We grow accustomed to the Dark —
For several weeks I’ve been drawn to Emily Dickinson’s poem below. I wonder where it might find you today. My comments and personal reflection follow the poem.
We grow accustomed to the Dark –
When Light is put away—
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye –
A Moment – We uncertain step
For newness of the night –
Then – Fit our Vision to the Dark –
And meet the Road – erect –
And so of larger – Darknesses –
Those Evenings of the Brain –
When not a Moon disclose a sign –
Or Star – come out – within –
The Bravest – grope a little –
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead –
But as they learn to see –
Either the Darkness alters –
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight –
And Life – steps almost straight.
Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995
In the first two stanzas, Emily describes a common experience. When Light is ‘put away,’ our eyes grow accustomed to the Dark. Just think of sunset and the gradual onset of dusk before Dark.
Perhaps a Neighbor holds a lamp aloft so we can witness her Farewell to us, and enjoy a bit of Light as we depart into the growing Darkness. On the other hand, she might be holding the lamp aloft to witness the Light’s Goodbye as Darkness descends.
In either case, our eyes haven’t adjusted to the Dark. We stumble clumsily before we find our way and set out on the Road. Where are we headed? Emily doesn’t say.
In the third stanza Emily invites us to consider similar “…larger – Darknesses.” Her voice hesitates at the end of the first line. Forebodings? Memories? Fears? Tragedies? Depression? These aren’t routine Darknesses.
Emily calls them “Those Evenings of the Brain.” They’re larger than nature’s Darkness, and descend internally, often unseen by others. Unlike the evening sky, no Moon rises and no Stars twinkle ‘within’ to accompany the traveler on her way.
Not everyone who experiences an Evening of the Brain keeps moving. No wonder. Even the Bravest get hurt as they grope along, perhaps hitting a tree “directly in the Forehead.” Even so, over time they learn to see.
How? Maybe the Darkness changes a bit, or maybe our traveler’s inner eye adjusts to Midnight. Whatever this journey is about, it doesn’t seem to be about Death—though that may be part of the picture. It’s about Life. Not Life as it was before this Darkness fell, but Life that now “steps almost straight.”
This calendar year brought me an Evening of the Brain. I feel off-balance, out-of-kilter, awkward. I try one thing and then another, find my balance yet again, and wonder how long this will last. Or whether another shoe is about to drop.
This week I was more discouraged than usual. Not without hope, yet also without clarity about what’s coming next. I hesitate longer when people invite me to do something now or later (or ever). Much of my hesitation relates to my health. It’s also about growing older, with signs of Evening beginning to fall.
Despite what happens between now and then, I want to step “almost straight.” The kind of Brave stepping Emily describes so well above and in I stepped from Plank to Plank, and Faith — is the pierless Bridge.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 September 2016
Image from footage.framepool.com — dusk in a public park, Croatia