I see thee better — in the Dark —
I do not need a Light —
The Love of Thee — a Prism be —
Excelling Violet —
I see thee better for the Years
That hunch themselves between —
The Miner's Lamp — sufficient be —
To nullify the Mine —
And in the Grave — I see Thee best —
Its little Panels be
Aglow — All ruddy — with the Light
I held so high, for Thee —
What need of Day —
To Those whose Dark — hath so — surpassing Sun —
It deem it be — Continually —
At the Meridian?
F442 (1862) J611
In this simple love poem, Dickinson takes three scenarios of separation to show that her deep love for her beloved will never dim. Threading the poem are images of dark versus light, for love does not need light – or vision – to thrive.
In fact, love does better in the dark. The first stanza tells us that love is a prism that excels “Violet.” Here, “violet” stands for the spectrum of visible light. The poet’s love is so much better than visible light that she can see her beloved better in the dark than with an artificial light – or even day. She “sees” him or her in a deeper and more complete way than just the physical form we see from the play of light and shadow in ordinary light.
The second stanza takes us deep into the darkness of the mine, its long, dark tunnels representing the stretch of long separation. But this separation does not dim the poet’s memory of the beloved. Just as the “Miner’s Lamp” illuminates the darkest mine, so her love can see across the years. I love the way these years “hunch themselves between” the two lovers as if they had a physical contour that blocked sight. But again, Dickinson claims that even these hunching years help her to see her loved one better than if she were seeing him every day.
The poet’s love is so powerfully illuminating that it lights up even the grave. She has held her love for him or her “so high” that it lights up even the cold marble tomb. It seems odd that the poet sees her beloved best once he or she is dead, but perhaps that is because there are no more obstacles to obfuscate his or her true nature. Even people we love can give us mixed messages in their glances or in what they say or write or do. After death, to the clear light of true love, only the truth remains. Or so Dickinson would like us to think.
She ends the poem by saying, rather unnecessarily I think, that if your love light is strong enough – so strong that it is always noon time – you don’t need day at all.
The poem is written in standard hymn or ballad form.