It’s been a while since I’ve commented on one of Emily Dickinson’s poems. Here’s one that seems right for this season of national and international rhetoric. My comments follow, in free-verse form.
I like a look of Agony,
Because I know it’s true –
Men do not sham Convulsion,
Nor simulate, a Throe –
The Eyes glaze once – and that is Death –
Impossible to feign
The Beads upon the Forehead
By homely Anguish strung.
Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995
Emily doesn’t like false feelings or pretense. In this poem she looks to Death for an example of true feelings. Not expressed in words, but literally, on the forehead of a dying person. No one can possibly play make-believe when it comes time to die. Convulsions and the intense agonies of death, whether physical, spiritual or emotional, can’t be faked.
Nor can those telltale ‘Beads upon the Forehead’ of the dying person. Even silent Anguish cries out with tears that leak through the skin. Beads of Anguish strung upon the Brow. Thus Death gives strange birth to Truth. The truth of Agony and Anguish.
Below is my free-verse response to Emily’s poem. I’m struck by how many ‘fake’ emotions parade before our eyes and ears each day. We live in an age that celebrates Faux or at least Exaggerated Feelings. Perhaps to such an extent that we no longer discern what is Manufactured from what is Real.
With apologies to Emily:
We live in an age of Faux Feelings
Or at least an age that rewards them
Not with congratulations but with Attention
and Faux Gasps of Horror or Delight
Perhaps we forgot or never knew
How to have, much less allow air time
For True Feelings not ratcheted up
To the nth degree — especially True Agony
The kind not found by looking in a mirror
Trying to get just the right look that will
land just the right response be it Attention,
Applause, Laughter or the Disgust of the Moment
Unsocial Commandments hamstring us
Pulling chains that avert our eyes instead of
Encouraging us toward each other in life and
In death as family and next of kin, not strangers
Life and Death itself seem to propel us toward
Ever-greater depths of make-believe and denial –
Hiding behind masks that mimic or minimize feelings
We most fear to acknowledge, sit with or name
Perhaps our Deaths are the only unscripted
Roles we play with unfiltered, uncosmeticized
Feelings of True Agony, Grief, Pain and Love,
Finally crossing all sides of divides that bind us
©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 May 2018
Photo found at blog.xuite.net