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B. Penn


728: Let Us play Yesterday –  


The installation, 728: Let Us play Yesterday –, was generated by a strong visual dream of the crib and staircase. The first aspect produced in this piece is a strong visual about 'transition from life into death,' (important subjects to Dickinson). Secondly, the enlarged Dickinson poem on the chalkboard, references the time in one's adolescence where the blinders come off and one sees a more harsh adult reality vs. a child's view. Dickinson's poem references this concept in the phrases: Still at the Egg-life – Chafing the Shell – When you troubled the Ellipse – And the Bird fell –. This is a moment that restricts going back to earlier fantasy and the child or adolescent is suddenly no longer naive. The installation additionally questions how a poem is "made" (artistic process), and how one matures into an adult at the expense perhaps of losing childhood or adolescent freedom or a purer vision. 

A final important idea here is how the handwritten poems of Dickinson became altered or censored when put into printed verse, after her death. There is evidence of family and others tampering with Dickinson's poems to make them more regularized and palatable to win the public. In the back of the installation behind the crib and front staircase, opened lies Thomas Johnson's book with his version of the poem containing the words Let Us play Yesterday. (he numbered it 728). This publishing contrasts with the large chalkboard of scripted writing of the same poem, all hidden initially from the viewer(s) as they enter the space. Implied in the more secretive place within the installation is the effrontery of those who tried to make the changes from the original manuscripts that result in a form of censorship of the poet's original voice. Therefore some poems appear differently than Dickinson's original, particularly in printings soon after her death. 

On the whole, Thomas H. Johnson's edited version, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson is a respected compilation of her poems, but in 1998, R.W. Franklin edited a newer version of Dickinson's poems in an attempt to build a truer 'in print version' of the original works of Dickinson. Her poems were found and preserved on fascicles, small handwritten pages sewn together as small packets containing her poems. 



Let Us play Yesterday – 
I – the Girl at school – 
You – and Eternity – the
Untold Tale – 

Easing my famine
At my Lexicon – 
Logarithm – had I – for Drink – 
'Twas a dry Wine – 

Somewhat different – must be – 
Dreams tint the Sleep – 
Cunning Reds of Morning
Make the Blind – leap – 

Still at the Egg-life – 
Chafing the Shell – 
When you troubled the Ellipse – 
And the Bird fell – 

Manacles be dim – they say – 
To the new Free – 
Liberty – Commoner – 
Never could – to me – 

"Twas my last gratitude
When I slept – at night – 
'Twas the first Miracle 
Let in – with Light – 

Can the Lark resume the Shell – 
Easier – for the Sky – 
Wouldn't Bonds hurt more 
Than Yesterday?

Wouldn't Dungeons sorer grate 
On the Man – free – 
Just long enough to taste – 
Then – doomed new – 

God of the Manacle 
As of the Free – 
'Take not my Liberty 
Away from Me – 

c. 1863                                                    1935

by Emily Dickinson
from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson 
edited by Thomas H. Johnson

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