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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When Emily Dickinson created “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died – ” she gave readers a conundrum – how to reconcile somber death with an exuberant fly. Dilemmas and riddles abound in Dickinson’s work so that part is no surprise. Humor is the wonderful and crucial element.

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –

With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –

With the beginning stanza, I have a picture. Not calmness, but “like the Stillness in the Air -/ Between the Heaves of Storm – ”, a foreboding quiet. Everything in my life is suspended: conversation; loved ones, even thoughts of them; shopping; striving for excellence.  I am waiting; having said goodbye to all.

Suddenly, in starkest contrast, a buzzing fly, the uncontrollable and unpredictable third party, insinuates itself to mediate between me and immortality.

To reiterate the control that the vast unknown has on me and others, “Breaths were gathering firm”, the second stanza goes a step further than bleak resignation, to provide a villain. That other interloper, “King” Death, the one I can foresee, predict. Custom says death is the perfect and unpredictable, if inevitable, foil to life.

In this poem it is life’s unpredictability and exuberance, dramatized by the fly, that appears to do the impeding, or obstructing.  Hindering death’s progress.

Dickinson employs the very heart of humor here. For in the telling, the poem has it over King Death, if only for a moment. The poem dares to turn the tables on inevitability. A smile works its way onto my face.  For as I read I, too, momentarily play death at its own game.

Having attempted, as we do, to amass a modicum of sway, “I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away/ What portion of me be / Assignable”, it is sweet control, that I relish, through my paraphernalia, my stuff.  Here, again, “and then it was / There interposed a Fly – ”.  This time, the poem makes me laugh at myself. Control? ForgetAboutIt!

The final stanza’s “fly” is a fading image, now blending “With Blue – ..” while the crisp words of the first line are replaced with an echo of ebbing consciousness: “..uncertain stumbling Buzz – ”. Light, me, failing windows and the fly seem to move toward one another. But, “I could not see to see – ”.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

Inevitably, I will have a gazillion little distractions and Perfectly Good Reasons to delay a sit-down with a blank screen.

The old cliche’ of an alcoholic award-winning novelist or the newspaper reporter with a bottle of scotch in his desk drawer derive from the sometimes burdensome isolation of a writer. I wonder if it is this that Emily Dickinson recalls in “There is another Loneliness”.

There is another Loneliness
That many die without –
Not want of friend occasions it
Or circumstances of Lot

But nature, sometimes, sometimes thought
And whoso it befall
Is richer than could be revealed
By mortal numeral –

There is satisfaction in writing when I’ve completed a blog post or other writing project that is deliciously different from other pleasures. And, plenty of people have other private satisfactions.  And, I’m sure they have equally be-deviling habits to stand in their way without ever an attempt to make a dime with their time at a keyboard. “There is another Loneliness / That many die without – ”.

It’s not the kind of loneliness that has anything to do with a lack of friends. “Not want of friend occasions it”.  Nor can it be blamed on the rich or poor circumstances of my life. It doesn’t even have anything to do with having a job, a mate, or, much else. “Or circumstances of Lot”.

This next line slows me down after the somewhat mysterious words of the first stanza. And, then hands me over to a slow, contemplative – almost rock back and forth – tempo. “But nature, sometimes, sometimes thought”.  That line.  It sits out there all by itself.  Through repetition of “sometimes, sometimes” it emphasizes the rarity of the experience of writing greatness.  Thought, in the world of Dickinson poetry needs no object to be a verb. Thought, like nature, just is.  Upon completion of my writing, I may feel a oneness with nature.  Fine.  That is one thing. “But nature, sometimes, sometimes thought” through me! What an amazing way to say how it feels to create something out of words. A rare privilege, indeed.

The final thought of this poem is to recognize the prosperous condition of our spirits when we overcome the isolation, the fear to publish, and tell the wolves of self-doubt to find another victim. “And whoso it befall / Is richer than could be revealed / By mortal numeral – ”.  Immortal numeral for immortal words.  Don’t I wish.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

Perhaps one way to amplify our recognition of Independence Day in America is to take part in the Emily Dickinson custom of debating loss versus gain.  I suppose Dickinson’s pleasant sense of well-being about “one Day” preceded this lyric reflection that:

Had this one Day not been,
Or could it cease to be

How smitten, how superfluous,
Were every other Day!

Lest Love should value less
What Loss would value more

Had it the stricken privilege,
It cherishes before.

On this national celebration of independence from the mother country England, I’m inclined to feel very warm and friendly to the people around me. “Had this one Day not been, / Or could it cease to be”, my awareness of sharing a common destiny with believers in democracy would not exist.

Without the progress in democratic ideals and ambitions as reflected in establishment of an America independent of monarchy in the 18th Century, where would I be? Where the world? Would I be able to extend emotional or physical support to anyone I feel needs it? Would I live were generosity and giving are recognized as viable and valued traits? Would personal goals and ambitions have any significance in the culture that outlines my reality?

If not, “How smitten, how superfluous, / Were every other Day!”

The poem assists in my effort to imagine such a fate. Of all the words to select in this brief poem, “smitten” and “superfluous” are here as indicators of what that fate might be. Two words that do not seem to me ordinarily good companions in language’s campaign to describe – well – anything.

Yet, there they are. Smitten can mean two entirely different things. Here’s what my online dictionary has:

smitten
adjective
1 “he was smitten with cholera” – struck down, laid low, suffering, affected, afflicted, plagued, stricken.
2 “Jane’s smitten with you” – infatuated with, besotted with, in love with, obsessed with, head over heels; enamored of, attracted to, taken with; captivated by, enchanted by, under someone’s spell, moonstruck by; (etc., etc.)

At first I’m inclined to select “stricken,” or, “laid low,” to imagine myself without freedom to vote, or make other personal choices. But, perhaps in not having been born into a democracy, the concept of freedom without its reality would render me forever “besotted with,” and, “enchanted” with democracy’s ideal.

The poem causes me to realize I am living my love of freedom, which leads to the luxury to take it for granted, “Lest Love should value less”. And, that  not to be coaxed by familiarity into neglecting its everyday value would be to live in a country where citizens are exploited by cruel monarchies and oppressive despots: “What Loss would value more”.

In a life where there are everyday terrors, or wearisome intrusions for those who stay out of the spotlight, it is indeed a “stricken privilege” to have a mental picture of what freedom would be like.

To be compelled to live according to the discretion of the powerful would do battle with any attempt at integrity and make me feel superfluous, as the poem describes in line three.  Yet, the assumption, the demand of every newborn is a fundamental right, “It cherishes before.” It doesn’t particularly matter what “before.”  To say, “before what?” disregards the intrinsic nature of a sense of freedom, with which all humans are born, and, which the framers of the U.S. Constitution immortalized.

America does not represent a “Pollyanna” view of reality that refuses to recognize trouble and pain in the world, but of a real sense of belonging to the family of the earth.

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

Emily Dickinson’s “Nobody knows this little Rose – ” works to remove distinctions between my mental and emotional responses; to merge feeling and intellect in an act of appreciation.

Nobody knows this little Rose –
It might a pilgrim be
Did I not take it from the ways
And lift it up to thee.
Only a Bee will miss it –
Only a Butterfly,
Hastening from far journey –
On its breast to lie –
Only a Bird will wonder –
Only a Breeze will sigh –
Ah Little Rose – how easy
For such as thee to die!

In my mind’s (mental) eye, the poem puts me into the story of one whose love (emotion) for another is expressed with feeling for nature’s gifts, in the form of the “little Rose – ”. In this initial reference the lower case “l” connotes any pretty flower. Nature, then, is the thing that stimulates an appreciation of its artistry. I am including myself and others as equivalent to the flower. For, we, along with the rose, “It might a pilgrim be”.

But, when “…I …take it from the ways” I participate with Nature as creator. Also, then the rose becomes part of a larger music, in the form of the poem’s rhythm. I, too, become a part of this Nature narrative, as the flower and myself are captured in poetry.

I’m told† this poem was included with a real rose to show love to a friend: “And lift it up to thee.” I am persuaded to take my place with “Only a Bee (who) will miss it – / Only a Butterfly,” by anticipating the loss of the flower once it has been given away. But, to trust my mind, rather than my feelings, as a means to express and to share an intellectual appreciation of beauty with a loved one.

There is more for me than a tender use of imagery in “Hastening from far journey – / On its breast to lie -”. It is a continuation of the poem’s conveyance that there is equal value between mind and emotion, as well as between Nature’s other signs of life and its human beings. I may “wonder” and “sigh” over what is lost; while not hesitating to act to enlarge my scope of expression. In the next-to-last line, the now titled, “Little Rose”, dies in order to become part of my larger story in expressing all I can to a loved one.

The poem invites me to experience concepts with great emotional feeling or to express emotions in an intellectual manner. Feeling and intellect are synthesized is in the poem.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

†R. W. Franklin. The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Variorum Edition. Pages 66-68. Franklin also provides information for this note: This is one of the poems by Dickinson that was actually published. It appeared in the Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican daily newspaper on August 2, 1858. Tradition has it that Dickinson’s sister-in-law, Susan, is responsible for sending it to the paper.

Army soldiers and other military troops shown in news stories from Afghanistan look to me so young, so innocent. When I read of their training or exploits on the ground, it has never occurred to me that the theater of war was where the central experience of life might exist for any of them.

Emily Dickinson imagines in “When I was small, a Woman died – ” a scenario where a young man’s defining tragedy took place when he was only a boy, setting the stage for belated progress. Skewed passages.

When I was small, a Woman died –
Today – her Only Boy
Went up from the Potomac –
His face all Victory

To look at her – How slowly
The Seasons must have turned
Till Bullets clipt an Angle
And He passed quickly round –

If pride shall be in Paradise –
Ourself cannot decide –
Of their imperial conduct –
No person testified –

But, proud in Apparition –
That Woman and her Boy
Pass back and forth, before my Brain
As even in the sky –

I’m confident that Bravoes –
Perpetual break abroad
For Braveries, remote as this
In Yonder Maryland –

To me, a big part of the poignancy of this poem is that “When I was small,” the death of a grownup not in my family could make an impression. So much so, that an orphan soldier’s bravery (“His face all Victory”) is largely measured, in the poem, by his facing battle without the love of his mother.

This poem pesters me with a question. If a live woman’s only boy dies in war, it is tragic, but customary. If a dead woman’s only boy dies in war, why and how does this change my feelings about his death? Mothers never accompany their daughters or sons in the battlefield. So, why does it seem the orphan soldier’s death is more isolated, more lonely, somehow?

I spot a clue in, “To look at her – How slowly/The Seasons must have turned”. Always wanting, looking – season after season – for ways to authenticate his courage and strength. The “Victory” sought after by every adolescent and young adult. Without a mother, a child’s ability to find mature self-confidence is often mired in the abyss. The old cliche’, “He/she has something to prove,” is grounded in this void. Did war become the focus of the growing boy’s need to feel bravery? Did soldiering seem to provide qualities he was unsure about? Did it come in death? “If pride shall be in Paradise -/ Ourself cannot decide – ”.

I believe it is in the need to ask these (unanswerable) questions, that the difference lies within our hearts and minds when we are forced to wonder: Who mourns the orphan soldier? The boy had no mother to validate his pride in self. We feel his nothingness when learning of his “imperial conduct” on the battleground.

The poet is compelled, Pass back and forth, before my Brain, to offer her own praise by imagining choruses in heaven to pay tribute. “Bravoes – … For Braveries…Yonder”.

Ponder A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way