The purpose and power for me of “I had been hungry, all the Years — ” by Emily Dickinson are its disruption of moral order. The poem leaves me to search for continuity and meaning out of the sad and illogical.

I had been hungry, all the Years –
My Noon had Come – to dine –
I trembling drew the Table near –
And touched the Curious Wine –

‘Twas this on Tables I had seen –
When turning, hungry, Home
I looked in Windows, for the Wealth
I could not hope – for Mine –

I did not know the ample bread –
‘Twas so unlike the Crumb
The Birds and I, had often shared
In nature’s – Dining room –

The Plenty hurt me – ’twas so new –
Myself felt ill – and odd –
As Berry – of a Mountain Bush –
Transplanted – to the Road –

Nor was I hungry – so I found
That Hunger – was a way
Of persons Outside Windows –
The entering – takes away

The first time I read this poem I was about 30, newly divorced and panic-stricken with three children to raise. Fighting life was my main occupation.

Planted firmly on the side of the “persons Outside Windows”, I was not convinced by the poem’s big picture theme. I was intent on seeing what I found “in Windows, for the Wealth/I could not hope – for Mine – ”

There’s an element of black humor, for unhappiness is indeed funny.

So, there’s this barefoot woman, Berry, right? walks down from the Mountain Bush, see? Then, some pickup driver puts her “Transplanted – to the Road –”, see? Then, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if she didn’t get sick and act odd and say she wasn’t hungry! Would you believe? she wouldn’t even drink! said she, “touched the Curious Wine – ”?

Is this subversiveness? In some ways, delightfully so.

It is also evidence that the poet so profoundly understands the gravity of some kinds of hunger that there is no end to the ways we find them rendered.  This poem has at least two.

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way