Before Freud became part of the unconscious of which he made the western world aware, an Emily Dickinson poem had something to say about its relationship to its identifier, “a single Hound”. Identity.

This Consciousness that is aware
Of Neighbors and the Sun
Will be the one aware of Death
And that itself alone

Is traversing the interval
Experience between
And most profound experiment
Appointed unto Men –

How adequate unto itself
It’s properties shall be
Itself unto itself and None
Shall make discovery –

Adventure most unto itself
The Soul condemned to be –
Attended by a single Hound
Its own identity

The poem’s first verse reminds me that my outcome, death, is assured. It is “Experience between” birth and death that makes it seem mysterious. For the important thing is not whether I had a happy childhood, or if I was in a skyscraper the day jet planes destroyed it, or, lost most of my money, and so on. These events are important for their role “in traversing the interval” between birth and death which forms a “most profound experiment”

This poem’s charm for me is its dispassionate engagement with real-world events, “Of Neighbors and the Sun” while favoring a more interior portrait and its importance to the life it defines. Regardless of the conditions, “How adequate” I am when confronted with good or bad events will be determined by character, the properties of my consciousness, when I “Shall make discovery”. So far, the poem applies universally. 

Long before Freud (He was eight years old when Dickinson wrote this poem) and the emergence of an entire field of science and medicine, the poem identifies a legitimate problem of those who feel compelled to ask, “Who am I?” What the poem’s final verse does, and which moderns have become familiar, is to isolate the private, singular, personal nature of the answer.

Some people never feel particularly bothered by the question, much less its answer. They are at one with themselves and their world unless life dishes up a traumatic or otherwise life-altering “Adventure” which places them alongside those of us who are “condemned to be — ” hounded by the question throughout life, or most of it.


Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way

Emily Dickinson’s identity was born December 10, 1830