Demands and temptations of the outside world can cause me to lose track of what I really want in life – my goals and objectives.  Emily Dickinson’s, “I cautious, scanned my little life”, takes stock, while considering unintentional, misappropriated and fateful influences on inner feelings and personal desires.

I cautious, scanned my little life –
I winnowed what would fade
From what w’d last till Heads like mine
Should be a-dreaming laid.

I put the latter in a Barn –
The former, blew away.
I went one winter morning
And lo, my priceless Hay

Was not upon the “Scaffold” –
Was not upon the “Beam” –
And from a thriving Farmer –
A Cynic, I became.

Whether a Thief did it –
Whether it was the wind –
Whether Deity’s guiltless –
My business is, to find!

So I begin to ransack!
How is it Hearts, with Thee?
Art thou within the little Barn
Love provided Thee?

I may want to do an Emily Dickinson and withdraw from the outside world to cut through the ideas that govern my life and separate what I want from someone else’s expectations: “I winnowed what would fade”.

The idea of a time-honored practice of self examination shows up in the first and last stanzas’ use of old English punctuation like “w’d,” and “a’dreaming,” and the personal pronouns “thou,” and “thee.”

But, a very present-day word like “cautious” connotes being on the lookout for dangerous or opportunistic effects to “my little life -”, one that may be tender, vulnerable. I’m tempted also to read “clueless” into this diminutive term for the self. If we’re vigilant/cautious we are watchful for a purpose. So the self in this poem takes on two personas: the one who needs looking after and the one who is circumspect. The cautious one is alert to the dangers and errors that can cause treachery or trickery to the “little life.”

I find it helpful for grasping meaning in “I put the latter in a Barn -” to draw from the final stanza.

“Art thou within the little Barn/Love provided Thee?” Am I synchronized — are my goals/objectives in tune with my inner feelings and personal desires? When “I put the latter (what w’d last) in a Barn -” my brain/barn may not remain in tune with my feelings and personal desires if I mistake society’s or an authoritative-powerful other’s judgment for my own.

For, “…my priceless Hay”, the very trajectory of my life, may lose its bearings, causing me to discover it “Was not upon the “Scaffold” -/Was not upon the “Beam” -”. When I go full speed ahead with a project that I judge to be meaningful in some way only to realize in the course of events that by continuing to give it time and energy I am robbing myself of accomplishment in ventures that express the very essence of me, I must develop a healthy skepticism. “And from a thriving Farmer -/A Cynic, I became.”

All sorts of scenarios play out when I think of “farming my brain” for new words and ways to use them. But, you may ask, are these ways consistent with the brain “Love provided Thee?”

Ponder A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way

Postscript: I am indebted to participants in the lively conversation yesterday of the Emily Dickinson International Society Poetry Conversation, which took place at our local library. The comments made and the shared ideas about this poem showed me more than I’d suspected through my solitary reading and sent me on a search for more.

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