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29 October 2012

It's thoughts—and just One Heart—


It's thoughts—and just One Heart—
And Old Sunshine—about—
Make frugal—Ones—Content—
And two or three—for Company—
Upon a Holiday—
Crowded—as Sacrament—

Books—when the Unit—
Spare the Tenant—long eno'—
A Picture—if it Care—
Itself—a Gallery too rare—
For needing more—

Flowers—to keep the Eyes—from going awkward—
When it snows—
A Bird—if they—prefer—
Though winter fire—sing clear as Plover—
To our—ear—

A Landscape—not so great
To suffocate the eye—
A Hill—perhaps—
Perhaps—the profile of a Mill
Turned by the Wind—
Tho' such—are luxuries—

It's thoughts—and just two Heart—
And Heaven—about—
At least—a Counterfeit—
We would not have Correct—
And Immortality—can be almost—
Not quite—Content—
                                                            F362 (1862)  495

It doesn’t take much to make a solitary woman—or at least the solitary speaker of the poem [and one reads the poet herself into this]—“Content.” She, if “frugal,” can get by quite well with just a few simple things:
-        first, her thoughts, for she must be a thinking sort of woman
-        “Old Sunshine” which is the real blessed light of day, not the name of some whiskey (such as Old Forester, Old Crow, Old Grand-Dad, Old Heaven Hill, Old Dublin, etc.)
-        a couple of friends for the holidays
-        books! For whenever the home can spare the homemaker
-        a picture of someone—which more than substitutes for an art gallery
-        flowers, to give the eye something to look at in case it’s covered with snow outside
-        a singing bird or crackling fire to please the ear
The poet's austere bedroom. Her tiny writing desk
with chair is near the window
-        a landscape painting—as long as it isn’t too grand.
However, only the thoughts and sunshine are really necessary for the “One Heart” to be content. All the rest are “luxuries.”
            The last stanza has a surprise ending. It begins predictably enough: while a single heart can be “content” with just thoughts and sunshine, two hearts—lovers—need only themselves and their thoughts to experience heaven—or “At least—a Counterfeit.” It wouldn’t really be heaven. Quite properly, neither she nor her lover would want the “Correct” heaven reserved for God, angels, and saints. We get to the penultimate line and expect to find that Immortality with ones lover can be almost … perfect? Wonderful? But no. The poem ends by saying that they would be “Not quite—Content.”
            It’s a teasing ending. The reader has to jump in here to supply reasons why contentment would be lacking. I would say that there will always be some tension, some imbalance between two people; others might say that just as the heaven of love is counterfeit, so happiness would be counterfeit as well. The two hearts would always be in a state of almost heaven, almost contentment. And perhaps Dickinson is saying that that is the very best place to be. After all, contentment is a static condition. Who would want it forever? Much better to have that almost contentment where the hearts are engaged, even struggling at times; and where the energies and feelings flow and mingle in a never-ending river.



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