I am not one of those who enjoys a fundamental psychological equilibrium. Perhaps that is why Emily Dickinson’s “The feet of people walking home – ” is like a sanctuary. The poem uses many contrasts between feeling and fact to coach, or illuminate, the balance I need to be effective. The poem thinks with great emotional sensitivity, but persists with logical processes.

The feet of people walking home –
With gayer sandals go –
The Crocus, till she rises
The Vassal of the snow –

The lips at Hallelujah
Long years of practise bore –
Til bye and bye these Bargemen
Walked singing on the shore.

Pearls are the Diver’s farthings –
Extorted from the sea –
Pinions – the Seraph’s wagon –
Pedestrian once – as we –

Night is the morning’s Canvas
Larceny – Legacy.
Death, but our rapt attention
To Immortality.

My figures fail to tell me
How far the Village lies
Whose Peasants are the angels –
Whose Cantons dot the skies –

My Classics veil their faces –
My faith that dark adores –
Which from it’s solemn abbeys
Such Resurrection pours.

Dickinson gives us an easy example at first in describing the lilt in one’s step when on the way home, as opposed to the implied contrast in having to walk somewhere less congenial. Every verse is a repeat of this kind of contrast.

It’s almost comical to make a metaphor of “… these Bargemen” to trigger positive regard for church choirs whose “.. lips at Hallelujah/Long years of practice bore -”.

Could any words be more concise and precise than “Pearls are the Diver’s farthings – /Extorted from the sea -”.  In that single poetic stroke we are prompted to compare the pearl, forced from its seabed, with the diver’s expedition. Premium booty, to be sure. The point is, regardless of the evident disharmony between the amount of time and energy it takes to retrieve the prize and the prize itself; balance is established by the pearl’s profits.

Each example in its turn, “Night is the morning’s Canvas”, demonstrates that the contrast itself is the great equalizer. Equilibrium is refusing to be deceived by darkness, for though darkness seems to steal the light from us, night is what gives balance to light: “Larceny – Legacy.”

Death is what balances our anticipation of immortality and interrupts our concept of living forever. Death, in this poem, prevents our becoming too hubristic and defiant of consequences: “Death, but our rapt attention/To Immortality.”

While it recognizes the psychological tension most people feel, the poem counsels not to become imbalanced over the mysteries, “My figures fail to tell me/How far the Village lies

Perhaps in the final verse, the poet’s reverence for My Classics… implies their status as utmost champion. And, to see their veiled faces, her premium reward. Meanwhile, the solemn abbeys” of faith help to define that which “Such Resurrection pours.”

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

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