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28 October 2011

Our share of night to bear—

Our share of night to bear—
Our share of morning—
Our blank in bliss to fill,
Our blank in scorning—

Here a star, and there a star,
Some lose their way!
Here a mist – and there a mist –
Afterwards—Day!
                                                  - F 116 (1859)  113

This is a strange and lonely poem. The first stanza begins conventionally enough: yes, we each must bear the dark as well as enjoy the light. Then the use of the word “blank” becomes interesting. Perhaps the poet is indicating our lives are blanks to fill in, or that there are a series of blanks. I think it is the latter and that there is at least one blank we can fill in with bliss (and this line makes use of both the alliteration of “blank” and “bliss” and of the assonance of “bliss” and “fill”). Another will be filled in with “scorning”.  “Scorning” is an interesting opposition to “bliss” and I don’t think Dickinson chose it simply because it rhymed with “morning” – although that may be how she first thought of the word for that slot. No, just as bliss is a particular kind of joy and happiness, so scorn is a very particular form of misery. Being scorned is worse than being forgotten and, in poem F 42, the word “forgot” can “pierce an armed man” with its “barbed syllables.”
            The second stanza with its plethora of faint stars scattered across the sky reminds us that it is often difficult to navigate through life. Today we like to speak of “rising stars” and hitching our wagon to a star, and even the constancy of the northern star, Polaris. But face it, most people would be hard pressed to find their way north, south, east, or west simply by looking at the night sky. The stars are so unreliable that even mists can obscure them. Yet, if we can endure through the night, Day will surely come. The star of Day, of course, is the sun. Its light is clear, bright, and steady; its course through the heavens completely reliable.
            While the poem ends on this positive note, one is left with the haunting image of souls lost in the mists of night, gazing up at dim stars. I think that is because of the hypnotic vagueness of the lines “Here a star, and there a star,” and “Here a mist – and there a mist – ”; and also because of the strength of the word “scorning.” It’s a nighttime poem and I picture the poet hanging in there until dawn.

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