When great storms have their way with land and man, who survives? Who perishes? Is it a caprice of nature? Survival of the fittest? In “Glee – The great storm is over -”, Emily Dickinson’s ballad take us in our imagination to the fireplace family circle of old and young. Stories of a first generation tragedy at sea gives rise to lyrical entertainment to soften, like time, the magnitude of loss.

Glee – The great storm is over –
Four – have recovered the Land –
Forty – gone down together –
Into the boiling Sand –

Ring – for the scant Salvation –
Toll – for the bonnie Souls –
Neighbor – and friend – and Bridegroom –
Spinning upon the Shoals –

How they will tell the Story –
When Winter shake the Door –
Till the Children urge –
But the Forty –
Did they – come back no more?

Then a silence – suffuse the story –
And a softness – the Teller’s eye –
And the Children – no further question –
And only the Sea – reply –

The four who are alive “have recovered the Land” in Dickinson’s story of forty who perished “Into the boiling Sand”. Boiling sand reminds me of recent deaths, perhaps thousands of victims, caused by tsunamis – earthquakes at sea – in Samoa, Sumatra and other parts of the Asia Pacific.  Of course there doesn’t need to be an earthquake for a storm at sea to appear so. This story may be inspired by the many Irish immigrants who worked in western Massachusetts in the 19th century. I say this because of the poem’s gentle commemoration in the words,  “Toll – for the bonnie Souls –”.

The four survivors, “the neighbor,” “the friend,” “the bridegroom” and “me.” For their progeny and other loved ones they are the only source of facts. Their experience tells us what to make of the tragedy. Is the neighbor like one of mine? A lady with a toothy smile, warm eyes, brown hair sliced with grey and slightly thick eyeglasses? She laughs so easily she tempts me to think I’m a comic.

And is the friend someone who doesn’t fit the stereotype? Uninterested in chit-chat, tall enough to be a basketball player but long hippy-like hair that balances and dramatizes his appearance somehow. A friend who is slow to get acquainted but loyal in the extreme once he has.

And the bridegroom? His fiance might have been one among “Forty – gone down together -”. Waiting to marry in America had been her idea. A mystical idea of happy beginnings, she had said. Who is the implied “I” who tells the tale? Does the brilliancy of the imagery mean I have survived? Or, do I remain obsessed with the unpredictability of fortune, relaying over and over in lyrics such as these its power to erase a human life?

Digest A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

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