Monday, April 8, 2019

30 Great Poems for April, Day 8: “Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church” by Emily Dickinson

This one's public domain, so I'll put it right here.

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – (236)
by Emily Dickinson

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.

For many years, I had two poems taped to my refrigerator: this one by Dickinson, and Yeats’s “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” I lost them somewhere in the last move, but in those years when I saw them every morning, I memorized them both. (I think the only other poem I know by heart* is Anne Sexton’s “The Truth the Dead Know.”)

From my 20s through my 40s, I always kept big vegetable gardens, and this poem would often cycle through my head while I worked in the yard. Even now, whenever I read or say these lines, I can still feel the physical sensations of pruning shears in my hand, and pulling weeds, and shaking seeds from a paper packet, and stones digging painfully into my knees.

I had to look up what a bobolink was; my choristers were scrub jays and mockingbirds, but they were definitely citizens of my church, that place I spent my Sundays, where something was always restored to me—not just the miracles of life renewing and blooming, but also the intoxication of sun and rain, and the ancestral resonance of hard work. Plus the joke about clergymen talking too much—vintage Dickinson.

* A few years ago, I saw my good friend Lisa Allen Ortiz stand up at an open mic and recite "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" all the way through from memory. Now, that’s a long poem, and she pulled it off beautifully. I didn’t know her well at the time, but the mind and soul that would memorize that particular poem—I had to get to know her better.

[All through April, I’m featuring a favorite poem every day, along with a link where you can read it. Some are classics, some are newer, but each one is the kind of poem that I read, love, and immediately want to tell all my friends about. What better to time to share them than National Poetry Month?]

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