I am shocked first by Emily Dickinson’s grammar in “Me prove it now – Whoever doubt.” What perhaps is even more astonishing is the confusion wrapped in assertion of need to prove oneself.

Me prove it now – Whoever doubt
Me stop to prove it – now –
Make haste – the Scruple! Death be scant
For Opportunity –

The River reaches to my feet –
As yet – My Heart be dry –
Oh Lover – Life could not convince –
Might Death – enable Thee –

The River reaches to My Breast –
Still – still – My Hands above
Proclaim with their remaining might –
Dost recognize the Love?

The River reaches to my Mouth –
Remember – when the Sea
Swept by my searching eyes – the last –
Themselves were quick – with Thee!

The rhythm of the poem is more like an anvil than music. First the wide world of “Whoever doubt” comprising the audience. Such language takes me back to my own childhood’s vast search for acceptance. A child’s limited grasp of authority, as much as of the self, is echoed in its immature choice of the personal pronoun subject of the sentence, “Me”. In early childhood, “I” is often spoken as, “me.” Perhaps it sounds more direct and logical in a child’s thinking.

The second line, “Me stop to prove it – now -” maintains an immature grammar, perhaps for the sake of exhibiting what is still a limited understanding of self and “whoever.” But, the ability to “stop” and think things over is a more mature part of self-awareness; along with a growing sense of boundaries about “whoever,” which would accompany myself deciding whom to prove myself to.

Just as I get comfortable with the possibility that this poem is going to be about “stopping” to consider how to prove myself, life, relationships or a less definable aspect of humanness, the poem jerks me out of reflectiveness, like the morning alarm from sleep. “Make haste – the Scruple!.  What I see is a brilliant use of tone and changing imperatives to mimic confusion accompanying a shifting of priorities. At once, I’m confronted with “scruple,” (without the “s” at the end, scruple is a verb – have misgivings about, have reservations about, think twice about, balk to, demur to; recoil from, shrink from, shy away from, flinch from). “Death be scant/For Opportunity -”, does not say what exactly I have an opportunity in this life to establish.

I suspect some will make of this poem a lover’s expression of doubt about where a relationship stands. There are certainly enough references to make it a lover’s lament of failing to prove loyalty, or enjoy the loyalty of a lover. As is often the case, Dickinson uses the language of lovers. The poems are full of love and anguish derived from her own loves and relationships. I’m not saying it can’t apply to a romantic couple, even marriage. But, I also find Dickinson unwilling to limit life (or a poem) to this basic desire.

When I read, “The River reaches to my feet -/As yet – My Heart be dry -” I realize the parched condition of the speaker is not for lack of love. But, of the disconnect emerging from a sense of our limited time, one life – The River – and what we can take in. While life/the River swallows me up, my greatest gain is of knowledge of its immensity. Way beyond what I can personally experience.

Finally, then, can we expect more than to remain vital to the end? “Swept by my searching eyes – the last -/Themselves were quick – with Thee!” Another mimicry of this poem is of the span of life itself. At the end of the poem the immature grammar is gone. No longer confused about whether to stop and think or hurry up and live. “Remember – when the Sea/Swept by my searching eyes” points to a time when the “sea of life” has almost swallowed me whole. Now I understand exactly what is true for me. I learned to work within that structure to make changes. Even though the limitations of life that I railed against in youth are real. I have become positive about life in general. The vastness of Life/the River includes my own vast experience at a mature part of life.

Digest A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

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