Your definition of “real” and mine may be surprisingly different.  When it comes to bullets there doesn’t seem to be much basis for discussion. But, hold on a minute.

I can’t prove it, but I believe everyone feels a tug of war between emotions, or “heart,” and ego, or rational behavior.  As a way of life, most people overcome this inner turmoil in early adulthood and regard the operational themes of day-to-day habits somewhat settled except for occasional and at times life-altering consults with Inner Voice to see which path to take when a crisis occurs.  In adolescence, early adulthood, and, too, when unexpected turns of event frighten and challenge the senses, the phrase “dodge a bullet” describes this threat to well being.  Will I go with what my “gut” compels? Or, step out on reason? We know that whichever part of ourselves is in charge the most, we will come to rely on it more or less, depending on the outcome of our decision. 

As usual, there’s a poem to dramatize this conflict with self and to mentor its reader. 

Just for fun, I suggest a “what if” in the poem by Emily Dickinson that begins My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun —

What if Dickinson’s “master,” in this poem, represents her own “ideal self.”  What if “I” is the emerging, maturing, transitioning aspect of her personal awareness that is still built on feelings.  If so, then “Master” as ideal self or ego, doubles as muse for the genius who is to become THE Emily Dickinson.  Of course, it is a personal knowing that “speaks” to the poet to tell her she has been identified, in the first stanza. From that point on she is owned. 

The poem goes like this:

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –

In Corners – till a Day

The Owner passed – identified –

And carried Me away –


And now – We roam the Sovereign Woods

And now We hunt the Doe –

And every time I speak for Him

The Mountains straight reply –


And do I smile such cordial light

Opon the Valley glow –

It is as a Vesuvian face

Had let it’s pleasure through –


And when at Night – Our good Day done

I guard My Master’s Head

Tis better than the Eider Duck’s

Deep Pillow to have shared –


To foe of His – I’m deadly foe

None stir the second time

On whom I lay a Yellow Eye

Or an emphatic Thumb


Though I than He may longer live

He longer must – than I –

For I have but the power to kill,

Without – the power to die –


In the first stanza, at first she is simply full of herself, “loaded” with bullets, sensing more power than she knows what to do with.  Then, there is this important stage of having identified, or, of having been identified by her Master Identity, following an implied state of not knowing where she “had stood” in girlhood.  When, like a passerby, this power of self stares at her, convinces her of who she is, a poet; of what she is to do, write poems.  It is settled.  

So much time and such significance is dealt with in this single startup phase-stanza, but by doing so in only four lines the poem seems to be saying, “that is just the beginning. Now, move on!”

Once her identity has been accepted, then, in the second stanza, master-muse is her perfect companion.  They live, move and have their being in the “sovereign woods” of ideas and words.  Together always, they “hunt the Doe,” they track the poem.  When a poem is “spoken,” the “companions” speak with one voice.  The finished product is as an echo, “The Mountains straight reply,” of the Master Identity and the woman working alone in a little bedroom surrounded by the mountains of western Massachusetts.

Master-muse and poet, head and heart, have become one-in-the-same in the third stanza where the pleasantness of this, breaks through in a smile, a “Vesuvian face/Had let it’s pleasure through -“.  A smile “Opon the Valley glow.”  Perhaps, it feels as though this perfect rhythm could light up the entire Pioneer Valley.  

Nothing is softer in this earth, surely, than the down of an eider duck, connoting ultimate in comfort, sheer royalty in feel of experience, when such inner balance as described here occurs in the fourth stanza, “Tis better than the Eider Duck’s/Deep Pillow to have shared -“

Into every bona fide story, or life, there must some conflict arise, and it is here in the fifth stanza. The threat may show up on a lovely mountaintop experience, or that valley caught basking in the glow of a self-satisfied smile. Nevertheless, “To foe of His – I’m deadly foe.”  For peace (between heart and head/emotions and ego; or, between nations or people or groups of people) cannot last forever.  If life is a down-filled pillow in the fourth stanza, it is under attack by its foes in the fifth.  Oh, those tin-eared readers of poems, or, is there never an end to family discord and its challenges to a right to privacy.  What about one’s own desires for fame?  

Nevertheless, like the “emphatic thumb” of a good teacher on the desk of a misbehaving student, the poet is now so confident of who she is, she will make the rules. For ever since she was identified in the beginning by the Master Poet inside herself, it has been a matter of clearing the way so the work can be done.

In 2008, everyone knows Emily Dickinson The Poet, “may longer live.”  So what if her “power to kill” a verse is hers only, it only contributes to the significance of accepting her oneness with her destiny, which is “Without – the power to die.”


Digest a poem a day — Accept what comes your way