Brain Pickings

Hand-Lettered Illustrations of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry

by

“Tell all the Truth but tell it slant . . .The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind”

As a lover of literature-inspired art and a longtime admirer of San Diego artist David Clemesha’s whimsical hand-lettered illustrations of classic nursery rhymes, I was utterly delighted to see Clemesha extend his signature style to literature for grown-ups, turning to the poetry of recent Literary Jukebox favorites Emily Dickinson, William Blake, and T. S. Eliot. Here are Clemesha’s takes on Dickinson, based on texts from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.

The Soul has Bandaged moments –
When too appalled to stir –
She feels some ghastly Fright come up
And stop to look at her –

Salute her — with long fingers –
Caress her freezing hair –
Sip, Goblin, from the very lips
The Lover — hovered — o’er –
Unworthy, that a thought so mean
Accost a Theme — so — fair –

The soul has moments of Escape –
When bursting all the doors –
She dances like a Bomb, abroad,
And swings upon the Hours,

As do the Bee — delirious borne –
Long Dungeoned from his Rose –
Touch Liberty — then know no more,
But Noon, and Paradise –

The Soul’s retaken moments –
When, Felon led along,
With shackles on the plumed feet,
And staples, in the Song,

The Horror welcomes her, again,
These, are not brayed of Tongue –

The Railway Train

I like to see it lap the Miles -
And lick the Valleys up –
And stop to feed itself at Tanks –
And then — prodigious step

Around a Pile of Mountains –
And supercilious peer
In Shanties — by the sides of Roads –
And then a Quarry pare

To fit its sides
Complaining all the while
In horrid — hooting stanza –
Then chase itself down Hill –

And neigh like Boanerges –
Then — punctual as a Star
Stop — docile and omnipotent
At its own stable door –

The sky is low, the clouds are mean,
A travelling flake of snow
Across a barn or through a rut
Debates if it will go.

A narrow wind complains all day
How some one treated him;
Nature, like us, is sometimes caught
Without her diadem.

Did the harebell loose her girdle
To the lover bee,
Would the bee the harebell hallow
Much as formerly?

Did the paradise, persuaded,
Yield her moat of pearl,
Would the Eden be Eden,
Or the earl an earl?

To fight aloud is very brave,
But gallanter, I know,
Who charge within the bosom,
The cavalry of woe.

Who win, and nations do not see, 5
Who fall, and none observe,
Whose dying eyes no country
Regards with patriot love.

We trust, in plumed procession,
For such the angels go,
Rank after rank, with even feet
And uniforms of snow.

I did not reach Thee
But my feet slip nearer every day
Three Rivers and a Hill to cross
One Desert and a Sea
I shall not count the journey one
When I am telling thee.

Two deserts, but the Year is cold
So that will help the sand
One desert crossed-
The second one
Will feel as cool as land
Sahara is too little price
To pay for thy Right hand.

The Sea comes last — Step merry, feet,
So short we have to go —
To play together we are prone,
But we must labor now,
The last shall be the lightest load
That we have had to draw.

The Sun goes crooked —
That is Night
Before he makes the bend.
We must have passed the Middle Sea-
Almost we wish the End
Were further off —
Too great it seems
So near the Whole to stand.

We step like Plush,
We stand like snow,
The waters murmur new.
Three rivers and the Hill are passed —
Two deserts and the sea!
Now Death usurps my Premium
And gets the look at Thee.

God made a little gentian;
It tired to be a rose
And failed, and all the summer laughed.
But just before the snows
There came a purple creature
That ravished all the hill;
And summer hid her forehead,
And mockery was still.
The frosts were her condition;
The Tyrian would not come
Until the North evoked it.
‘Creator! shall I bloom?’

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant –
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind –

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