The pitifully sad image of groping around alone in the dark, outdoors, in an unfamiliar neighborhood is made worse when, “Smack!” I walk into a tree (!) in Emily Dickinson’s poem “We grow accustomed to the Dark —”

Anybody who has loved knows the other is the light of life. The poem’s attention to loss and the change it demands is less easy to grasp.

We grow accustomed to the Dark –
When light is put away –
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp to
Witness her Good bye –

A Moment – We uncertain step
For newness of the night –
Then – fit our Vision to the Dark –
And meet the Road – erect –

And so of larger – Darknesses –
Those Evenings of the Brain –
When not a Moon disclose a sign –
Or Star – come out – within –

The Bravest – grope a little –
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead –
But as they learn to see –

Either the Darkness alters –
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight –
And Life steps almost straight.

The poem’s climax, that doesn’t occur until the end of the fourth stanza, relieves the tension, delivers its impact, and either makes me laugh or cry. I’ve seen people reading this poem for the first time burst out laughing at the words, “And sometimes hit a Tree/Directly in the Forehead -”.

I, on the other hand, cried with the relief of feeling understood.  Life may never be how I want it to be, exactly. “But as they learn to see -/Either the Darkness alters – ” because external events happen to benefit me. “Or something in the sight/Adjusts itself to Midnight -”: I do the changing, either through the work of grief or by correcting my attitudes and opinions.

Whether from the loss of a love or because a less tragic hard reality doesn’t suit me, I find encouragement in this poem.  Not from being told “it will be alright.” But because the outcome is not expected to be anything more than bearable, “almost straight.”  I don’t have to expect to be happy with it. But, I can expect to be able to live with it.


Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way