How to Read a Poem: Bill Murray Feat. Emily Dickinson

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The simplest definition of poetry is that it is what poets write,” Mortimer Adler wrote in his book about the most important life skill that our schools absolutely fail to teach us. “That seems obvious enough, and yet there are those who would dispute the definition.”

Among those who oppose such simplicity, Adler notes, are people who are convinced that poetry is something more inexplicable and hard to define. It is, they say, a “spontaneous overflowing of the personality” which is not strictly limited to the written word but can also be expressed as a physical action, musical sound, or just a feeling. And I agree that there is something beautiful to such a description. Indeed, one can’t deny that the poet goes deep down inside to reach the mythical “well of creation” from which poems spring into this world.

The Poet by Picasso.

On the flip side, however, such an approach makes most people believe that they can’t read or comprehend modern poetry. They think it is often obscure and demands too much “work” on their part. While it is true that a good poem can be re-read and thought about for the rest of one’s life, it also doesn’t have to be complicated.

We can analyze the poem word by word, study the life of the poet, the historical context, philosophical influences, or we can just read the poem while enjoying the flow of words and the vivid imagery it conjures up in our minds. This is exactly what Bill Murray does in the video below when — as a thank-you to the people who built Poets House — he reads “I Dwell in Possibility” included in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Please enjoy!

I DWELL IN POSSIBILITY
by Emily Dickinson and Bill Murray

I dwell in Possibility —
A fairer House than Prose —
More numerous of Windows —
Superior — for Doors —

Of Chambers as the Cedars —
Impregnable of Eye —
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky —

Of Visitors — the fairest —
For Occupation — This —
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise —

Complement “I Dwell in Possibility,” an indispensable part of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, with the video about why Bill Murray gets up to recite poetry every year:

I used to be able to look in the mirror and see who’s there. Sometimes, it’s a reminder that there’s no one there at all. And sometimes, there’s someone who gives me confidence. — Bill Murray

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