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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A gift for all the people in a group, committee, club or family is a non-starter if I expect to be loved or remembered for the gesture. If you like the idea that a gift to a friend will become a cherished keepsake, a small trinket that costs little or nothing is the best bet. Emily Dickinson, in “’Tis Customary as we part”, gets at the emotion of successful gift-giving.

‘Tis customary as we part
A trinket – to confer –
It helps to stimulate the faith
When Lovers be afar —

‘Tis various – as the various taste –
Clematis – journeying far –
Presents me with a single Curl
Of her Electric Hair –

This little poem, (unlike hundreds of Dickinson poems that describe, analyze and push the limits of language to dramatize loss), focuses on a practical implement that assumes significance only because the people we love are not always close to hand. Nothing amplifies feelings like parting, which the poem uses to universalize itself. I notice the contrast between the immeasurable quality of “we part” and the diminutive connotation of “A trinket – to confer -”. The point being that a token of affection may be infinitely more important than relics of memory alone as a way to keep affections alive.  A reminder in my pocket, drawer or frame has the potential to turn a frown caused by time and distance into a smile, “When Lovers be afar – ”. No token too small. A contrivance! Be that as it may, any little item can become a memorial if it is associated with a priceless memory.

Only the very rich can give automobiles, Tiffany jewelry or, say, a Rembrandt painting. Even these gifts are likely to be held in limited regard if they don’t symbolize palpable, shared love. If a gift will be one that “.. helps to stimulate the faith” it must strike at the heart of the bond between family or other loved ones.

The important element for any gift, if it is to hold its significance, is attentiveness to variety, the kind that fits the variety in tastes among individuals. “’Tis various – as the various taste – ”.

Clematis, or “travelers joy,” is in knowing, or relying on, the quality of loyalty of a loved one.  Joy is symbolically carried with me because I have certain trinkets, like trophies, as reminders to me of the emotional tie between us. Holiday gifts that we give for Christmas, Hanukkah and memorializations of other religions, along with birthdays, serve to “stimulate the faith” as we travel the calendar or “… journeying far”.

There are all kinds of presents. There are all kinds of relationships. The one thing that is constant is the stirring quality, perhaps even explosive element of  “.. a single Curl / Of her Electric Hair -”.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

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.

Emily Dickinson’s multiple images for the times that are a-changing, and the thoughts that accompany them, in, “The murmuring of Bees, has ceased”, challenges me to stop and notice language and the transformations they attempt to express. And, what role my thoughts play in my changing definition of myself.

The reading I do, the poems I scrutinize, even positive quotes I need or want to hear on any given day depend on many things: Whether I’m happy about the responsibilities I face. Or, if someone near and deare is happy. Perhaps I’m having money problems. On the other hand, if I just got a new job the words that will feed my soul will be quite different. A new baby in the family? Some other extraordinary happening? Or, maybe change happens gradually, like the seasons, my age, even my idea of God.

The murmuring of Bees, has ceased
But murmuring of some
Posterior, prophetic,
Has simultaneous come.
The lower metres of the Year
When Nature’s laugh is done
The Revelations of the Book
Whose Genesis was June.
Appropriate Creatures to her change
The Typic Mother sends
As Accent fades to interval
With separating Friends
Till what we speculate, has been
And thoughts we will not show
More intimate with us become
Than Persons, that we know.

As I write this, the summer of 2010 is complete. “The murmuring of the Bees, has ceased”. Yet, other indicators of the truth of my physical existence remain. In fact, they never conclude: “But murmuring of some/Posterior, prophetic,/Has simultaneous come.”

Perhaps, in part, the poem suggests examining my thoughts and words for which ones are like the murmur of this year’s bees. And which ones valued as more enduring. Memorizing a poem to offer it back to myself as a positive quote does not mean parroting happy talk. Quite the contrary. Like a friend willing to simply listen to a rant, the poem reflects me back to myself; or, encourages me to be myself.

Isn’t it fascinating that “The lower metres of the Year”, assumes my understanding (conscious or unconscious thought) that all year there are other signs, other whispers, re-emerging, or constant – voices spoken with an undertone similar to summer’s with its unobtrusiveness, as when “.. Nature’s laugh is done”.

The poem almost belabors the conditions that describe summer, imitating my reluctance to put summer in the past tense in a “book/year.” Again, there is a metaphor for “Genesis-summer,” but this time it’s a soft introduction of summer’s inevitable, though perhaps unwanted disclosure, even betrayal, “The Revelations of the Book/Whose Genesis was June.” The revelation is autumn. With fall, “As Accent (that) fades to interval”, the word play introduces a notion of dreary things to come; and, intimates whispered gossip’s power, “With separating Friends”.

Finally, the lines, “Till what we speculate, has been/And thoughts we will not show” provide me with a treatise, of sorts, for my idea that certain poems transcend and embrace myself.

I’ve been alerted recently by reading Jed Deppman’s Trying To Think With Emily Dickinson, that the poet took thought/thinking as a subject in itself. Perhaps that is one reason my own thoughts, “More intimate with us become/Than Persons, that we know” must be my most definitive aspect.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

Like many children, when little I was entertained by garrulous motormouths. At some point in late adolescence I started to appreciate those who could concentrate on a topic so as to enjoy a lengthy conversation.  Not long after, I learned self-confidence when I discovered a knack for leading group discussions and that I enjoyed public speaking and performing. Emily Dickinson sets up conversational references in “I fear a Man of frugal speech -” perhaps to comment on the developmental effect of our interaction with others.

I fear a Man of frugal speech –
I fear a Silent Man –
Haranguer – I can overtake –
Or Babbler – entertain –

But He who weigheth – While the Rest –
Expend their furthest pound –
Of this Man – I am wary –
I fear that He is Grand –

My tendency is to rattle on to fill the gaps of silence in the conversation, as described in line one, between me and someone who uses speech very sparingly, frugally.   In the second example, since there’s no conversation possible with “… a Silent Man – ”, I think of a party or group meeting. There’s the inevitable one who sits listening. The only conversation in this instance is the one I have with myself, so I feel compelled to try to “make ’em talk!” Or, heaven forbid there drop a moment of quiet in an otherwise lively exchange of ideas. Then, I’ve more than once jumped at the chance to have my say.

I read the third example as outright funny. “Haranguer – I can overtake -”. What a spectacle it is when I take the bait and get into a contest of insights, opinions and interpretations with someone who confuses their entitlement to beliefs with their right to exist. Fourth, it is probably a sign of a dampened conscience that my mind goes into to cruise control when I’m around naturally loquacious individuals who epitomize the gift of gab: “Or Babbler – entertain – ”.

In stark contrast to circumstances where another’s silence or “frugal speech” prompts thoughtless chatter on my part, in the fifth line, “But He who weigheth – While the Rest – ”, the poem indicates a progression. Perhaps “the rest” is about those of us who talk or say little because reflective or philosophical thinking is forgotten in the anticipations and apprehensions of discussion.

The word fear is used three times in the poem; twice in the first stanza and once in the second. Fear of what I will say when reacting to someone’s silence by blurting the first words that occur to me. Fear of how much smarter they might be than me. Akin to the fear of the unknown, these conversational lapses remind me that nothing is foreordained. Surely fear in the sense of respect, too, for one who keeps his own counsel when others, “Expend their furthest pound -”, put all they can into convincing others, or showcasing their own cleverness.

In young children it is endearing when bravado and bragging enter into their language and behavior. As Erikson’s “stages of psychosocial development” describe it, 2 to 3-year-olds will either enjoy autonomy or feel shame and doubt; ages 4 to 6 will exhibit self-motivation or guilt; diligence or inferiority will typify childhood from 7 to 11. Autonomy, self-motivation and diligence in these ages is easy to recognize in little babblers and haranguers.

Whether I interpret wary and fear in the final, “Of this Man – I am wary -/ I fear that He is Grand -”, as dread or esteem depends on whether I have found any grandeur in my own life and being – my motivations and responsibilities. And, whether I have the power to experience sympathetic understanding in all kinds of conversations.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

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