Having pored over poems like “I tried to think a lonelier Thing” by Emily Dickinson for about 10 years when my daughter died at the age of sixteen, I found renewed relevance at this time.

I tried to think a lonelier Thing
Than any I had seen –
Some Polar Expiation – An Omen in the Bone
Of Death’s tremendous nearness –

I probed Retrieveless things
My Duplicate – to borrow –
A Haggard comfort springs

From the belief that Somewhere –
Within the Clutch of Thought –
There dwells one other Creature
Of Heavenly Love – forgot –

I plucked at our Partition –
As One should pry the Walls –
Between Himself and Horror’s Twin –
Within Opposing Cells –

I almost strove to clasp his Hand,
Such Luxury – it grew –
That as Myself – could pity Him –
Perhaps he – pitied me –

My daughter’s death as a “starting point” made it easier to find a common ground with others for my interest in Dickinson poems than I had known until then. Because I had been fighting and losing an internal fight against the childhood trauma of sexual abuse by an in-law. The mental agility of catching me in my identification with the poem’s first line, then declaiming ownership with the words of a prying observer seeking the sordid or scandalous, “Than any I had seen” is a two-step capture of  both my honesty and my wish to project the unthinkable on to others. It was the search for another voice, “My Duplicate”, that guided my reading.

Feeling set apart from others by my secret, I imagined I understood “Some Polar Expiation”.  I’m not sure what prompted me to think “polar exploration” when I read the term. Perhaps the more precise idea of a remote atonement – in taking up a life which I thought safe from the past – wasn’t really working. “An Omen in the Bone”, a somewhat obscure idea reducible to almost any form of dread, rather hit the mark, though.

I was one of the chirpy ones you meet at parties and see in cheerleading squads. Privately, I was all over words like “Haggard comfort” and “… Somewhere — /Within the Clutch of Thought — ”

This is not a poem to read at a party. “I almost strove to clasp his Hand,”.

But, discovering the limits of well-qualified therapists, “I plucked at our Partition —” and the avenues in life I have taken, together with knowing poems like this one have combined with family, time and friends. “Such Luxury — it grew —” because the pity one despises at parties is transformed when its death is a “tremendous nearness” in a poem.


Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way