Could it be madness if my behavior is inconvenient to everyone around me? I suppose it’s a universal fear to find oneself unhinged from the reality that is defined by family and friends. Emily Dickinson’s “The first Day’s Night had come” plays with this fear.

The first Day’s Night had come –
And grateful that a thing
So terrible – had been endured –
I told my Soul to sing –

She said her Strings were snapt –
Her Bow – to Atoms blown –
And so to mend her – gave me work
Until another Morn –

And then – a Day as huge
As Yesterdays in pairs,
Unrolled it’s horror in my face –
Until it blocked my eyes –

My Brain – begun to laugh –
I mumbled – like a fool –
And tho’ ’tis Years ago – that Day –
My Brain keeps giggling – still.

And Something’s odd – within –
That person that I was –
And this One – do not feel the same –
Could it be Madness – this?

There is safety for me in this poem that is perhaps an illusion. But, then, when can one tell if personal illusions serve our greater good? Or, remove us from it? It’s a question I’ve thought about alot. When I was a child, my reality was unlike anything I could find at home. Friends gradually became important. But, I sensed the fears I had about the feelings that rocked me and tossed me were not shared by others.

Acknowledging, “She said her Strings were snapt -/ Her Bow – to Atoms blown – ”, debunks and discredits all the voices in my head that say I shouldn’t feel my wreck and ruin of emotions. The fact, though, of there being a legitimate part of me that is not completely shattered when it says, “And so to mend her – gave me work / Until another Morn – ” is something to hold on to.

I don’t believe this poem’s first stanza reflects a child’s or even a young adult’s response to death or other loss. It’s too full of experience. The ability to talk to myself about distinctions in what I think, feel and do in the face of great pain testifies to considerable skill and sophistication. Sometimes this means simply acknowledging a kind of blindness about what, in fact, I am feeling, or about what the next step might be: “And then – a Day as huge / As Yesterdays in pairs, / Unrolled it’s horror in my face – / Until it blocked my eyes – ”. Nevertheless, to “unroll” implies moving forward. The fear of this “horror” is of being out of control; of being moved in a direction I neither understand, nor like.

I am acquainted with the kind of hysteria described in the fourth stanza. There is absolutely no self reflection in such a state. I’m not sure whether the distance described between the here-and-now of the present-day circumstance of the poem and when “I mumbled – like a fool -” indicates longing or feelings (undescribed) I continue to identify within.

I can see that the person I am today is like someone else entirely from my younger self. Is that a good thing? Or, not? The not knowing is kooky, wacky, puzzling and mystifying. “That person that I was – / And this One – do not feel the same – ”.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

postscript: Wilkie Collins wrote “Woman in White” in 1860. See Madwomen in the Attic on BBC Radio 4 at 1130 BST on Tuesday 20 April 2010 and afterwards on BBC iPlayer.

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