Saturday, July 18, 2009

She dealt her pretty words like Blades

I'm working on some poems that relate to tarot imagery, specifically the suit of swords, and was struck by this Dickinson poem I just rediscovered for myself: 

She dealt her pretty words like Blades --
How glittering they shone -- 
And every One unbared a Nerve
Or wantoned with a Bone --  

She never deemed -- she hurt -- 
That -- is not Steel's Affair --
A vulgar grimace in the Flesh -- 
How ill the Creatures bear -- 

To Ache is human -- not polite -- 
The Film upon the eye 
Mortality's old Custom -- 
Just locking up -- to Die.

Lots of different ways of reading the poem, of course, but
I'm thinking about poetry as a blade, the words that cut
and slice, get to the bones of the matter, the painful
heart of things we often don't wish to see.  

She also articulates, in this poem, the essential duality of 
the sword as symbol, that it is both a weapon and a tool. 
An instrument of pain, but also a metaphor for analysis, 
the cutting necessary to see.

"She never deemed--she hurt--/That--is not Steel's 
affair--," swords are intellect, air, they are not useful
in the world of feelings, you don't use a sword, either
literally or metaphorically, if you're afraid you might
hurt someone. Something you have to put aside 
when you put on the costume of the queen of swords.

She seems to sympathize, if we read the poem with 
an ironic tone, with those hurt by word-blades; 
society, she suggests, has no tolerance for those 
who hurt and own their hurts in public. Better, 
in this society of swords, to lock ourselves up 
(in a real or imagined coffin?) and "die."

So interesting, too, though it has nothing to do 
with the poem, in which she uses the word
"blades" instead of "swords," how the word 
word is buried in the word sword.


  1. Sheryl,this is a wonderful poem that you've "rediscovered" and I enjoyed your reading of it as well. I am very interested to learn more about the poems you are working on related to tarot imagery. What sparked your interest in tarot imagery?

  2. What a lovely reading of this gorgeous poem. Thank you for sharing it. A series of tarot poems by you sounds like something to be eagerly awaited!