I see myself in this poem. And my mother. And other women I’ve known who seem to wear a mantel of sorrow, even when they’re happy. My comments follow.
It might be lonelier
Without the Loneliness –
I’m so accustomed to my Fate –
Perhaps the Other – Peace –
Would interrupt the Dark –
And crowd the little Room –
Too scant – by Cubits – to contain
The Sacrament – of Him –
I am not used to Hope –
It might intrude upon –
Its sweet parade – blaspheme the place –
Ordained to Suffering –
It might be easier
To fail – with Land in Sight –
Than gain – My Blue Peninsula –
To perish – of Delight –
Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995
Emily already knows Loneliness and perhaps wants something else. Yet she fears that giving it up will lead to even greater Loneliness. Her life might not have enough room for Peace, Hope or Delight—in addition to Loneliness.
Change of that magnitude would make too much noise, demand too much space. Intrude upon the Lonely, Dark existence she experiences in her crowded little Room. Or worse, she might lose the little everyday happiness and security she already has in her crowded little Room. I take this to be her life, a life of creative solitude and family duties.
In addition, Emily says her little Room might be too crowded for Him. Who is He? Perhaps a man or someone else who wants to be in her life? Or perhaps the One who offers her the Sacrament of Peace and Hope, with or without anyone else in her life? I don’t know.
It seems a sense of Fate hangs heavy over Emily’s life, taking up almost all the room or energy she has for human emotions of Delight. Yes, she may welcome relief from time to time, but the cost of giving up her Ordination to Suffering seems too heavy to bear.
Emily hasn’t renounced happiness. It still manages to creep in. Yet giving herself completely to Delight might annihilate her. She wouldn’t be able to count on predictability or control. Perhaps she wouldn’t be able to write as much. Perhaps she wouldn’t be safe from betrayal or disappointment. Her worst fears might be realized.
In the end, Emily would rather drown with land in sight, than arrive only to “perish – of Delight.”
This poem may not be gender-specific, yet in my experience a similar debate rages inside many women. Especially when the heavy hand of authority keeps reminding them of their Fate. That to which they were Ordained–duties and distractions that don’t allow space or time to exercise personal gifts and welcome Delight into their lives.
This is Women’s History Month. I celebrate women the world over who had a late start or haven’t yet found Delight, Hope and Peace in this world. If women seem complicated and unpredictable, maybe that’s because we’ve lived multiple lives for too long. Masking and denying our true selves to survive. Creatively. The way Emily survived.
I celebrate Emily Dickinson’s creativity. Her poetry speaks to me about courage and commitment to truth. Best of all, her enigmatic voice lives on, suggesting a different, slanted way to view the natural world and the dynamics of our inner and outer lives.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 March 2017
Photo found at bloggingdickinson.blogspot.com