I read and hear a lot these days about the re-emergence of Russia and the possibilities of a new Cold War.

Terrorist attacks, or when a woman is stoned to death for having been raped, means cold war has erupted into one of ammunition. The same monstrous imagination is at work.

“A Pit — but Heaven over it —” by Emily Dickinson uses whimsical poetics to bring into focus the place where all cold wars of opposing interests begin.

A Pit – but Heaven over it –
And Heaven beside, and Heaven abroad;
And yet a Pit –
With Heaven over it.

To stir would be to slip –
To look would be to drop –
To dream – to sap the Prop
That holds my chances up.
Ah! Pit! With heaven over it!

The depth is all my thought –
I dare not ask my feet –
‘Twould start us where we sit
So straight you’d scarce suspect
It was a Pit – with fathoms under it
It’s Circuit just the same
Whose Doom to whom
‘Twould start them –
We – could tremble –
But since we got a Bomb –
And held it in our Bosom –
Nay – Hold it – it is calm –

The intrinsicly menacing idea of “a Pit,” when contrasted “With Heaven over it”, describes the conflict between me and myself.

The poet pulls out an arsenal of rhythmic lyric to analyze the fact that “To stir would be to slip —/To look would be to drop —/To dream — ” of escaping through alcohol, loveless sex, partying excessively, dominating others, or any other misuse of energy, would be “to sap the Prop/That holds my chances up.”

The lovely second stanza’s combination of imaginary and real threat to well-being tickles my sense of irony. I can say with equal seriousness or mimicry: “Ah! Pit! With heaven (of responsible living) over it!”.

When I read “The depth is all my thought —” I’m not sure whether it is because I only imagine the depth of my potential dissolution, or, if it is because all my thought is absorbed by chimerical dreams of future events.

I dare not do anything until I’ve resolved my dilemmas through sitting quietly, or other means of private thought: “I dare not ask my feet — /’Twould start(le) us where we sit”.  It is so much easier to blame someone else, or to bomb that strange culture, than to “tremble —/..since we got a Bomb/And held it in our Bosom —”.

If there were no “bombs in the bosoms,” there would be none thrown in war between nations.

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way

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