Whilst I was speaking at a CS Lewis conference in Amherst I had the opportunity to visit Emily Dickinson’s house, now beautifully preserved as the Emily Dickinson Museum. And so I came to stand in that ‘mighty room’ where all the poems were written, and there, plain and simple and strangely, paradoxically, small was her little desk: a small square writing table. I was filled with wonder at how much had flowed from so small a space, but then I thought about Dickinson’s characteristically concentrated and terse verse forms; those compact and concentrated little quatrains with the emphatic dashes linking and yet binding in the energy of her phrases, and it seemed to me the smallness of the desk was itself part of the form of the poetry, part of her gift.
Anyway the whole experience stirred me on to this: (as always you can hear me read it you click on the title or the play button)
So slight and spare a square of wood
Sustains so great a muse-
How plain and flat the door is made
To such a subtle maze.
Perhaps the limits of this desk-
-It’s strict restraint of space-
Informed the poet’s take and task
And turned restraint to grace.
Here in this narrow paradise
She pledged and kept her troth-
And trimmed her lamp and trained her verse –
And- slant-wise- told her truth.