Few incidents prompt me to reach for a love poem-sorry about regrets-more than loss. Emily Dickinson’s “I’m sorry for the Dead – Today -” recognizes the crushing quality of lost opportunities and squandered relationships. The poem’s tone teaches, prescribes, the necessity for orienting away from death’s overwhelming potential for its survivors. Its lyrical, compassionate rendering avoids looking full-face into the tragedy, just as the grief-stricken must do.

I’m sorry for the Dead – Today –
It’s such congenial times
Old Neighbors have at fences –
It’s time o’ year for Hay,

And Broad – Sunburned Acquaintance
Discourse between the Toil –
And laugh, a homely species
That makes the Fences smile –

It seems so straight to lie away
From all of the noise of Fields –
The Busy Carts – the fragrant Cocks –
The Mower’s Metre – Steals

A Trouble lest they’re homesick –
Those Farmers – and their Wives –
Set separate from the Farming –
And all the Neighbors’ lives –

A Wonder if the Sepulchre
Don’t feel a lonesome way –
When Men – and Boys – and Carts – and June,
Go down the Fields to “Hay” –

Acceptance and avoidance are perfectly balanced in this poem. Look at Dickinson’s use of the same word, “Hay”, twice. An equilibrium is established with the alternating “Hay” in the first and last stanza; and, in the last line of each. The first, “It’s time o’ year for Hay,” denotes a celebration of life. The second, “Go down the Fields to ‘Hay’ – ” contextually invites acceptance of final conclusions.

As a poem written right smack in the middle of the American Civil War (1861 to 1865) there were thousands of deaths each day from both sides. There would have been tens of thousands of mourners going about their day with a weak hold on their emotions.  But emotions had to be carried to keep society and government intact. If everyone who was mourning soldiers were to become hysterical how much more could be lost.

The second stanza speaks for our attachment to meandering “Discourse between the Toil – ”. Aren’t we humans characterized by a yearning for unpredictable “…laugh, a homely species”. Easy-going conversations, or even a penchant for gossip “That makes the Fences smile -”.

Then, our poor minds wander, thinking in spite of ourselves: “It seems so straight to lie away/From all of the noise…” So that even the ones we gossiped about yesterday have become “Those Farmers – and their Wives – /Set separate from the Farming -/And all the Neighbors’ lives -”.

“Wonder” is an intentional attempt, I believe, to be low-key, measured, working toward calm, avoiding panic. Yet, not prettifying the truth of the burial chamber as epitome of “… a lonesome way – ”.

Then, a scene that would summon back memories of practically every family’s ordeal during the Civil War, and thousands in our day, “When Men – and Boys – and Carts – and June,” form a deadly, military parade. In this portrayal of Hay, death takes its place in the continuum of life, another type of harvest. “A homely species.”

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

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