I understand the title of this post is a bit provocative, but it got you here, right? Before you jump off this post believing it’s click bait, just keep reading to find out what Danica McKellar looks like now… She played Winnie Cooper on the popular TV series The Wonder Years, and if you haven’t seen the show then I’ve probably strung this click bait joke on a little too long. To be clear, this opening paragraph is a sad attempt at a joke, not actual click bait. What kind of fish would you hope to catch with click bait anyway? Catfish? OK, I’ll stop. Comedy is not my profession for a reason.
Now some of you who are familiar with Emily Dickinson’s poetry probably read the title of this post and understood that “Wild Nights!” is in reference to one of her poems. If that’s exactly what you thought prior to reading that last sentence then you deserve a cookie, but you’ll have to turn your cookie setting on, I’m told, to receive it (guess I’m not done with the jokes). Honestly, I wish they would use some other word besides “cookie” to describe the information websites store on my computer. I understand that internet cookies are generally OK, and can actually be quite helpful, but an internet cookie is nothing like a real cookie. For one thing, internet cookies remember that you “accidentally” clicked on the “Where are they now? Cast of The Wonder Years” link, whereas real cookies don’t care. Give me a pack of Double Stuf Oreos and I’ll forget all about Winnie Cooper… maybe. Hey, childhood TV crushes are hard to leave behind.
If you’ve lasted this far then you either know me or are hanging onto the hope that I will turn this post around and discuss something relating to Emily Dickinson. Well, be of good cheer for that has been my destination all along (I say after spending some time in a European traffic circle like Clark Griswold (maybe need more current pop culture references)).
Emily Dickinson is one of the most beloved poets in American literature. As one who wrote with such insight and passion, you would think her life was full of adventure, canvassing the world in pursuit of meaning. In reality, her life was relatively uneventful. She was born in Amherst, Massachusetts and never left. The house where she was raised is the house where she would stay until the end of her life. This wasn’t the result of poor upbringing, she had a good childhood, received a good education, and enjoyed many of the pure delights of social life. Over time, she gradually fell into reclusion. There were many reasons for why she secluded herself from the rest of society, which I won’t get into here, but if you would like to know more then check out this video.
The form of Emily’s poems almost mirror some of her baking recipes, especially with her use of hyphens. While we don’t know for sure whether that was intentional, this “recipeic” form sort of explains the direct and concise nature of the language in her poetry. Each word bears weight and meaning, and is precisely placed. One of her poems that I really enjoy reading, and will spend the remainder of this post discussing, is “Wild nights – Wild nights!”. In it, the poet expresses her desire for the uncharted and untamed “Sea” of her beloved, but also resigns herself to the secluded lifestyle she has chosen.
Though the choice has been made, it cannot take away the intense longing that is felt, and so there is this lamenting sigh in the first stanza.
Wild nights - Wild nights! Were I with thee Wild nights should be Our luxury!
The words “were” and “should” are what signal lament. The poet and her beloved are separated, preventing these “wild nights.” What exactly is keeping them apart is addressed in the next stanza.
Futile - the winds - To a Heart in port - Done with the Compass - Done with the Chart!
Here we have the metaphor of a sailing vessel at port to represent the poet’s choice to remain in her state rather than risk getting lost in her passion. The winds are what power the ship and move it towards its desired destination, and they are futile, or useless, to a heart that is determined to stay. This decision is made clearer as she rejects the instruments that would guide her in her pursuits.
At this point, you think the desire would fade away. Instead, even in her own paradise the poet longs for the “Sea” as the poem concludes.
Rowing in Eden - Ah - the Sea! Might I but moor - tonight - In thee!
As I sit with this poem, one question comes to my mind: what good is a ship at port if it never ventures out to sea? Ports are for loading and unloading, rest and safety. It’s the sea that gives our ships purpose. For a recluse who would write vividly about her own death, the meaning of the “Heart in port” and the longed for “Sea” might extend beyond romance. The desire could be for life itself.
We work diligently to carve out our own utopia equipped with every accouterment and creature comfort desired. Our world exist within this constructed bubble, and we dread the day when it might pop. So, we keep ourselves fortified from the unknown outside, leaving nothing to chance. The only problem is that our hearts remember what we were made for, and we feel this pull towards a distant song, and our attempts to quell the voice only makes our paradise feel more like a prison, and the great, mysterious “Sea” – freedom.
The poem is the song, Nature (represented by “Sea”) the voice, and the readers, along with the poet, are those rowing about in their own “Eden,” content in port until they’re caught in the spell. This reminds me of a scene from The wind in the willows. Mole and Rat were rowing up the river in search of little Portly, Otter’s son, when at dawn, Rat heard this distant piping, and as they got closer, it lead them to Portly. This excerpt is when Rat first heard it.
“Rat, who was in the stern of the boat, while Mole sculled, sat up suddenly and listened with a passionate intentness. Mole, who with gentle strokes was just keeping the boat moving while he scanned the banks with care, looked at him with curiosity. ‘It’s gone!’ sighed the Rat, sinking back in his seat again. ‘So beautiful and strange and new! Since it was to end so soon, I almost wish I had never heard it. For it has roused a longing in me that is pain, and nothing seems worth while but just to hear that sound once more and go on listening to it for ever. No! There it is again!’ he cried, alert once more. Entranced, he was silent for a long space, spellbound.”Grahame, Kenneth. The wind in the willows. Simon & Schuster, 1989.
This song cannot be manufactured or manipulated. It is as wild as the wood, illusive as the white stag, and, like a good poem, you don’t catch it, rather, it catches you. Whether we let ourselves be captured, or resist, is up to us. Emily’s poem contains both responses, and maybe “wild nights” could be a reference to something like the Great Snow Dance from C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair. The Great Snow Dance was performed by fauns, dryads, dwarfs, and musicians to celebrate the first moon lit night with snow on the ground. The dance and the music is described as being both wild and beautiful.
Dancing, singing, playing music, painting, and writing are some of the ways we express ourselves creatively and connect with the greater Muse that captures our imaginations. One of the worst things we can do is believe that we lack skill, or talent, and decide to leave art to the “professionals.” Yes, there are people who have a natural gifting in the arts, and I don’t believe that everyone should possess the exact same ability. Rather, I believe it is the job of the strong to help the weak flourish, to build them up. This is why I started the Deer Tracks Podcast, to provide encouragement and foster a community where people of all stripes, at all levels, would engage in the creative process, and in doing, begin to connect with the wild and beautiful song that resonates in the depth of our being.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Share in the comments section below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org