Poetry Friday: Maurice Sendak and Emily Dickinson

Poetry Friday is hosted by Irene at Live your Poem
We lost Maurice Sendak on Tuesday.  I was in the midst of grading essays when my husband emailed me the New York Times article, and I was immediately filled with such a deep sense of sorrow and loss.   It didn’t take me long to find my classroom copy of “Where The Wild Things Are”, and settle in to read it once again, just as a way of saying, “Thank you, Mr. Sendak, thank you.”  I have so many memories of that book, in particular.  My son Ben was Max redux…it was the book he instantly related to and remains devoted to (that, and “Catcher in the Rye” – naturally!).  I was still thinking about Sendak while I was driving home later that day, when I heard Terry Gross announce that she was going to spend her entire radio program remembering this brilliant writer and artist.  So, for the next hour, I drove around listening to this:
Sendak, it turns out, had lost his faith in the divine many years ago. His idea of divinity, he shared with Teri, was Melville, Keats, Shakespeare, Mozart, and Dickinson.  Especially Dickinson.  I wonder which of Emily’s poems he loved  best….especially in those last years, when so many of the people he loved most passed away.  His last words to Terry were powerful:

I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more. … What I dread is the isolation. … There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.

Here are two Emily Dickinson poems I thought Maurice Sendak might have favored:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant — by Emily Dickinson
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

There is another sky by Emily Dickinson
There is another sky,
Ever serene and fair,
And there is another sunshine,
Though it be darkness there;
Never mind faded forests, Austin,
Never mind silent fields –
Here is a little forest,
Whose leaf is ever green;
Here is a brighter garden,
Where not a frost has been;
In its unfading flowers
I hear the bright bee hum:
Prithee, my brother,
Into my garden come!


11 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Maurice Sendak and Emily Dickinson

  1. Thanks so much for this, Tara. The interview with Terry Gross, especially the part you quoted, was sad, but so honest and true. The Dickinson poems are sublime :).

  2. I heard that interview one evening Tara, really special, as are most of the interviews from Terry Gross. Sendak gave us such a gift. Like other really special people, his mark is made and we'll be forever grateful, as will those in the future, like my grandchildren who really don't know him yet, but certainly will. I love that second one by Dickinson, "Here is a little forest,/Whose leaf is ever green". Perfect!

  3. Tara, I missed that Terry Gross interview so I'm glad you quoted from it. I also wonder what his favorite Dickinson poems were… I really love the first one.

  4. Tara, thanks for sharing this beautiful tribute. I remember hearing that interview when it aired – I just stopped in my tracks and was mesmerized, and it's stuck with me that his last picture book (Bumble-Ardy) he created WHILE he was in the midst of terrible loss. I think he would love these Dickinson poems you chose.

  5. Thanks for this tribute to Sendak. I saw a link to this NPR program elsewhere but haven't made the time to listen to it yet. It sounds wonderful. I think Terry Gross is a good interviewer.

  6. Tara, my 15 y.o. son just read Catcher in the Rye for the first time. HE LOVED IT. And you mentioning it with Where the Wild Things Are reminds me to put that book in his hands too. I love too how your mind leapt to Emily. Thank you so much for sharing.

  7. i grew up with the book Where the Wild things are…his passing def touched me…and nice hit on the Emly poems, i think he just might…we will be honoring Sendak today at dversepoets.com after 3pm with poems in his honor….

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