07 September 2009

Emily Dickinson on the Perception of Time and the Infinite


Forever – is composed of Nows –
‘Tis not a different time –
Except for Infiniteness –
And Latitude of Home –

From this – experienced Here –
Remove the Dates – to These –
Let Months dissolve in further Months –
And Years – exhale in Years

Without Debate – or Pause --
Or Celebrated Days –
No different Our Years would be
From Anno Domini’s –

Emily Dickinson did some seriously playful thinking about our perceptions of time, place and the infinite. To grasp infinity (and ultimately the divine), says the poet, we must set aside what we use to count and quantify time, even holidays. In doing so, we are compelled to experience the now, being present in this moment.

"Forever-- is composed of Nows--" Dickinson writes. Ram Dass would approve, no doubt! Yogis strive for such mindful presence in practice, finding contentment, stillness, peace there, in that one moment, without the mind fast forwarding to the next moment. In that one moment, we experience all moments, eternity.

Another aspect of this poem that makes it appealing for a yogic reading is Dickinson's use of breath imagery, "And Years -- exhale in Years." Transcendent breath carries us outside of time.

As I consider this poem, I am also struck by the irony of my absolute dependence on things linear to communicate what I think about it. My text unfolds in time and place. The software dates my blog posts. I think how sly Dickinson is, how she knows full well that we can't really give it up, this illusion of linear time, and yet, she invites her reader, for just a moment, to consider what it might be like to be here now.