“A Goal”: A Year with Emily Dickinson


For the past few years, I’ve had a mostly-daily poetry reading ritual (“mostly-daily” because, well, life). I love books whose titles begin with A Year With… and end with a writer’s name–they’re an excellent way to read bits and bobs, discover new words and voices, become better acquainted with familiar ones. A few years ago, I read A Year with C. S. Lewis. In 2018 I read A Year with Rilke. One year I read through the complete works of John Keats.

“Soon it will be 2019!” I thought to myself not too long ago. “I will need a new Year With book! I will find a book by a woman!”

Gentle reader, I did not.

It turns out that A Year With… books by women who do not want to convert you to their religion are not to be had for love or money. I lamented this to a writer-friend, who proceeded to expend her considerable Google-fu in the search for such a volume. To our mutual dismay, we could find no Year with Emily Dickinson, or with Sylvia Plath or Elizabeth Barrett Browning or Marge Piercy or Eavan Boland.

We got kind of twitchy and annoyed about this, and then my friend suggested that we chart our own course and read our way through the works of a female poet and blog about it in case there’s anyone else out there who might also have felt the lack of a Year with Any Writer Who Would Have Been Considered the Property of a Husband or Father Had She Lived in the Eighteenth Century. 

With my characteristic foresight, I purchased two identical copies of Emily Dickinson poems on New Year’s Eve. Plenty of time to start reading them on New Year’s day…

Anyhow, without further ado, here is the poem I’ve chosen for today–the first day of a new year. I hadn’t read this one before, despite being a bit of a Dickinson groupie in college. You can read it here, but it’s even more fun to pop over to the Emily Dickinson Archive and see images of her drafts, in her hand.

Each Life converges to some Centre – 
Expressed – or still – 
Exists in every Human Nature 
A Goal – 

Embodied scarcely to itself – it
may be – 
Too fair 
For Credibility’s presumption 
To mar – 

Adored with caution – as a
Brittle Heaven – 
To reach 
Were hopeless, as the Rainbow’s Raiment 
To touch – 

Yet persevered toward – surer –
for the Distance – 
How high –
Unto the Saints’ slow 
diligence – 
The Sky – 

Ungained – it may be – by a
Life’s low Venture – 
But then – 
Eternity enable the endeavoring 
Again. ~Emily Dickinson, “Each life converges to some centre”

Happy New Year!

5 thoughts on ““A Goal”: A Year with Emily Dickinson

  1. I appreciate your insight that mirrors my search images of women travelers in their Third Act. Surely more women over the age of 24 travel globally. Thank you for this New Year’s gift and your blog that delights me upon arrival, Brenna.

    1. Thanks, Evelyn! I’m interested to hear more about what you’re doing. There is not nearly enough said about women over the age of 24 (i.e. most of us!!). As I get older I find myself constantly searching for women older than me to model all the rich possibilities of life.

  2. What a beautiful and hopeful (at least for Emily Dickinson) poem.to start the new year. Thanks for the find!

    1. Thanks for reading, Sybille! I did have to search a little bit before I found one that wasn’t about death…or snakes… But she does occasionally get optimistic! 😀

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