Here’s a second look at Emily Dickinson’s poem about Life, Infinity, and the Human Heart. A good poem for today when we’re missing family members or friends for any reason, plus Covid-19, political standoffs, hate crimes, or the harsh reality of wildfires, avalanches and hurricanes. My lightly edited comments follow.
The Life we have is very great.
The Life that we shall see
Surpasses it, we know, because
It is Infinity.
But when all Space has been beheld
And all Dominion shown
The smallest Human Heart’s extent
Reduces it to none.
Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995
It doesn’t matter how many worlds we discover beyond this world. It doesn’t matter how far the distance is from here to there and beyond. It doesn’t even matter that the universe is still expanding.
None of this, as surpassingly great or expansive as it may be, holds a candle to the smallest of human hearts.
According to Emily, the Life we now have is ‘very great.’ The Life we’ll have beyond this Life is even greater. Yet it’s infinitesimal compared to what our hearts can see and grasp right now.
Emily describes the heart’s capacity to love Life. Especially when we can’t see those we love. She suggests that the expansiveness of one small human heart outshines infinity itself.
Yes, it’s fascinating to explore the universe, what may lie beyond it and how it’s ordered. Yet what we discover externally will never match the capacity of one small human heart to connect with another human heart.
It doesn’t matter whether that heart is what we call dead or alive, here or there, or somewhere in between. Nor do we need to understand exactly what Space encompasses, how it is governed, or where Infinity resides.
This isn’t about measuring or mapping Life beyond our present Life. Or discovering where those we love now reside.
It’s about connections. All it takes is one small human heart to leap beyond unmapped, immeasurable boundaries, expanding outward in a heartbeat to enfold the hearts of those we love. No matter where they or we may be.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 May 2017, lightly edited and reposted 10 December 2020
Image taken from Hubble Spacecraft, found at nasa.gov