If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.

Emily Dickinson

She didn’t go far.

She travelled outside her home county of Amherst, Massachusetts just once. Later, she withdraw from society completely, often choosing to speak to visitors through a door rather than face-to-face. When her father died she listened to his funeral from her room upstairs.

And yet.

Emily Dickinson left behind a vast trove of the most penetrating, insightful, and beautiful poetry the world has ever seen. She enjoyed numerous deep and rich relationships through her prolific correspondence. And she loved. She loved truthfully and fearlessly as was her wont. And even more, she was loved in return, in a time and a place which neither acknowledged nor supported her love.

Emily Dickinson didn’t go far.

She went deep.

When the pearldiver descends into the cool dark of the ocean she must use breath techniques to equalise the pressure in her ears. She must strive to keep her distance from the ever pulling currents. And she must confine her thought to one aim and one aim alone: the finding and the gathering of pearls from the great below.

CONFINEMENT noun

/kənˈfaɪn.mənt/

: a situation in which a person or animal is kept somewhere, usually by force (from the Medieval Latin confinare ‘to restrict within bounds / keep within limits’).

The word ‘confinement’ carries negative connotations, like a raven perching on a priests shoulder.

And yet.

Like the parable of the old man who sits on the same box day after day begging for silver only to find at the end of his life that his box was filled with gold, confinement and solitude can contain riches and bounties undreamt of by those too habitually busy to consider the offerings proffered in her outstretched hands.

The chance to be still. The chance to reflect. The chance to go deeper. These chances are important. But, like many other important things, they are not given the attention they deserve during the repeated and repeating tornado of the usual day-to-day grind.

But these are not usual days, are they.

Meaningful things take time. It takes time to process. Time to make. It takes time to wonder.

I’ve been wondering a lot lately. I wonder what life will look like after this global pandemic. I wonder how it will change us, for the ill, and for the good.

I wonder what Emily Dickinson would have thought of ‘social-distancing’ or ‘self-isolation’.

I wonder if she’d even have noticed.

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.

Emily Dickinson

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74 thoughts on “ The Hidden Treasures of Solitude ”

  1. Sorry James,
    Missed this reply. I also get up quite early & do Abit of head work & house work & decluttering, shop’s twice weekly n walk outside but not yet started my excercise routine.
    Hope you are well 🙏❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is so lovely to read this, I was just reading a book about Emily, The Lady In White. I am struck by the paradox she was, how the grandest genius of her words was in her full occupation of the infinitesimal. The sharper her focus, the more expansive her insights. Could you imagine ever having met her? I wonder what it would have felt like to have looked upon her, to have her have looked at you with those endless dark hallway eyes…. Just a treasure. Please take good care, James. <3

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thankyou so very much for this – it is lovely to hear your voice.
      When talking about songwriting, Bob Dylan said that the more particular the detail, the more universal.
      And I would love to have met her. While I was researching this piece, I found out that, if you pay $200 you can spend an hour in her room in Amherst. Which I would fully pay. If it wasn’t for the burgeoning apocalypse I would consider booking my flights.
      How about you? What do you think meeting her would have been like?
      I hope you are keeping well. How are you finding this all? Are you doing ok?
      Big love, big hug,
      – J
      P.S. Who are your favourite poets to read?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are welcome, my friend, I have missed speaking with you. You are very kind to entertain my imaginings of meeting a ghost, I can’t say why but something about Emily Dickinson inhabits me. I have imagined encountering her many times, somehow that she would be so silent as to silence everything else but the silence, making it loud, alert, and all encompassing. Would she have been the only person ever to exist on this earth who could be haunting and warm and small and vast all at once. Would I be frightened of her or comforted by her or both or neither. I think I would have been transfixed, transformed, you know? Even without a word. But then, maybe I would have felt like an intruder, trespassing inside a sacred realm where I don’t belong. If we ever crawl out of this alive and you go to Amherst, tell me, I’ll meet you there. As for me, I am okay. One bizarre day at a time, as it were. I could go on and on about the state of the world around us but I’ve taken up more space here in your space than I should…. Big love, and big hug, too. If you ever need to chat, I’m here for you. Poets…. I’m scanning my bookshelf this minute and I can tell you Joy Harjo’s How We Became Human and Rilke’s Book of Hours are both magnificent, but most guttingly gorgeous is Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds. It killed me and I died. I then bought his On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and I am too terrified of the power I know it will have over me to actually read the damn thing. xx 

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I have missed speaking with you too (did I say that already? ;-)
          I think that you would have more in common with Emily Dickinson than you think. Lovers of language are never so far apart ( and she apparently had a wicked sense of humour). Have you read Maria Popova’s ‘Figuring’? I think you would like it, especially the Dickinson chapters.
          I will, one hundred percent meet you at Amherst. This is now set in stone. How beautiful that would be.
          There is all the space you want in my space, and you are welcome anytime.
          Thankyou so very much for your recommendations, I am adding them to my list. Rilke I have read of course, but the other two are new, which is a real delight.
          I didn’t realise how much I’d missed your voice. Your words made me smile.
          Keep yourself safe, and I’ll meet you in Amherst xx

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Oh, do say it again. :) You and your book recommendations, you’ll have me buried. But I adore you and it can’t be helped. I have heard this, too, about Ms. Dickinson’s devilish sense of humor. How fantastic is that. And it is true as you say, lovers of the word are ever kindred. So it shall be. Amherst in stone, and it’s already so beautiful in my mind. You make me smile, J. Just like I remembered. Please take good care in these mad days. x

            Liked by 1 person

  3. James, I have enjoyed your post and taken the liberty of quoting from it, and linking to it in a post I have just written. I hope you are OK with this? You say things so well I hope others get the opportunity to read your post.
    Wic

    Like

  4. I almost missed this post, James! My neighbour above me called, it was lovely to hear his voice…we chatted about how our world is reshaping itself…he made me smile when he said, “I’m OK, I’m a solitary cat”! I can be, too but appreciate getting out there and then coming home to my tea and books.
    I love the poetry of Emily Dickinson and love your ending to your very meditative prose, “I wonder if she’d even have noticed”…there’s no fear if you’re willing to go deep.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there,
      It is good to connect with people, especially now. Thankyou so much for your beautiful message.
      I was thinking of you the other day, I know how much you love to go out – I do too – but at the moment it seems, the world has other ideas.
      At least there is still tea / coffee.
      And books. There is always books.
      Keep in touch. I’ll be posting a lot more on the site now, and you know where I am should you need me.
      Be well – J x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for thinking of me, it means a lot! It’s wonderful to get an echo back in this vacuum we find ourselves in…I try to walk daily in quiet spaces but so is everyone else, I can see that we are all trying to keep a safe distance, there are a lot of beautiful smiles to look upon from 6 feet apart!
        I do know where you are and almost reached out the other day but love to read your words and find you here.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. My neighbor told me of a quip he’d seen on social media that went something like this: ‘Introverts! Now is the time to text your extrovert friends and tell them how to manage!’ May you enjoy health and good community, James, near and far. May we all do so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much. I think the same thing can be said of freelancers, entrepreneurs, and independent artists – we are used to the grind, and used to the hustle.
      Thanks so much for your comment. Have a good one, – J

      Like

  6. Oh James,
    As ever a beautiful, up lifting post. Those quotes of Emily’s I will copy in my journal.
    One week yesterday evening I prematurely returned from The Gambia, West Africa (due return date 6.4). It was a hurried departure, only deciding on Sunday night to enquire if any space on Monday’s weekly flight. Gambia was virus free (now 2 cases) so balanced probabilities of coming there & quarantine on arrival home or flights stopping. Last flight was yesterday 🙏.
    Although keeping up to date on tv there, was surreal returning here. You could hear a pin drop whichwas nice following a visit to what can be a very noisy country.
    Going into town & the shops seemed to ground me.
    In a strange way the situation has helped me to readjust and I welcome this time of reflection & catching up with life which the usual humdrum prevents me doing.
    Nearly a blog post there James!
    Hope you are keeping well & fellow bloggers.
    Marvellous platform, thanks❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thankyou right back. I love your blog post.
      I’m glad you are home and safe.
      I feel the same way. Any situation is useful, if you look at it right ;-)
      Thanks for reading, and for writing to me. Have a great day,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I too believe that the pendulum that has for decades swung much too far in the direction of greed, now and me first is busy resetting to an era of generosity, calmness and community.
    There is no denying the horror that has befallen the world but, once all is said and done, perhaps we will find a silver lining remains.
    Wishing you all peace.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Let’s hope for this. My Grandmother used to say ‘hope for the best, and prepare for the worst’.
      So maybe we should do this too.
      I really think that this is going to shake a lot of shit loose.
      Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to comment, it means a lot.
      Be well, stay clean, speak soon,
      – J

      Liked by 2 people

  8. It is a time to reset, I think. And it is a time to show compassion. We have the luxury of isolating ourselves, and yet, our friends and families are just a screen and/or a click away. For me, it feels as if we are all closer than ever because, for once, we are all experiencing the same. We are not alone. Sure, our ways of coping are different, but we are all in the same boat. It is a moment of uncertainty, and the economy will suffer (is already suffering). No one knows what will happen, but I firmly believe that something good will come from this. Sometimes, all it takes is slowing down to reassess our values and see what is important. 💜

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I agree with all of this. It is rare that everybody is on the same journey, but here we are, on our shared ball of rock, all fighting the same battles.
      We are, as you say, all in the same boat.
      I believe that good will come of this too. How could it not?
      Thankyou so much for reading my post and for taking the time to comment, it means the world to me.
      Stay safe, and keep fighting the good fight.
      Speak soon,
      – J

      Liked by 3 people

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