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Fire

Emily Dickinson

undoubtedly the greatest American poet of the 19th century, wrote this about fire:

The smouldering embers blush —

Oh Heart within the Coal

Hast thou survived so many years?

The smouldering embers smile —

Soft stirs the news of Light

The stolid seconds glow

One requisite has Fire that lasts

Prometheus never knew —

Because starting a morning fire in the stove and fireplace was so much a part of Emily Dickinson’s daily life, it was a point of meditation for her.

I, too, have a wood stove and some fire-starting responsibilities, but mostly I use a match. One year, however, there was an ice storm followed by a sudden freeze. We had no electricity, because of the damage to lines during the ice storm, and the house became quite cold. My husband was away, and to keep the house bearable, we banked the fire each night before my daughters and I curled up to sleep together. In the morning, we had no need of matches, but coaxed the new fire from the old.

So what was it that Prometheus “never knew?”

Gerard Manley Hopkins

This great poet has the most wonderful verse about Mary:

The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe

Wild air, world-mothering air,

Nestling me everywhere,

That each eyelash or hair

Girdles; goes home betwixt

The fleeciest, frailest-flixed

Snowflake; that ’s fairly mixed

With, riddles, and is rife

In every least thing’s life;

This needful, never spent,

And nursing element;

My more than meat and drink,

My meal at every wink;

This air, which, by life’s law,

My lung must draw and draw

Now but to breathe its praise,

Minds me in many ways

Of her who not only

Gave God’s infinity

Dwindled to infancy

Welcome in womb and breast,

Birth, milk, and all the rest

But mothers each new grace

That does now reach our race—

Mary Immaculate,

Merely a woman, yet

Whose presence, power is

Great as no goddess’s

Was deemèd, dreamèd; who

This one work has to do—

Let all God’s glory through,

God’s glory which would go

Through her and from her flow

Off, and no way but so.

.

I say that we are wound

With mercy round and round

As if with air: the same

Is Mary, more by name.

She, wild web, wondrous robe,

Mantles the guilty globe,

Since God has let dispense

Her prayers his providence:

Nay, more than almoner,

The sweet alms’ self is her

And men are meant to share

Her life as life does air.

If I have understood,

She holds high motherhood

Towards all our ghostly good

And plays in grace her part

About man’s beating heart,

Laying, like air’s fine flood,

The deathdance in his blood;

Yet no part but what will

Be Christ our Saviour still.

Of her flesh he took flesh:

He does take fresh and fresh,

Though much the mystery how,

Not flesh but spirit now

And makes, O marvellous!

New Nazareths in us,

Where she shall yet conceive

Him, morning, noon, and eve;

New Bethlems, and he born

There, evening, noon, and morn—

Bethlem or Nazareth,

Men here may draw like breath

More Christ and baffle death;

Who, born so, comes to be

New self and nobler me

In each one and each one

More makes, when all is done,

Both God’s and Mary’s Son.

Again, look overhead

How air is azurèd;

O how! nay do but stand

Where you can lift your hand

Skywards: rich, rich it laps

Round the four fingergaps.

Yet such a sapphire-shot,

Charged, steepèd sky will not

Stain light. Yea, mark you this:

It does no prejudice.

The glass-blue days are those

When every colour glows,

Each shape and shadow shows.

Blue be it: this blue heaven

The seven or seven times seven

Hued sunbeam will transmit

Perfect, not alter it.

Or if there does some soft,

On things aloof, aloft,

Bloom breathe, that one breath more

Earth is the fairer for.

Whereas did air not make

This bath of blue and slake

His fire, the sun would shake,

A blear and blinding ball

With blackness bound, and all

The thick stars round him roll

Flashing like flecks of coal,

Quartz-fret, or sparks of salt,

In grimy vasty vault.

So God was god of old:

A mother came to mould

Those limbs like ours which are

What must make our daystar

Much dearer to mankind;

Whose glory bare would blind

Or less would win man’s mind.

Through her we may see him

Made sweeter, not made dim,

And her hand leaves his light

Sifted to suit our sight.

Be thou then, O thou dear

Mother, my atmosphere;

My happier world, wherein

To wend and meet no sin;

Above me, round me lie

Fronting my froward eye

With sweet and scarless sky;

Stir in my ears, speak there

Of God’s love, O live air,

Of patience, penance, prayer:

World-mothering air, air wild,

Wound with thee, in thee isled,

Fold home, fast fold thy child.

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