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


When I want to show someone how I feel toward them but don’t know what to say, “A Sloop of Amber slips away”, by Emily Dickinson demonstrates an alternative to wringing my hands. “Just look at what a day does in expressing its parting,” the poem implies.

A Sloop of Amber slips away
Upon an Ether Sea
And wrecks in peace a Purple Tar –
The Son of Ecstasy –

A sloop, a sailing vessel with a single mast set about one third of the boat’s length at or near or toward the stern of the bow, is a mighty lovely thing when watched from the shore. Instead of using flowery adjectives to describe a sunset, the poet draws on metaphysical elements of this time of day.  Erasure of time. Non-visible impacts of its loveliness. The day at its end, in amber colors, “slips away”.

The recipient of this poem can enjoy the subjectivity of loss and beauty and the interplay between the two as, in Dickinson’s poem, they are eternally combined “Upon an Ether Sea”.

Also, there is a tint of war’s claim on most sailing vessels of that era, “And wrecks in peace a Purple Tar -”. The instantaneous peacefulness we feel when viewing a gorgeous sunset breaks up, is wrecked, as quickly as it settles on us. For, we are tarred, trapped in the knowledge that it also means that it will never be again.

It is the going, the departure, that is “The Son of Ecstasy”.  The parting months of every year arrive with fall; the hours of every day with sunset, a sloop slips away, here, in a poignant dramatization of loss. These moments of bitter-sweet, and sometimes just plain bitter, are the offspring of ecstasy: that of love and being together.

Perhaps, too the recipient is one who is leaving. No heavy handed good-byes, here. Only the potential of the recipient of this poem to regard his or her move out of town, or of a deadly disease, or, simply of two friends growing apart. The demureness in the poem is as nature itself, which offers endless pictorial displays to say for us what we somehow fail to say.

I am too bold, I’m sure, to think Dickinson may have broken with her habit of not doing so, and given one of her poems a title: “Please accept a Sunset -“. I see in my book of historical recordings of the poet’s notes and other information gleaned when she left behind more than one version of various poems, (The Poems of Emily Dickinson variorum edition, edited by R.W. Franklin), that at least part of her intention in writing this poem was to send a gift to a friend or loved one. Dickinson’s introduction of her sentiment is expressed, when, as Franklin notes, “the poem was introduced with the request: ‘Please accept a Sunset -‘ “.

Digest A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way