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Rossetti & Dickinson

‘If thou canst dive, bring up pearls. If thou canst not dive, collect amber. Though I fail to identify Paradisiacal “bdellium,” I still may hope to search out beauties of the “onyx stone.” A dear saint—I speak under correction of the Judgment of the Great Day, yet think not then to have my word corrected—this dear person once pointed out to me Patience as our lesson in the Book of Revelations. Following the clue thus afforded me, I seek and hope to find Patience in this Book of awful import. Patience, at the least: and along with that grace whatever treasures beside God may vouchsafe me. Bearing meanwhile in mind how “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” Now if any deign to seek Patience in my company, I pray them to remember that One high above me in the Kingdom of Heaven heads our pilgrim caravan.’ - Christina Rossetti, opening of The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on The Apocalypse (1892)

‘They jerked, zigzagged, advanced, retreated, he and his shadow posturing in ungainly, indissoluble harmony. He seemed exasperated, fascinated, desperately endeavouring and utterly helpless. What could it all mean? One meaning and one only suggested itself. That spider saw without recognizing his black double, and was mad to disengage himself from the horrible pursuing inalienable presence. To me this self-haunted spider … remains isolated irretrievably from his own horrible self.’ - Christina Rossetti, Time Flies (1885)

‘[poetry] exhibits, assuredly, wonderful efficacy in soothing men’s emotions and steadying the balance of their mind. For while we linger over language and rhythm, it occupies our minds and diverts them from cares and troubles: when, further, it gives play to Imagination, summons before us the past, forecasts the future, in brief, paints all things in the hues which the mind itself desires, we feel that it is sparing and merciful to the emotions that seethe within us, and that, for a while, we enjoy at least that solace which Dido once fruitlessly craved, to her woe: “a transient grace / To give this madness breathing-space.” [It is] a kind of medicine divinely bestowed upon man: which gives healing relief to secret mental emotion, yet without detriment to modest reserve.’ - John Keble, Lectures on Poetry, lecture 1

‘we should never talk of religion without thinking seriously; that such conversation should be affectionate, seasonable, and "not casting pearls before swine." And surely our blessed LORD'S example was entirely of this kind, what we might be allowed to call perfectly natural; drawing out from every passing event treasures of wisdom, and also from the secret thoughts of His hearers. But the great sacred lesson was often only implied, and which might occur afterwards on attentive recollection.’

‘In the second place, there is another circumstance, which would tend to produce the same effect, viz. that reserve, or re tiring delicacy, which exists naturally in a good man, unless injured by external motives, and which is of course the teaching of GOD through him. Something of this kind always accompanies all strong and deep feeling, so much so that indications of it have been considered the characteristic of genuine poetry, as distinguishing it from that which is only fictitious of poetic feeling. It is the very protection of all sacred and virtuous principle, and which, like the bloom which indicates life and freshness, when once lost cannot be restored.’ - Isaac Williams, Tract 80: On Reserve in Communicating Religious Knowledge (1838)

'If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way' - Emily Dickinson, recorded by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

I have written you a great many letters since you left me – not the kind of letters that go in post-offices – and ride in mail-bags – but queer – little silent ones – very full of affection – and full of confidence – but wanting in proof to you – therefore not valid – somehow you will not answer them – and you would paper, and ink letters – I will try one of those – tho’ not half so precious as the other kind. I have written those at night – when the rest of the world were at sleep – when only God came between us – and no one else might hear. No need of shutting the door – . . . for night held them fast in his arms that they could not interfere – and his arms are brawny and strong. Sometimes I did’nt know but you were awake – and I hoped you wrote with that spirit pen – and on sheets from out the sky.' - Emily Dickinson, letter to Jane Humphrey (1850)

'[The Transcendentalists] praised individualism, self-reliance, and racial and sexual equality. One of their most heretical beliefs was that an individual could attain sublime moments of grace by studying nature and becoming the mortal embodiment of God. The Transcendentalists believed that individuals could have a direct relationship with God without having to go through middlemen such as ministers or religious teachers.

Transcendentalism began as a religious movement within the Unitarian Church. Unlike the Puritans, who believed in original sin, a hostile world, and a predestined universe, the Unitarians believed that the world was basically good and that people could attain salvation through good works. Many Transcendentalists were practicing or former Unitarian ministers, including Emerson and Theodore Parker.

As the movement grew, it responded to the major national preoccupations of expansionism, industrialization, Abolition, women’s rights, and the Civil War. Like Dickinson, the Transcendentalists believed that the country’s new focus on profit was replacing personal craftsmanship and alienating people from their communities and natural surroundings. Transcendentalists sought to restore the vital connection between nature, people, and God.' - Wendy Martin, The Cambridge Introduction to Emily Dickinson (2007)