“Nothing is simple,” my father used to say, usually when a family member did something unpredictable. Such a breezy regard for the face-off depicted in the poem “Inconceivably solemn!” by Emily Dickinson, reflects my own tendency to overlook the exquisite nature of public dramatizations of private meanings.

Hinting at the specter of patriotism and its silent, “solemn” counterpart within the soul, the poem gives me a chance to learn from, and to increase regard for my own nature.

The poem is speaking to those who choke up when the national anthem is sung at a ball game, or, by public displays of solemnity, such as a victory parade replete flags and marching bands? This poem says to ask why, say, the inauguration of a new U.S. President would be among “Things so gay/(that)Pierce — by the very Press/Of Imagery —”?

This poem is another of the poet’s challenges to be more mindful of emotional states.  Why, do “Their far Parades —” act as imagery? What gives public events the power to generate a catch in the throat, secret pride, or, as the poem describes it,“a mute Pomp —”?  

I think this poem is similar to the poem I talked about yesterday. In that poem, too, the power of emotion, or mood, over self or others, is isolated for the purpose of signifying its importance. What may seem a fleeting emotion that we feel even a bit embarrassed about, is, however, the poem says, confined to thinking persons:“No true Eye” was ever capable of seeing the “brave sight” of one’s country’s flag dramatized and remain steady.

Inconceivably solemn!

Things so gay

Pierce — by the very Press

Of Imagery —


Their far Parades — order on the eye

With a mute Pomp —

A pleading Pageantry —


Flags, are a brave sight —

But no true Eye

Ever went by One —

Steadily —


Music’s triumphant —

But the fine Ear

Winces with delight

Are Drums too near —

The suggestion is that “Music’s triumphant —” influence is limited to certain minds comprised of “the fine Ear”. Is this and the words “true Eye” just flattery?

Don’t you feel a bit unsteady with having your soul peered into by the contradictory truth of “Winces with delight”?

Perhaps the references here to “true Eye” and “fine Ear” are, in fact, hints about the significance of the poem’s subject: some public displays “Are Drums too near —”, too close for comfort, because the most significant of all loyalties is the true, fine self.


Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way