Poetry Review: “Fame is a Fickle Food” by Emily Dickinson

(photo by m.a.h. hinton)

(photo by m.a.h. hinton)

I have a memory of someone writing or telling a story about an experience they had had in an MFA writing class. When discussing favorite poets one day in class, the name of Emily Dickinson came up. The reaction from most of the class, maybe even the “instructor,” was one of mocking ridicule.  Several members of the group even began to “sing” some of her songs to the theme of Gilligan’s Island. The fact that it was her extraordinary musicality that allowed them to sing her poems was an irony apparently lost on the room full of future poetic giants

I do not think Dickinson would have been particularly surprised by such an occasion. For as today’s “crow poem” makes clear, no poet knew better how fickle fame truly is… particularly poetic fame. Some day – one can only hope – those MFA students will also know.

Dickinson is one of a handful of American poets who can truly be called great. Great is term overly used in our hyperbolic media age. In the world of art, which like history and theology should always be taking the long view, the adjective “great” belongs only to those artists and works of art that are essential. Only time and distance can distill the essential from the merely interesting.

On the first day of February, a crow poem by Emily Dickinson seems like just the thing.

Enjoy!

Fame is a Fickle Food
Fame is a fickle food
Upon a shifting plate
Whose table once a
Guest but not
The second time is set.

Whose crumbs the crows inspect
And with ironic caw
Flap past it to the
Farmer’s Corn –
Men eat of it and die.

 

Listening with a pencil and my ear, these are the lines I marked:

Whose crumbs the crows inspect
And with ironic caw
Flap past it to the
Farmer’s Corn –
Men eat of it and die.

 

As always with a short poem it is difficult to pick just a few lines. But the crow lines have come to my mind more than a few times over the last few weeks and so I choose these. Immortality vs. mortality…. the human condition… the poetic condition.

 

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