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23 June 2015

So glad we are — a stranger'd deem

So glad we are — a stranger'd deem
'Twas sorry – that we were —
For where the Holiday – should be –
There publishes – a Tear —

Nor how Ourselves be justified —
Since Grief and Joy are done
So similar — An Optizan
Could not decide between —
                           F608 (1863)  J329


Tears of joy and tears of grief – the manifestation of both emotions is so similar that the most discerning individual, or even an eye doctor, can't tell which is which. I personally find this an exaggeration, but Dickinson builds this light little poem around the conceit.
Who is happy here?
Photo, Mauricio Lima, Getty Images, 2012


        It's a familiar irony: we are overflowing with happiness, experiencing a "Holiday" of feeling. In the first stanza it is a stranger who can't tell that the crying person is experiencing joy. In the second it is an "Optizan" – a great made-up word – who can't distinguish between the two emotional extremes.
         I do like Dickinson's observation that "Grief and Joy are done / So similar" as if emotions are things one does as well as feels. Perhaps there is a very fine line between extremes. Surely if we have a sudden rush of joy it is because the potential for grief lay equally close to the surface. The strong potentials evoke similar responses.  
         Dickinson uses a very regular ballad form for the poem. You could sing "Yellow Rose of Texas" to it. The first two lines emphasize the emotions rather than the people: "So glad … / Twas sorry…"

David Preest says this is one of three poems Dickinson sent Samuel Bowles who had taken a trip to Europe in 1862. This one might have been the one she wrote on his return.

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