Poetry Friday: “How Frugal Is the Chariot That Bears the Human Soul”

It’s a Dickinson Day, which means that it’s a day for a poem that is compact and concise and full of a quiet passion. Go, Emily.

This poem struck a chord with me a few weeks ago, and I’m still thinking through Jen’s post at ShelfSpace and the idea of creating a culture of reading. Most people I know have a book in their backpack, purse, pocket, HandSpring, or Kindle wherever they go, but there are other people who always complain that they just don’t have time to read, or, see me reading and say they wish they had the time, or were as fast etc. etc. etc., blah blah. May I remind you, to paraphrase a friend, that the only thing we’re born knowing how to do is wee and wail? Everything else is a learned skill.

So, anyone can become a reader.

While there is indeed no frigate like a book, there are others of the poems of Emily Dickinson which I wish I had been taught in school. I sometimes wonder at the worn and frayed Dickinson pieces which are used and overused in the junior high and high school canon (and parroted to that dreadful yellow rose song*). Why do we do that to her? And to our poor kids!? I hope teachers are discovering more of her other work through fun outings like Poetry Friday, and expanding their student’s interest with words like this:

XXI. He ate and drank the precious Words

He ate and  

drank the

  precious Words –

His Spirit grew

robust –

He knew no more  

that he was poor;

Nor that his

frame was

  Dust –

He danced  

along the dingy


And this Bequest

of Wings

Was but a Book –

What Liberty

A loosened Spirit

  brings –

~ Emily Dickinson

This is the unedited version of the poem; you’ll notice that the lines are different from her usual stanzas, and it feels a little more organic to a jotting down in a journal type of thing. Also from Miss Emily’s journal: “Not alone we fly . . . he has obligation who has Paradise.”

And this is why we give books and talk about them and share them. We have Paradise. Everyone else should, too.

Happy Poetry Friday.
More poetry at Yat-Yee’s place.

* Really, it’s an awfully good way to memorize a poem, especially if you’re of a musical bent as I am. But… that song is an earworm of the most accurséd sort. Further, there are many Dickinson poems on which it doesn’t work! But few people ever get that far in her poetry to know that. Which is a shame.

About the author

tanita s. davis is a writer and avid reader who prefers books to most things in the world, including people. That's ...pretty much it, she's very boring and she can't even tell jokes. She is, however, the author of eight books, including Serena Says, Partly Cloudy, and the Coretta Scott King honored Mare's War. Look for the new MG, Go Figure, Henri Weldon in 1/2023 from Katherine Tegen Books.


  1. “wee and wail” So true. This reminds me of the Disco Mermaids post that Robin wrote recently about taking books and writing into juvenile jails where kids are starving for them.

  2. I’d never heard the “Yellow Rose” notion until my college roommate (an English major) shared it. (Her professor taught it to his class!) It took me a long time to read her work without hearing this dreadful song in my head. And you are right–many don’t fit rhythm.

  3. Hey! I’m in with Dickinson today, too. Great minds, etc.

    I love seeing it jotted like that. I’ll bet she wrote a lot of her poems that way, then had to decide where to add commas, and where her dashes, to get it to read. just. so.

  4. You’re right! Our students don’t get a wide enough exposure to Dickinson–or to other poets. Poetry is usually the stepchild of literature–in school and at home.

    I wrote a review of THE SUN IN ME, a children’s poetry anthology for Poetry Friday this week. In the book were two poems by Dickinson, “The Juggler of Day” and “The Snow,” which I can’t recall seeing in other poetry books for kids.

  5. Re: what you said about people who complain that they wish they had time to read–I always have the problem that I end up feeling guilty for how much time I make to read. Time I jealously hoard and scrounge…and sometimes, I even hide how much I read because I feel like I’m being overindulgent. I’m an addict!!

    I remember having an illustrated compilation of Emily Dickinson poems when I was a kid. There were a lot of the usual ones, but I still really loved that book.

  6. I love that, Tanita. And I completely agree with you about how anyone can become a reader. My Dad actually only recently started reading for pleasure, in his retirement (my Mom was the one leaving books all over the house). So it can happen. Here’s to a culture of reading.

  7. “Not alone we fly . . . he has obligation who has Paradise.”

    I’ve never had a “signature” for my emails until you gave me this. It’s what you said, about books and reading, but it’s why I teach as well.

    Thanks. (for the poem, too!!)

  8. Oh, no, I had never heard of the Yellow Rose notion to memorize Dickinson, either. I do hope I forget the concept before reading another poem of hers (though I can see where it could be helpful for memorization, until one has learned a bunch of the poems set to music and they get cut and pasted in one’s brain–oh, bother).

    But thanks for sharing the poem, Tadmack–it’s one of hers I didn’t know.

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