You and I – tonight!
You must forget the warmth he gave –
I will forget the light!
When you have done pray tell me,
That I may straight begin!
Haste! lest while you’re lagging
I may remember him!
- F 64 (1859)
When you miss someone, the poem implies, there are two parts: the heartache and the loss of intellectual and spiritual stimulation. The poet speaks as the mind/soul addressing her heart, exhorting it to do its part. She has gathered up her resolve and wants the forgetting to be done now – ‘tonight’! It’s the heart’s job to forget the emotional warmth, and this must be done before the mind/soul can begin to let go of the 'light'.
It is not certain of whom Dickinson is writing – if indeed there is someone specific she had in mind. She was extremely fond of two men at this point, Rev. Charles Wadsworth and Samuel Bowles. Wadsworth she met in 1855, and Bowles she met just a year or so before this poem. Both men were happily married, so perhaps she wanted to forget the ‘warmth’ and ‘light’ out of a sense of prudence.
The poem doesn’t have a melancholy air, however. The exclamation marks lend it the feel of a rallying cry. And there is a bit of ironic humor in the second stanza. Of course the heart will not forget him tonight—and the “I” knows it.
Trochees begin several lines, and the strong initial emphasis supports the cheeky pep-talk feel of the poem. The third and fourth lines have an anapaestic feel as trochee gives way to iambs and they trip lightly off the tongue. As a final poetic touch, the seventh, penultimate line ends in an unaccented syllable, a feminine ending, that lends support to the fear that the heart is ‘lagging’. The line is lagging a bit, too!