Emily Dickinson

Emily DickinsonOn this day in 1830, the great poet Emily Dickinson was born. I feel a great kinship with her because of her agoraphobia. I would rather conduct my relationships through letters. (I’m not saying this is a good thing.) But Dickinson was also interested in a lot of the same things that I am, and her thinking of metaphysics certainly parallels mine.

Regardless, I thought I would present “The Mystery of Pain.” I found a version online for teachers where it comments, “This poem is suitable to be taught for Junior High School students because it has a great moral value of life. It notices to be patient when we are in a pain, and we have to realize that everything will change, there is no everlasting pain. Since the language used is quite hard to understand, the teacher should assist students to find the correct interpretation of the poem.”

All I can say is that I hope the teachers understand the poem better than whomever wrote that! Let me give you my interpretation. We tend to not be able to imagine that we will always feel the way we now do and that’s a drag when we are feeling pain. But the enlightened mind will know that the pain will go away, only to be replaced by another pain. I would find that a depressing thought if it were not exactly what I know to be true.

Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.

It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain.

Happy birthday Emily Dickinson!


This article was part of last year’s birthday post, The Best Birthday Post Ever. I don’t normally do this, but I am suffering from some kind of food poisoning or something. I hope I feel better later!

3 thoughts on “Emily Dickinson

  1. I have never seen that poem before. I think it’s brilliant. I have a weird relationship with Emily Dickinson. She is not someone whose work I actively seek to read, but every time I come across a poem of hers, there is some cutting nugget of truth to it that just kills me. I remember the first time I ever felt understood by an adult was when I was in eighth grade, and I wrote a short essay on one of her poems, “There’s a Certain Slant of Light”:

    There’s a certain Slant of light,
    Winter Afternoons –
    That oppresses, like the Heft
    Of Cathedral Tunes –

    I understood this exact quality of light very well, and I wrote about the pain it caused me. My (deliciously super-crabby) English teacher commented on my essay that she felt the same things I did and that she knew what I meant. That made me so happy, to feel understood. It might not be something you could understand if you’ve never lived in, oh, say, Upper effin’ Michigan, but I know this light Emily speaks of. Winter light. It’s a killer.

    • I think I do know! There is this image that I think of as very southern: people drinking lemonade on the porch in the afternoon. I do not have this relationships with afternoons. They seem oppressive to me. Interestingly, sunset and dusk do not. But I have a pretty neurotic relationship to the sky. I cannot, for example, lie on my back and look up into the blue sky without being filled with anxiety. But I have no such fear at night. So sunsets and dusks call the night. Afternoons are like the death of day; night is a new beginning. I also, by the way, dread the dawn.

      I really like Dickinson, but I avoid her when I am depressed!

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