Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I believe the love of bears may be taught not to seem like God

"There was not a great deal of pleasant juvenile literature in the 1830s. Inevitably, one of the works that figured in Emily's experience was Isaac Watts's eighteenth-century Divine and Moral Songs for Children. Song number 18, "Against Scoffing and Calling Names," was a versification of II Kings 2:23-24, where forty-two bad children mock the prophet Elisha and receive their just recompense from two she-bears:

When children, in their wanton play,
Serv'd old Elisha so;
And bid the prophet go his way,
'Go up, thou bald-head, go.'

God quickly stopp'd their wicked breath,
And sent two raging bears,
That tore them limb from limb to death,
With blood, and groans, and tears.

The girl may have learned the song at her church's Sabbath School, which met between morning and afternoon services and was in flourishing condition in the early 1830s. Decades later, when cousins Louisa and Frances Norcross joined a rather more liberal religious study group, Dickinson recalled the ursine mayhem as epitomizing her childhood's harsh faith: 'I believe the love of God may be taught not to seem like bears.'"
- from My Wars are Laid Away in Books