When enthusiasm leaves me, and discouragement stalks every attempt to accomplish my goals, I often recall “I tie my Hat – I crease my Shawl – ” by Emily Dickinson. I find this poem to be powerful in absorbing depression, that horrific static sensation, and reviving me in spite of myself.

I tie my Hat – I crease my Shawl –
Life’s little duties do – precisely –
As the very least
Were infinite – to me –

I put new Blossoms in the Glass –
And throw the Old – away –
I push a petal from my Gown
That anchored there – I weigh
The time ’twill be till six o’clock
I have so much to do –
And yet – existence – some way back –
Stopped – struck – my ticking – through –

We cannot put Ourself away
As a completed Man
Or Woman – When the errand’s done
We came to Flesh – opon –
There may be – Miles on Miles of Nought –
Of Action – sicker far –
To simulate – is stinging work –
To cover what we are

From Science – and from Surgery –
Too Telescopic eyes
To bear on us unshaded –
For their – sake – Not for Ours –

Therefore – we do life’s labor –
Though life’s Reward – be done –
With scrupulous exactness –
To hold our Senses – on –

From the first stanza, despair is conveyed by the idea that all is “as if” it mattered, which gives a depressed reader a real hook. As the very least
Were infinite – to me – ”
. (My underline.)  For, “as if” is depression’s clarion call to gather every persistently sad person under its roof. I remember feeling forced to act as if I cared when life’s activities and obligations were the very least of priorities to me.

The relentless fact of action in the poem, “I put new Blossoms … ”, “I throw … ”, “I push … ”, “I weigh … ”, and perhaps most significantly ~ “I have… ” is at odds with the poem’s argument of inertia.

As a young person I was undiagnosed but very depressed for many years. In my case, inability to “gain traction” in whatever pursuit presented itself seemed to put me in ever more difficult situations. Depression, for me, meant coming up against relentless frantic confusion. I began finally to climb out, though with a big setback when my teenage daughter died. Then, as before, this poem was important to me. For me, as in the poem, “existence”, just “ticking” is not a thing to be cherished. In the poem, as in life, whether we like it or not at the time, “We cannot put Ourself away”.

Whatever depression’s cause, if beneath it all there remains a capacity to feel that sting, “To simulate – is stinging work – ” it is because to liveas if” is too much to bear. It is that sting that brought me out.  I think people who commit suicide do so because the sting of simulating life brings them to it. To simulate life, to act as if I feel alive, cannot be born forever.

“Science” and “surgery” as helpers, pale in comparison to our instinct for life. Though many have what seems a herculean capacity to do “life’s labor – ” as though “…. life’s Reward – be done – ”. The will to live, I believe, is not missing forever, as long as there is energy to “do” “With scrupulous exactness – / To hold our Senses – on – ”.

Digest A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way