I Told My Soul to Sing: Finding God with Emily Dickinson | Kristin LeMay | 291 pgs | Paraclete Press | 2013
Emily Dickinson, that most elusive of souls. At one moment you feel like you’ve touched hearts with hers and find a kindredness, at the next you feel baffled trying to figure if she really meant that heretical thing she just said. I feel wary of many works of criticism on Emily Dickinson because they easily reduce her to her eccentricities. What I found in Kristen LeMay’s treatise I Told My Soul to Sing is a willingness to walk with Emily soul to soul allowing her to be her most brilliant, human, spiritually sensitive, yet fearlessly questioning self.
LeMay focuses on the less mainstream spiritual poems that Emily wrote–as one might expect, not all of them Orthodox. She does not try to contextualize these works in a way that makes them less threatening, but she also sees what is often missed: Emily pulled her punches not out of resistance to God but out of the desire to be found by Him. The first poem that LeMay pulls apart has been ringing in my ears ever since:
I shall keep singing!
Birds will pass me
On their way to Yellower Climes—
Each—with a Robin’s expectation—
I—with my Redbreast—
And my Rhymes—
Late—when I take my place in summer—
But—I shall bring a fuller tune—
Vespers—are sweeter than Matins—Signor—
Morning—only the seed of Noon—
It voices Emily’s insistence that a full faith is not made up of one moment of eclipse that brings you from one side of Jordan to the other, but a life time of pursuit.
Each chapter reflects upon a hefty spiritual theme such as belief, prayer, or mortality parsing Emily’s words to probe these depths as only she can. This isn’t a work of pure criticism however, but a joining of the author’s experiences with Emily’s and inviting the reader to add their deepest doubts to the table, grabbling towards a more secure hope.
As a life-long appreciator of Dickinson’s poetry and faith, yet still lost in the 1000s of poems she offers, I gained from a closer look at these few dozen pieces that contexualize Emily in the contrariness of her person and illuminate the courage that makes her so unique. This book gave me the chance to live with her a little bit. Thanks Kristin LeMay, I feel as though we are kindred too.
Review copy courtesy of Paraclete Press