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23 July 2012

Did we disobey Him?

Did we disobey Him?
Just one time!
Charged us to forget Him—
But we couldn't learn!

Were Himself—such a Dunce—
What would we—do?
Love the dull lad—best—
Oh, wouldn't you?
                                                            F299 (1862)  276

The poet seems to have been asked to forget a man or boy she loves. We don’t know if it is a lover, a good friend, or a nephew. She takes on the persona of a slow student who couldn’t do what was asked  because she “couldn’t learn!” She goes on to say that were the tables turned she wouldn’t reject the slow learner but rather “Love the dull lad” even more. The final line, “Oh, wouldn’t you?” seems to me to be saying, “Oh, can’t you love this dull girl more, too?”
            The tone and diction are playful rather than sad or self pitying. The writer does not seem to expect to get in serious trouble for disobeying the other party. The first two lines establishes the teasing tone. “Did we disobey Him?” Come on, just this once!
            The key word in the poem is “Dunce” and I think she’s cheekily suggesting that’s what the “Him” is. The “d” sound is scattered throughout the poem: disobey, charged, couldn’t Dunce, would, do, dull, lad, wouldn’t.

5 comments:

  1. I read Him as God and we as Adam and Eve. And the tone Is of a girl's innocence, still.

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    1. Maybe, but I can't recall where God "Charged us to forget Him".

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  2. with jesus, maybe

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    1. On re-reading the poem I'm thinking of the Master letters where Dickinson is both plaintive and playful. It might well be Master who counseled her to forget him -- and of course she wouldn't and couldn't. Anyway, this is just one of those poems Dickinson probably either meant for the drawer or would have shared with someone in on the reference. I just can't see it as Jesus who encouraged folks to come to him.

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  3. This poem reminds me of "Heart we will forget him, you and I tonight."
    So I agree it was written about a lover. When she writes "Did we disobey him" and "But we couldn't learn" she seems to be talking about herself and her heart. He told her to forget him but she couldn't. And just like in the poem I mentioned, she personifies her heart. Both she and her heart are slow learners.

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