run to see “the little Tippler – leaning against the Sun.” Could Sun be a play on Son an oblique reference to Jesus Christ? If so, we might imagine that God smiles on Emily as she cavorts with the Creatures of Creation and this is her inside joke with the Jesus who has vacated his “cross” to hold her up and support her – dare we say encourage
her – in her literary gambol.
 I spent two and a half years in a High Anglican seminary and another two years in Francis Sandy Theological Centre (a Christian theological seminary for those working with or of First Nation heritage). The information to which I refer was part of a number of conversations with professors of Old Testament and Theology.
 The word “seraph” literally means “burning ones”, they have six wings as described in Isaiah 6:2 “Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.” Please note that in the Hebrew Testament when the Seraphim, or anyone else for that matter, cover their feet they are actually covering their genitals. Feet is used as a euphemism in “polite” society. Devout Christians of this period were likely knowledgeable about this, hence this image is irreverent and a poke at the stodginess of Calvinism.