Poet's Pick April 6
Emily Dickinson: #894
("The Overtakelessness of Those")

Selected by Janet Holmes
National Poetry Month 2017

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Janet Holmes's Poetry Month Pick, April 6, 2017

#894 ("The Overtakelessness of Those")
by Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)

The Overtakelessness of Those
Who have accomplished Death —
Majestic is to me beyond
The Majesties of Earth —
The Soul her "Not at Home"
Inscribes opon the Flesh,
And takes a fine aerial gait
Beyond the Writ of Touch. 


* Janet Holmes Comments:
Dickinson's poetry was some of the first I ever read, since 'I'm nobody! Who are you?' was included in a book I was given as a child, but only as an adult have I appreciated her rebelliousness and innovations. I love so much about this poem — and about Dickinson in general: her flouting of exact rhyme, particularly in the final quatrain, where we least expect it; her brilliant neologism 'overtakelessness,' which almost enacts its meaning (try to say it before it gets away!); her odd, but perfect, usages of 'accomplished' and 'Writ'; and the metrical irregularity of the second stanza, which makes quite clear that something so quiet as a breath is noticeably absent. The legal meaning of 'writ' is necessary to emphasize the soul's disdain for earthly laws (and the flesh) as she daintily goes about her own business; still, the stanza evokes a female writer who 'inscribes' and is surely aware of the consequences of her aesthetic defiance, having 'writ-ten' herself. Most satisfyingly, I love seeing her break the basic rules I was given as a beginning poet: 'No abstractions,' and its underlined elaboration, 'Don't use the word "soul"'!

There are variants of this poem; this version is the one sent to Susan Dickinson.

Janet Holmes:
Janet Holmes is a professor in the creative writing program at Boise State University. Her most recent book, The ms of my kin, is an erasure of The Poems of Emily Dickinson. Her other books include F2F, Humanophone, The Green Tuxedo, and The Physicist at the Mall.

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