One of the reasons I return often to read Emily Dickinson poems is the recurrent topic of change.

I was recently reading one of the letters Dickinson wrote in the summer of 1861 and was struck by these poignant and strangely tender words, “God made me…He built the heart in me – Bye and bye it outgrew me – and like the little mother – with the big child – I got tired holding him -…”.

Casually expressed, while acknowledging a mystery, this is a thought spoken with acceptance of inevitable transformation in self awareness. But, in the poems, there is much evidence to contradict such sanguine compliance with change. I wonder if Dickinson’s “I Years had been from Home” doesn’t describe the discomforts of reshaping, or remodeling, one’s perspectives.

I Years had been from Home
And now before the Door
I dared not enter, lest a Face
I never saw before

Stare solid into mine
And ask my Business there –
“My Business but a Life I left
Was such remaining there?”

I leaned upon the Awe –
I lingered with Before –
The Second like an Ocean rolled
And broke against my ear –

I laughed a crumbling Laugh
That I could fear a Door
Who Consternation compassed
And never winced before.

I fitted to the Latch
My Hand, with trembling care
Lest back the awful Door should spring
And leave me in the Floor –

Then moved my Fingers off
As cautiously as Glass
And held my ears, and like a Thief
Fled gasping from the House –

I understand “Home,” and “the Door” of the first stanza like wistful remembrance of my innocent, if childish, self.  Homesick for those days, “I dared not enter”, toys with lingering childishness in imagining I could return if I wanted to those blameless years. However, what I would find would be the me that I am today. “.. a Face/I never saw before/Stare stolid into mine/And ask my Business there – ”.

Daydreaming and fantasizing how I’d rather my life be than how it is, can create a kind of unreal existence if it goes on long enough. Then, if I change my life into something from which I no longer need to escape in fantasy, what does that do to my recollection of years of living with one foot, so to speak, in unreality? Reflecting cannot be helped. I have to “..ask my Business there – /’My Business but a Life I left/Was such remaining there?’ ”.

The poem acknowledges what may on the surface seem utterly absurd. A successful life pining for its former, very limited existence. I might even try to re-imagine my fantasies just to push away the feelings of loss. “I leaned upon the Awe -/ I lingered with Before – ”. Fear and longing become entwined. I may briefly experience myself as two different people, the here-and-now me and the former me with “the awful Door”, to separate two “selves.”

But, finally, I know it is not the past that beckons most: “And held my ears, and like a Thief / Fled gasping from the House – ”.

Digest A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

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