Someone should add music. “It ceased to hurt me, though so slow” is musical, easy to understand and sweet-sounding. It embodies familiar feelings of having survived loss. But, not without a melancholy reluctance to let go of hurt.

It ceased to hurt me, though so slow
I could not feel the Anguish go –
But only knew by looking back –
That something – had benumbed the Track –

Nor when it altered, I could say,
For I had worn it, every day,
As constant as the Childish frock –
I hung upon the Peg, at night.

But not the Grief – that nestled close
As needles – ladies softly press
To Cushions Cheeks –
To keep their place –

Nor what consoled it, I could trace –
Except, whereas ’twas Wilderness –
It’s better – almost Peace –

Dickinson borrows from the lexicon of railroads, “That something – had benumbed the Track – ” to add to the sense of motion. We are carried along in a life that refuses to stop despite a deprivation forced upon us.  Still, we can’t keep from looking back: “I could not feel the Anguish go – /But only knew by looking back – ” .

In another poem of Dickinson’s that is familiar to many fans of the poet, we are told that hope “..sings the tune without the words – and never stops – at all.” The silent force of hope acts on our minds and spirits without our being aware. Then, one day I realize my once deeply felt sorrow has undergone a change; “Nor when it altered, I could say, / For I had worn it, every day,”.

Don’t get me wrong, is the warning of the third stanza. Here, the poem instructs me to avoid the mistake of thinking that while the debilitating effects of great loss have been alleviated – grief itself is not cast out: “But not the Grief – that nestled close”.  As needlecraft is employed to decorate and comfort, so grief and its aftermath renders the tapestry of days, “To keep their place -”.

While I read this poem, I, too, am compelled to think about the past, and wonder “what consoled it,” . There is nothing “I could trace -” that would fulfill such a mighty undertaking!  All I know is, “whereas ’twas Wilderness – / It’s better – almost Peace -”.

If a modern band like, say, “The Who” were to record this song-poem, I feel certain they would scream in all the right places. And, give drive-time radio listeners and MP3 download zealots a high time.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

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Say it isn’t so, we say, when a deep sea oil drill disaster destroys land, water, fish, wildlife and tiny organisms on a Biblical scale.  Emily Dickinson’s “A doubt if it be Us” points out that my very definition of myself and “you” can be changed by catastrophe. Hostility to, and refusal to accept, is built in, the poem declares.

A doubt if it be Us
Assists the staggering Mind
In an extremer Anguish
Until it footing find.

An Unreality is lent,
A merciful Mirage
That makes the living possible
While it suspends the lives

How can it be, that hurricanes reorder an entire human system: homes, businesses, relationships and hearts. We would rather “..doubt if it be Us”, than accept what’s happened. This much tragedy happens somewhere else. Doesn’t it? The furthest extreme of this experience is a response to trauma such as loss of speech, amnesia, even death from a heart attack.

In this poem about shock, doubt, itself, is portrayed as our ally. For it, “Assists the staggering Mind”. Doubt is usually regarded as somewhat benign and simply a way to describe uncertainty or indecision. In religion, hesitation or dubiousness about tenets of faith are respected as signs of thinking things through.  Doubt as suspicion or confusion about things-that-go-bump-in-the night are accepted as part of being aware. Doubtful queries and questions about everything from political campaigns to why your teenager was out past her curfew, a sign of being engaged.

But, in that unknown landscape of my nervous system, somewhere between shutting down completely in death and everyday doubts, the staggering mind receives help from a sustaining type of doubt. But only “In an extremer Anguish / (and no more than) Until it footing find.”

Since I don’t “do” such horrific changes to my known world easily, or well, “An Unreality is lent, / A merciful Mirage” takes over to keep me from comprehending what’s changing. Everything. Mercifully, “That makes the living possible”.

Curiously, the last line describes the impact of these psychic mechanisms – “While it suspends the lives” – and, withholds resolution of the matter. This particular day is the 74th day of no conclusion in the Gulf of Mexico. A continuation of suspended lives after the BP Oil disaster.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

I recently read a book on feng shui by Denise Linn. It’s a great tutorial for increasing awareness of personal symbols. Emily Dickinson’s “You taught me Waiting with Myself – ” may go a bit further by uncovering why such a process matters.

You taught me Waiting with Myself –
Appointment strictly kept –
You taught Me fortitude of Fate –
This – also – I have learnt –

An Altitude of Death, that could
No bitterer debar
Than Life – had done – before it –
Yet – there is a Science more –

The Heaven you know – to understand
That you be not ashamed
of Me- in Christ’s bright Audience
Opon the further Hand

I don’t pretend to grasp all the syntax, including all the second or first person pronouns and their references. Nevertheless, I am fascinated with the idea of being taught how to accomplish a “Waiting with Myself -“.

Without having divulged personal motivations, the poem’s serious intent is hinted in the high priority of an “Appointment strictly kept -”.  What, we might ask, is the alternative to such dedicated effort? For me, if the driving motivation is to go deeper into the what-ifs of personal barriers and hangups there’s a risk of intellectualization and “beating the dead horse” of old experiences and situations. When what I really need is feeling or solicitude.

While I wait with myself, as in meditation, I am ideally only aware of the present. (In some feng shui meditative exercises, I was amazed at present meanings I give to objects that have their origins in my past.) The poem follows meditative waiting with myself with acknowledgment of being compelled by the future. “You taught Me fortitude of Fate -”.

The wonderfully transitional “This – also – I have learnt -” reiterates fate’s impervious fortitude, or mettle; and, levels my attention on “An Altitude of Death,…”. I believe this line, and the next two, refer to what I have already said about the risks involved in too much intellectualization of private quandries and concerns.  On and on it can go until paralysis sets in, more like death – or, at least one of its classifications – so that the effect is as bad as the cause. “(T)hat could/No bitterer debar/Than Life – had done – before it -” gives to death all its customary bitterness.

But, wait! Science to the rescue!

Is “Yet – there is a Science more -” a false clue about how to be liberated from this self-imposed brainiac solution?

For now the poem speaks the language of the soul; the supportive sounds of “The Heaven you know – to understand/That you be not ashamed”.  The Heaven.  You know.  To understand.

Instead of a level in hell, an altitude of death, the upper regions of consciousness, “Me- in Christ’s bright Audience” are foretold.  I read now of feeling. Sympathy and compassion lead away from self-inflicted isolation to a place where the brightest audience awaits. There is real satisfaction when “That you be not ashamed” takes hold with compassionate understanding.  Successful acceptance of psychological realities leads to personal freedom. The things audiences do best, applause, or “give a hand,” are echoed when “Opon the further Hand” I place my trust. Both here-and-now, as well as further and unseen. That may be the applause of eternity – an inner condition with myself.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

Going from one stage of my life to another may force me to prove that what I am doing is worthwhile. Implied “others” in Emily Dickinson’s, “No Notice gave She, but a Change”, may represent the challenge when feeling at cross-purposes with family and friends.

No Notice gave She, but a Change –
No Message, but a sigh –
For Whom, the Time did not suffice
That she should specify.

She was not warm, though Summer shone
Nor scrupulous of cold
Though Rime by Rime, the steady Frost
Opon Her Bosom piled –

Of shrinking ways – she did not fright
Though all the Village looked –
But held Her gravity aloft –
And met the gaze – direct –

And when adjusted like a seed
In careful fitted Ground
Unto the Everlasting Spring
And hindered but a Mound

Her Warm return, if so she chose –
And We – imploring drew –
Removed our invitation by
As Some She never knew –

No one need act directly or resist my efforts. And, I need not be explicit; “No Message, but a sigh —”. Perhaps too much time is required. Or, not enough time is possible, “.. the Time did not suffice / That she should specify.”

There is nothing passive, however, about the relationship when a simple phone call feels like a challenge if family or friends are taken by surprise when I make unexpected choices. “Of shrinking ways — she did not fright / Though all the Village looked —”.

I may feel I have to defend myself, “But held Her gravity aloft — / And met the gaze — direct —”.  I have to teach myself that usually others’ motives are the same as mine. We all want to be “.. adjusted like a seed / In careful fitted Ground”.

The poem uses the specter of eternal change to dramatize earthly ones. “Unto the Everlasting Spring/And hindered but a Mound”.

Like a lover who has broken off one time too many, will they seek “Her Warm return, if so she chose — / And We — imploring drew —”, only to find they “Removed our invitation / As Some She never knew —”?

Unless I can see the experience of counter-forces as inevitable when changes occur, periodically, how am I to own my own choices? 

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way

As a response to real or perceived threat, fight or flight are two recognized options. Fight or flight. I happen to think there’s a third. Debate.

“She staked Her Feathers — Gained an Arc —”, by Emily Dickinson, takes aim at some outside-the-box thinking.  Seldom discussed in conversation about achieving success are the benefits of debate. Part hesitation. Part self-talk, when a particular playing field refers to stock-market investments, say, or writing, acting, getting married, or, a new job.

She staked Her Feathers – Gained an Arc –
Debated – Rose again –
This time – beyond the estimate
Of Envy, or of Men –

And now, among Circumference –
Her steady Boat be seen –
At home – among the Billows – As
The Bough where she was born –

Whatever the cause, “She staked .. ”. She made the commitment. She put everything on the line. Agreed to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Keeping to my proposed scenarios, public companies need to be feathered with lots of investment. To overcome economic trauma, they must contend with hesitation, analysis-driven caution. It’s not passivity. And, it’s not unenterprising. It’s debate.

The poem’s beautiful imagery, “Gained an Arc — / Debated — Rose Again —” encourages the faint-hearted. What makes the scenario so beautiful is almost everyone’s ability to identify with idealistically taking on a project, only to be met with resistance. The “wind” or “predator” that prevents immediacy may be my “arc.” A chosen but flawed trajectory. As a writer, 101 opening paragraphs may be written before a knowing appears in the words.

Other troubles will appear; “.. the estimate ” or, limits others put on themselves and automatically seek to put on me.

Say I have talent and preparation and land a part that other, more experienced actors want. The tension can be terrible between my desire to be close to friends in my chosen field and the need to be free to follow my dreams. Staying in flight, regardless “Of Envy, or of Men —” and their prejudices, takes persistence and self-confidence.

The final lines offer an afterglow where mastery is the goal. Here, I’ve taken my place through dedication, despite all the barriers. If “And now, among Circumference — ” may include all the ocean of accomplishment on earth from the beginning to the end of time, my utmost ambition is to have my place there. “The Bough where she was born —” is a far cry from a comfortable little place in “Her steady Boat … / … among the Billows” .

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way

If Emily Dickinson had clung to her inalienable right for happiness in a relationship, we might not have “Fitter to see Him, I may be”. Her poem suggests that no matter how bad the wound, there’s always an upside — if we demand it — when life doesn’t turn out.

Fitter to see Him, I may be
For the long Hindrance – Grace – to Me –
With Summers, and with Winters, grow,
Some passing Year – A trait bestow

To make Me fairest of the Earth –
The Waiting – then – will seem so worth
I shall impute with half a pain
The blame that I was chosen – then –

Time to anticipate His Gaze –
It’s first – Delight – and then – Surprise –
The turning o’er and o’er my face
For Evidence it be the Grace –

He left behind One Day – So less
He seek Conviction, That – be This –

I only must not grow so new
That He’ll mistake – and ask for me
Of me – when first unto the Door
I go – to Elsewhere go no more –

I only must not change so fair
He’ll sigh – “The Other – She – is Where?”
The Love, tho’, will array me right
I shall be perfect – in His sight –

If He perceive the other Truth –
Upon an Excellenter Youth –

How sweet I shall not lack in Vain –
But gain – thro’ loss – Through Grief – obtain –
The Beauty that reward Him best –
The Beauty of Demand – at Rest –

If I make the most of “the long Hindrance” of not getting my own way, the question becomes how to apply the poet’s “.. trait bestow / To make Me fairest of the Earth”. It was for her to be unique communicator-in-verse, entertainer and story-teller. The question posed for me and other readers is what individual traits can I nourish and train that will produce comparable peace and harmony in place of living in the past with curmudgeon regrets.

If I assign the blame (“I shall impute”) for my suffering on “The waiting”, which results in the advantage of uncovering my buried strengths, it “will seem so worth /… half the pain”.

But, let me imagine how it would be to regain what I lost. “Time to anticipate His Gaze”. The consideration of which helps me think outside criteria I set for myself; to the meaning of change in relation to others. Am I, with age, really a better person? “I only must not grow so new / … I only must not change so fair”. If having lost “.. the Grace” of youth, what “.. so new” is in its place? How do I know if I’m better? By what standard? Love’s? “The Love, tho’ will array me right”. Whose love ? Can I trust “his” perceptions? Along with love, there is another truth. Change.

“I shall be perfect — in His sight — / If He perceive the other Truth”. Does “he” grasp that time adds “Opon an Excellenter Youth —” because it is impossible to remain the same. However, if I “But gain — thro’ loss — Through Grief — ..”. If “he” can perceive the truth of love and the truth of change, and I don’t rely only on the progress of time, then “Beauty that reward …”

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes your Way

The proud pace and confident rhythm of “I started Early — Took my Dog — ”, by Emily Dickinson, implies resolution of an internal struggle to accept the forces of change acting on individual ego.

I started Early – Took my Dog –
And visited the Sea –
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me –

And Frigates – in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands —
Presuming Me to be a Mouse –
Aground – opon the Sands –

But no Man moved Me – till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe –
And past my Apron – and my Belt
And past my Bodice – too –

And made as He would eat me up —
As wholly as a Dew
Opon a Dandelion’s Sleeve —
And then – I started – too –

And He – He followed – close behind –
I felt his Silver Heel
Opon my Ankle — Then My Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl —

Until We met the Solid Town –
No One He seemed to know –
And bowing – with a Mighty look –
At me – The Sea withdrew –

The first verse imagines waking to conditions when, perhaps by choice, everything in life I had always counted on has passed away. I feel like a stranger in almost every way, except for my dog as symbol of my former self.

The second verse reiterates my “newby” status. Everyone who encounters me, “Presuming Me to be a Mouse — ”, assumes I can easily be dismissed. I may add to this perception by feeling suddenly “Aground — opon the Sands — ”.

Disoriented by new conditions in life, such as a new job, abandonment by a spouse, loss of job or other income, a geographic move; or, perhaps changes in how to think that I elect on my, or others’, behalf, all make me feel unprotected. Waiting to be swept away.

 Time passes. “But no Man moved Me — … ”.  It seems for a while that the “Tide” of trouble that “.. made as he would eat me up — / As wholly as a Dew ” will annihilate me. I cannot fight, directly, without inviting a continuation of the struggle.

But, as it turns out, “And then — I started — too — ”. Ceasing to demand that conditions, possessions, relationships, remain the same when it is time for them to wither away puts turmoil behind me. “And bowing — with a Mighty look — / At me — The Sea Withdrew —”.

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way