I’ve never found a poem by Emily Dickinson that I was sure dealt exclusively with public issues of, say, politics, war or the economy. However, by having plenty to say about private, individual experience, the lessons and insights are there for anyone who wants to use them for a broader application. After the personal meaning of the following poem unfolds for me, the public implications are clear.

I many times thought Peace had come

When Peace was far away —

As Wrecked Men  —  deem they sight the Land  — 

At Centre of the Sea   — 


And struggle slacker  — but to prove

As hopelessly as I  — 

How many the fictitious Shores  — 

Or any Harbor be  — 

Wow! Isn’t it great! I’m not alone with episodes of frustration when a feeling of having mastered myself and my impulses inevitably gives way to backslides. Over and over throughout the years of early adulthood and well into middle age, inexplicable tragedies combined with kooky coping mechanisms to profoundly disrupt my private peace. 

The word, cycle, is never mentioned in this poem, but I think it is implied.  So, while “I many times thought Peace had come” only to discover I was not up to the challenges before me, I nevertheless continued to seek a peace when it looked far away.

At the time that my first marriage was falling apart and my children’s grief over this loss overwhelmed me, I often sat up late after baths and bed-time stories.  I would drape myself over a club chair in the downstairs privacy of midnight and find myself stunned by the teaching quality of many poems.

Stranded and confused when the supposed clear path of divorce had become a mirage, I realized that “As Wrecked Men  —  deem they sight the Land  — /At Centre of the Sea   —” I, too, had to slow down (slacker”) and take stock of my situation. There would only be fictitious Shores —”/ and temporary “Harbor” for a long time.

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way