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


In Emily Dickinson’s, “If those I loved were lost” I feel invited to think about the quality of time I can create for myself, and between myself and loved ones.  A deeper understanding of psychological areas that we are connected by through the experience of pain, suffering and rejection, may be brought on by holidays, births, deaths or any circumstance out of the ordinary.

If those I loved were lost
The Crier’s voice would tell me –
If those I loved were found
The bells of Ghent w’d ring –
Did those I loved repose
The Daisy would impel me.
Philip – when bewildered
Bore his riddle in!

This poem speaks to the deepening understanding of these interrelations. Family get-togethers inevitably bring out both likenesses and differences. If I feel lost due to expectations that don’t pan out, I am tempted to imagine, rightly or wrongly, the relationship I wanted is just not there. And, indeed, what I wanted may not. The poem compares the village crier to the cry within, “If those I loved were lost/The Crier’s voice would tell me – ”.

Dickinson connects with my fascination for new or exotic travel in the poem by creating an imaginary trip to see “the bells of Ghent,” which were completed in 1338 as part of a tower in Flanders, Belgium (then part of England). Their customary purpose for generations of medieval families was to provide warning of danger, and were rung daily to reassure townspeople that all was well. Very rarely were they rung to announce some good fortune such as, “If those I loved were found”.  In so doing, the poem makes a celebration louder than any shouting to indicate the rarity of so magnificent an event as to find a love that is lost. In the heart or by death.

“Did those I loved repose/The Daisy would impel me.” If someone deare to me has died, life would impel, demand, that I talk to other people who are interested in this theme. Holidays and other times full of emotion are well suited to penetrating the complicated connections and dependencies between human behavior, the psyche and early injuries – to differentiate between cause and effect.

One of two architects who designed the tower and bells of Ghent, whose first name was Philip, may be referenced in the poem as one who threaded his own mysteries into “The ‘secret’, or treasury room, (which) was protected by two large doors, each with three locks. The keys of these locks were in the hands of the different guilds of Ghent. Therefore, the ‘secret’ could only be opened in the presence of the main representatives of these powerful leaders of the economic life of the city.” (www.trabel.com) Philip – when bewildered/Bore his riddle in!” Families and other loving relationships may become complicated. What would we do without poetry to express our feelings about them?

Digest A Poem A Day – Accept What Comes Your Way

Sometimes it isn’t practical to act natural. Except in my own imagination.

I learn from Emily Dickinson’s “Had I not This, or This, I said,” to entertain contradictory desires with my own thoughts if that is how it is. Friends and loved ones, however, aren’t likely to satisfy the same urges if I’m feeling the need for experiences on a profound, rather than superficial level. I’m constantly having to measure this.

Had I not This, or This, I said,
Appealing to Myself,
In moment of prosperity –
Inadequate – were Life –

“Thou hast not Me, nor Me” – it said,
In moment of Reverse –
“And yet Thou art industrious –
No need – had’st Thou of us -“?

My need – was all I had – I said
The need did not reduce –
Because the food – exterminate –
The hunger – does not cease –

But diligence – is sharper –
Proportioned to the chance –
To feed opon the Retrograde –
Enfeebles – the Advance –

The poem mimics a type of conversation going on inside my head that I often don’t even acknowledge until I find myself thinking about some deep-rooted feelings about old relationships. The trick is to avoid being obsessive. “To feed opon the Retrograde — / Enfeebles — the Advance”.

These hidden energies are as much a part of me as the ones I might find more suitable to the current situation. The concerns of today are to mail some Christmas gifts, buy a couple of special holiday cards, get a manicure and make a final decision about what to wear to an event this evening. “Had I not This, or This, I said, / Appealing to Myself,”. I wouldn’t change a thing.

But I also wouldn’t count today’s “moment of prosperity” any more significant to well-being than “The hunger — (that) does not cease — ” and which I have the opportunity to explore as I talk about poems. “But diligence — is sharper — /Proportioned to the chance — ”.  The chance I have is a combination of the time I make for daydreaming, writing, reading, researching; in fluctuating ratio to that life which friends, loved ones and fate allow. 


Digest A Poem A Day — Accept What Comes Your Way