Since the late 1970s, I have had on my refrigerator, under a little, decorative magnet, a print-out of Emily Dickinson’s “Who Court obtain within Himself”. I confess, I substituted “Him” for “Her,” “Man” for “Woman,” “King” for “Queen,” and so on. 

Who Court obtain within Himself
Sees every Man a King –
And Poverty of Monarchy
Is an interior thing –

No Man depose
Whom Fate Ordain –
And Who can add a Crown
To Him who doth continual
Conspire against His Own

I don’t know why I find the poem so comforting. Unless, perhaps, the rhythms of the poem, which, if like music, are what Shakespeare calls the “food of love.”

The poem’s no-nonsense logic — that if I can rely on my own authority, I won’t feel the need to question other’s choices — is more like science than a love notion.

If I let my “interior,” my heart and mind, become destitute because of failure to act with authenticity toward my own needs, I will have relinquished a life force necessary to well-being. Before 21st Century jargon such as “It’s an inside job,” the poem’s “And Poverty of Monarchy / Is an interior thing” says it better.

Relentless as a “love song,” (and as quick to barely conceal a touch of irony), the promises are plump:  “No Man depose / Whom Fate Ordain — ”. I can’t be diminished, where it counts most, in my assessment of myself, by others, unless I “… continual / Conspire against…” myself.  In which case, all the praise in the world won’t add a notch to my self-appraisal.

I don’t know whether to read “fate” here as placing individual power on a par with forces beyond our control, or, if this customary allusion to native land, relatives and planetary forces ironically deconstructs the whole idea of self-propulsion.  I choose to see fate as a nice, even helpful, but not essential ingredient if I am to enjoy freedom to love myself. Worldly success is impossible to those swept up in cultural or weather deprived circumstances. But, self-love, in catastrophic fates may emerge as a tool to find other bonds with life.

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way

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