With one eye on the so-called big picture, and the other on myself, personal meaning must be discovered. “I cannot buy it – ’tis not sold -” is one of many Emily Dickinson poems I find satisfying for their guiding principle in matters of ego versus destiny. The meaning of life, no less, is forever rooted in these sometimes dueling forces.

I cannot buy it – ’tis not sold –
There is no other in the World –
Mine was the only one

I was so happy I forgot
To shut the Door And it went out
And I am all alone –

If I could find it Anywhere
I would not mind the journey there
Though it took all my store

But just to look it in the Eye –
“Did’st thou”? “Thou did’st not mean”, to say,
Then, turn my Face away.

I remember the first time I recognized that my view of life and myself was not something I could obtain from someone else. “I cannot buy it – ’tis not sold – / There is no other in the World – ” occurred to me when I was too young to be more than quizzical. I was slightly startled, as a little girl, to realize “Mine was the only one” among the outlooks surrounding me that would accompany me always.

There are several ways to read “I was so happy I forgot / To shut the Door…”. Unselfconscious pleasure at living, while reveling in all the delicious sensations people and nature produce, is both ideal and potentially hazardous. If I am so moved, emotionally, by the majesty of a panorama that I walk too far out on a cliff to admire it, something scary can happen. The “it” in “And it went out /And I am all alone -” recalls the duality of self confirmed when, uninhibited, I get into trouble.  But, “it” also can describe alternating periods when, to begin with, I find it necessary to be alone in order to find out my purpose-in-chief. At other times, I am compelled to ask these same questions together with friends and loved ones. These apparent contradictions are built into questions of meaning.

Occasionally, at my wits’ end, “If I could find it Anywhere / I would not mind the journey there”.  If this poem speaks for the majority of thinking people, it brings to mind a tendency to look for “geographical cures” for life’s biggest dilemmas. Though the poem uses the impulse to travel in search for meaning, or purpose, others will recognize different alternative routes; sex or marrying for the wrong reason, using drugs, alcohol or food. Sometimes, it’s just so tempting to expend all energy available, “Though it took all my store” to jet around town or across continents in search of the answer to life’s burning questions. (With a nod to Garrison Keiller.)

Sometimes when I read this poem the final stanza (all stanzas, a yielding three-legged instead of the solid footing of quatrains) delivers an attitude akin to having settled the issue. “But just to look it in the Eye – ” has all the sound of having given up on journeys and other “jailbreaks” to resolve issues only I can.

Yet, still, questions persist. “”Did’st thou”?”, Destiny asks Ego. “Thou did’st not mean”, to say,” Ego always has a retort.

It is the last line that throws the question back to me, the reader. “Then, turn my Face away.” Is the poem turning away from me at a certain point because I am looking for answers that it cannot provide? Am I turning away from myself? Away from others? It strikes me that at different times, the answer to each question is, “yes.”

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

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