My daughter gave me a book of poems of Emily Dickinson. This morning I decided to read one. It just so happens that it was a good one for other writers.
In a Library.
A PRECIOUS, mouldering pleasure ‘t is
To meet an antique book,
In just the dress his century wore;
A privilege, I think,
His venerable hand to take,
And warming in our own,
A passage back, or two, to make
To times when he was young.
His quaint opinions to inspect,
His knowledge to unfold
On what concerns our mutual mind,
The literature of old;
What interested scholors most,
What competitions ran
When Plato was a certainty,
And Sophocles a man;
When Sappho was a living girl,
And Beatrice wore
The gown that Dante deified.
Facts, centuries before,
He traverses familiar,
As one should come to town
And tell you all your dreams were true:
He lived where dreams were sown.
His presence is enchantment,
You beg him not to go;
Old volumes shake their vellum heads
And tantalize, just so.
The truth is I don’t spend any time in a library anymore. If I do, it’s to go to the kid’s section. When I read her description, I picture the library at Hogwarts, frankly, which is a far cry from any library I have had the pleasure of frequenting.
I have to wonder if libraries like this even exist in the real world anymore. They do, of course, but they are likely to be private. The public library in New York is pretty nice, I guess. On the Sex and the City Movie (the first one, otherwise known as the “good” one), Carrie Bradshaw loved the library, described the smell of the books, and even scheduled her ill-fated nuptials there. From what I saw of the library in the movie, it looked more like what Dickinson described.
Now that I think about it, Dickinson likely was talking about a private library anyway. In her time, public libraries were likely few and far between. I’m not a historian and am even too lazy to look it up on Google, but my gut tells me her description was of a wealthy friend or colleague’s private collection.
However, the idea of charming libraries isn’t what spoke to me in this poem. What drew me to the poem was the idea she traveled to the time of the authors she mentions as she read. In that way, I relate. Stephen King in his book “On Writing” talks about the way we can communicate through time and space with our writing. I couldn’t agree more; this communication is one of the many reasons I love to read and to write.
As writers, it is our duty to transcend the now and reach forward to tell our stories to the future audience. What is on your screen today could grace the pages (or tablet screens) of your audience in the future. Ask yourself what you want to say to those readers. What is the picture you wish to paint for our time today, or the time of which you are writing? We paint these images with our words as only we can, with our unique perspective and interpretation. These images are our responsibility as artists.
May you communicate through time and space today with your audience, who may or may not be walking the Earth as we speak.