I hunted all the Sand —
I caught the Dripping of a Rock
And bore it in my Hand —
His Mighty Balls — in death were thick —
But searching — I could see
A Vision on the Retina
Of Water — and of me —
'Twas not my blame — who sped too slow —
'Twas not his blame — who died
While I was reaching him —
But 'twas — the fact that He was dead —
J529 (1863) J566
I've been looking at this poem for over a week. I've been trying to find something interesting to say – and think – about it. I have been unable to even decide if it is humorous or not. That last stanza just seems a bit arch: "'Twas not his blame – who died". It is clearly ironic. "Sped too slow" is clever and witty. "Sped" also has the advantage of rhyming with "dead" – surely a lightweight counterbalance. The three "'Twas"s have a light singsongy quality, and the last line seems very close to a punch line.
And yet the first two stanzas are full of pathos. The iconic great cat moans for water; the would-be rescuer has only her hands to carry what little drippings come from a rock drenched with dew or some seeping spring. The second stanza intensifies the pathos as the speaker searches the "Mighty" eyeballs of the tiger, probably to see if there is any life left. What she sees, however, is that the tiger has died. There is no life in the eyes, only the reflection of herself and the water she carries. Too little too late.
Dickinson has presented this theme in earlier poems. In my commentary on F195, "Victory comes late –" where Victory "is held low to freezing lips – / Too rapt with frost / To take it –", I write:
|Karolina Jakubowska, watercolor pencils|
Dickinson wrote numerous poems exploring the theme of “too little too late,” and on haves vs. have-nots. There are beggars who would revel at a feast if only they could go (As Watchers hang upon the East), someone dying of thirst despite lovely meadow brooks (To learn the Transport by the Pain), and a dying and defeated soldier hearing the victor’s trumpet calls (Success is counted sweetest), among others. In those poems she seemed to be holding up the paradox for examination: why those and not those others? What tragic irony that one could die with water close at hand or starve while food abounds.
I can't shake the feeling that the tone of this poem is … parodic? Saucy? Arch? Wry? Readers, what do you think?