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

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

Ah! Love. What lengths I’ve gone to give it, get it, avoid it, protect it and squander it. Because of some kind of inborn impulse, to analyze it, inspect it, speechify it and so on. Emily Dickinson’s “You love me — you are sure —” is an attempt to remain rational about it.

You love me – you are sure –
I shall not fear mistake –
I shall not cheated wake –
Some grinning morn –
To find the Sunrise left –
And Orchards – unbereft –
And Dollie – gone!

I need not start – you’re sure –
That night will never be –
When frightened – home to Thee I run –
To find the windows dark –
And no more Dollie – mark –
Quite none?

Be sure you’re sure – you know –
I’ll bear it better now –
If you’ll just tell me so –
Than when – a little dull Balm grown –
Over this pain of mine –
You sting – again!

The unwritten but understood, “I love you” receives no ideal response, “I love you, too.” But, instead, it picks a fight; “ — you are sure —”? Doubt and suspicion set the tone throughout.  And, resentment, though suppressed. But, is there love?

Now, think about what it means to face every day with me. I wonder if you can be sure that “I shall not fear mistake — / I shall not cheated wake — / Some grinning morn —”. Good grief! Cut the irony before it bites.

Waking with a grin on my face, one “grinning morn”, to find that love has gone stirs up a series of bad images. The only thing the suspicious lover imagines untouched by grief, the trees, “And Orchards — unbereft —”

I won’t puzzle over the identity of “Dollie.” There seems little doubt the nickname is authored by the poet for her sister-in-law, Susan. The poem’s power is in its metaphor for love.

The vulnerability required to trust someone with my tenderest feelings is echoed in the childlike, “When frightened — home to Thee I run —” where I expect to be protected from harm, not find the source of harm. “To find the windows dark —”.

The poem tells me that the time to expose my doubts and fear of betrayal is at the beginning of, or renewal, of a relationship: “I’ll bear it better now — If you’ll just tell me so —”.

“Because it’s not as if I don’t need you. I do.

“In part, ‘Over this pain of mine —’, I’m willing to let your love provide a balm. But, if I let that happen, ‘…when — a little dull Balm grown — / You sting — again!’ 

“Well, I’ll just stop there. I don’t want to imagine more.”

Digest A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

There are several kinds of silence.

I’ve known quiet that is a terrible tool, leaving me disoriented and the victim of my own imagination. The kind of silence in “Speech is one symptom of affection”, by Emily Dickinson is a mature, caring, active choice. Not one that aims to manipulate or punish. Nor to attempt a self-made shell of protection.

Speech is one symptom of affection
And Silence one –
The perfectest communication
Is heard of none

Exists and it’s indorsement
Is had within –
Behold said the Apostle,
Yet had not seen!

When a child, I knew no other way to cope than to be silent when I was sexually molested at age nine. Fierce upheavals went on inside my mind and emotions, creating near-hallucinatory perceptions of the world around me. 

I became obsessed with a lot of things. One of them was the idea that silence could be anything other than harrowing. I find numerous, beautiful, evidence. “They sat tranquilly, side by side, in no hurry to begin the mangled business of communication. A slight breeze cooled their skin,” muses a character in The Ghost Road, by Pat Barker.

Self-hate has not been so much overcome by self-love as by the chipping away of my hatred of silence. The poem doesn’t claim there is ever perfect communication either in speech or silence. But, that, compared to speech, “… Silence one — ” way to show affection, is sometimes better. “The perfectest communication / Is heard of none”.

For an emotion to find its ratification by its self-authored authority, “Exists and it’s indorsement” / Is had within — ”, was life changing for me when I began to read poems like this one. Encouraged by the poem to trust the elements of my war within, looking around me for clues to a proper existence, I find I can listen to the imaginative and sometimes intelligent inner voices. 

It is no longer a minor miracle to discover myself enjoying what the poem recalls in the story of Jesus as predictor of spiritual inheritors of Thomas, another doubter. Love can be shared, though “Yet had not seen!” 

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way

“There is another Loneliness”, by Emily Dickinson assumes I am acquainted with at least two species of 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 —

The loneliness everyone experiences when robbed of companionship can be remedied by almost any attempt at conversation. Even in extreme loss, I’ve known friends who, following a divorce or other breakup, simply walk around a mall to keep from “going crazy.”  I am more inclined to dive into a long novel, or, (surprise) dig into a poem. But, I too, have days — today being one of them — when I am so in the mood for casual chit-chat I feel like I could make an anarchist feel peaceful. Without interaction with others I will invite that familiar loneliness.

The poem concentrates on loneliness “That many die without — ” experiencing.  This brand of solitude, aloneness as a fundamental ingredient, is as individual as the exact shape of a nose. It is “Not (a) want of friend… “. Even circumstances such as heredity, ill-fortune, death and disaster are outside its purview. 

“But nature.. ”. No one to blame. The idea that “.. nature, sometimes, sometimes thought” is no explanation. No analysis.

But that’s what people do. Isn’t that what poems are about? more»

Not attempting to explain, it would seem, is the explanation. “And whoso it befall” must rely on nature thinking.

Nature. Thinking.

For she “Is richer than could be revealed” by friendships galore or families standing by. Because “By mortal numeral — ” we are in the realm of mortal solutions.

Those of us afflicted with loneliness as a fundamental trait must wait for natural forces. For Nature to think.

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way

The nectar of success that seemed to shower unearned wealth and power on so many in 2008 ultimately gave new meaning to “Success is counted sweetest”, by Emily Dickinson.

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory

As he defeated — dying —
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

Clearly, we don’t yet know the extent of the year’s revelations. However, failures of financial, political and military resources to deliver the world in which we thought we lived means we begin to understand that “To comprehend a nectar / Requires sorest need.” 

The second stanza moves to enlarge on the private ironical tragedy of knowing the sweetness of accomplishment as a loser better than a counterpart who is free to take for granted the perks of advantaged living. Perhaps the responsibilities and self discipline required of the truly financially well-endowed mean that only the poor victims of lost 401-k’s or dependents of a charity that recently went poof! see such high estate as pure.

I think of how clearly I can see what would have happened in Iraq if a shock-and-awe of proper preparation and planning had been part of the relative ease of dethroning Saddam Hussein. Billions of words written about what should or might have happened in Iraq shows our latter day ability to “.. tell the definition / So clear of Victory”.

There are ways in which I see 2008 “As he defeated — dying — ”.  But, it is our collective “… forbidden ear” that can hear in Congressional hearings the “distant strains of triumph” that might have been. Titans “Burst agonized and clear!” as they make their case for prolonging yesterday’s auto, bank and home industries.

I see by looking back at 2008 that some of my biggest decisions were based on needs, some of which I created with fantastic flights of imagination!  Nectar I could only comprehend because of perceptions that I had failed.

Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way