The first four lines of “I read my sentence — steadily —” by Emily Dickinson, could serve as a reflection of my morning habit of writing.

I lose my bearings though, when without even a stanza break before line five, I am thrown into a capital crimes courtroom and its worst possible outcome.

The poem’s conclusion teaches me the clear, precise benefit of having the only authentic response to “extremity”.

I read my sentence – steadily –
Reviewed it with my eyes,
To see that I made no mistake
In its extremest clause –
The Date, and manner, of the shame –
And then the Pious Form
That “God have mercy” on the Soul
The Jury voted Him –
I made my soul familiar – with her extremity –
That at the last, it should not be a novel Agony –
But she, and Death, acquainted –
Meet tranquilly, as friends –
Salute, and pass, without a Hint –
And there, the Matter Ends –

A narrative about my attempt to write (possibly a note of compassion) to a friend whose loved one has no more hope, for “That ‘God have mercy’ on the Soul”, includes a euphemism for the condemned when used in a context where “The Jury voted Him —”.

No matter how dedicated “To see that I made no mistake”, another’s travail can and should disrupt my focus. I may persevere in my attempt at control over the emotional aspects of the situation, “I made my soul familiar — with her extremity — /That at the last, it should not be a novel Agony — ”.

I can so feel myself caught up in this drama. Some terrible truth is visited on a loved one, who, as it turns out, reveals herself to be incapable of artifice or misspent suffering. Where I see a struggle with conditions I find intolerable, I’m a witness when “.. she, and Death, acquainted — / Meet tranquilly, as friends — / Salute, and pass, without a Hint —”

The present tense of the final three lines tells me the trick for living in the everlasting present is to allow calamity to have its finite limit. Don’t dwell on the bad of the past, “And there, the Matter Ends — ”.

 

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way

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