4.21.2009

Conversion of the Mind

Emily Dickinson's #593:

I think I was enchanted
When first a sombre Girl—
I read that Foreign Lady*
The Dark—felt beautiful—

And whether it was noon at night—
Or only Heaven—at Noon—
For very Lunacy of Light
I had not power to tell—

The Bees—became as Butterflies—
The Butterflies—as Swans—
Approached—and spurned the narrow Grass—
And just the meanest Tunes

That Nature murmured to herself
To keep herself in Cheer—
I took for Giants—practising
Titanic Opera—

The Days—to Mighty Metres stept—
The Homeliest—adorned
As if unto a Jubilee
'Twere suddenly confirmed—

I could not have defined the change—
Conversion of the Mind
Like Sanctifying in the Soul—
Is witnessed—not explained—

'Twas a Divine Insanity—
The Danger to be Sane
Should I again experience—
'Tis Antidote to turn—

To Tomes of solid Witchcraft—
Magicians be asleep—
But Magic—hath an Element
Like Deity—to keep—
Read it a few times. Let it settle in. The note in my Norton Anthology suggested that the Foreign Lady was probably Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This poem helps me approach the great question of pedagogy: can "enchantment" be taught?

Is "Conversion of the Mind" something you know about? I think I recognize the dilation of the senses described in the lines about the transfigured bees and butterflies. Is it something you can talk about? -- Dickinson sort of implies that she knows something about "Conversion of the Mind," but admits that she could not (could not? -- describing a past inability?) describe it. Is it described here? Finally: what is the difference between witnessing something and having it explained to you? I can teach about the chemical compound H20; but can I baptize?

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