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The wayward heart (04/20/2008)
By Janet Lewis Burns

This is my letter to the world,

That never wrote to me, -

The simple news that Nature told,

With tender majesty.

Her message is committed

To hands I cannot see;

For love of her, sweet countrymen,

Judge tenderly of me!

-Emily Dickinson

From the souls and minds of poets of the nineteenth century, compassion and angst ran rife throughout their well-sculpted stanzas. Wayward hearts sang, ranted, pined, broke, and yearned, while romantics swooned over their bittersweet utterances.

Though the word "wayward" isn't commonly used today, that doesn't equate to a lost emotion. Everyone seems to be yearning for something or someone, even in this new age spinning out of control. A wayward heart longs for hopeful new tomorrows and ruminates over yesterdays lost or foolishly squandered.

The wayward heart is fickle and poised to change, like winter into spring as crunching snow seeps into warmed-over earth beneath our reappearing shadows. Between the seasons there's a fine line drawn, separating an impending dread and escalating expectations, for we have been around long enough to know that heartache and loss will come sooner or later.

Apart from emotional stress, physical disturbances can be vexing as well. Wind is unsettling, that invisible force dropping from a distant chasm. Trees whip and bend, roof shingles flap, hair flies wildly across the face, and unsightly bits and pieces of paper and plastic skim across yards and open fields, as if to smite those who are so presumptuous as to claim control over and ownership of land and stream.

If any American poet had a wayward heart it would be Walt Whitman. His masterpiece "Leaves of Grass" was misunderstood and unaccepted in his time.

Whitman didn't live to realize that his work would finally emerge as a daringly new kind of poetry that became a major force in world literature.

As Whitman ranted with joyous freedom, his poems have become woven into the very fabric of the American character. His electrifying "Song of Myself" goes on for 52 mawkish stanzas. In 1855 the first edition of "Leaves of Grass" was published at his own expense. He would go on adding to it and revising it until his death in 1892. Such are the ways of the pining poet!

The name of poet Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886) is a legend now, but she passed away, an eccentric recluse and a spinster, in Amherst, Massachusetts, at the age of 56, before her sister discovered a box containing hundreds of her poems and had them published.

Friends contributed poems to the editors that Dickinson had sent to them. Her dramatic imagination weeps in longing and teases with whimsy, and is rapt with affection for nature and an extraordinary grasp of life and death. "Parting is all we know of heaven and all we need of hell," returns to memory.

I appreciate Dickinson's writings more now than a time when I was more intensely introspective and into poets Sylvia Plath, Mary Oliver, Rita Dove, Alice Walker, Stanley Kunitz, and Anne Sexton, with a boom box unreeling the likes of Randy Travis, Bob Seger, Dylan, John Prine, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, k.d.lang, Neil Diamond, and forever Willie! A puzzling mixture I cannot explain.

The wayward spirit roams with the seasons of one's life. The calendar has announced a much briefer spring, that ripening season when a young man's fancy turns to romance, and young ladies are maxing out their credit cards at Weight Watchers, going to the tanning spa, the gym, and shopping for the latest in swimsuit apparel (however brief).

Contentment, if it is to be realized at all, is taught by the unrest of wanderlust. As T.S. Eliot mused, "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."

Janet Burns is a resident of Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com



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