Crumbling Is Not an Instant’s Act

Day 180 of 365

I stole this title.

I rarely get to teach literature classes. I’m not very good at it because I rarely get to practice, but I’m getting better. I mainly teach writing at all college levels. It’s all pretty fascinating to me because I love studying writers. My freshman students are so much different than my graduate students, and it’s cool to me to get to see writing at these different levels. I’m pretty good at teaching writing, though I am always trying to learn more about how to help people write. I get hired a lot to build curriculum at colleges across the country.

But I am teaching a literature class now, and we are in a poetry unit. I used to hate poetry. I was scared of it. I had a teacher in college who taught the survey poetry class I had to take. He was a doozie. He would yell at you, “That’s an F answer” if you answered a question about a poem in a way that didn’t fit his interpretation of a poem. It was stressful. I ended up hating poetry. Classic.

I love poetry now. I am married to a poet. I run a journal. I get to read other poems all the time. I love some of them so much. I even wrote my first poem, which is a lot for someone who used to have poetry anxiety. I am glad poetry was saved for me. But I digress…

In the class I am teaching, the course requires Dickinson. I am teaching a few of her poems. One of them is “Crumbling is not an instant’s act”. It is out of copyright, so I am pasting it in full text below. When I teach this poem, I share with my students a beautiful essay on how many scientists use this poem to refer to what’s happening with climate change.

I love talking about this poem with my students, but it all got me to thinking a bit today about the crumbling and what it all might mean. I try not to think about it too deeply most days. I always need to live with some hope, though I worry about denial. Tonight was one of those nights that led to deep thinking as a parent. I don’t have any answers.

Here’s the poem. I hope you love it.

Crumbling is not an instant’s Act
A fundamental pause
Dilapidation’s processes
Are organized Decays —

‘Tis first a Cobweb on the Soul
A Cuticle of Dust
A Borer in the Axis
An Elemental Rust —

Ruin is formal — Devil’s work
Consecutive and slow —
Fail in an instant, no man did
Slipping — is Crashe’s law —

~Emily Dickinson, 1830-1886

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