Search This Blog

23 August 2011

Heart! we will forget him!

Heart! we will forget him!
You and I – tonight!
You must forget the warmth he gave –
I will forget the light!

When you have done pray tell me,
That I may straight begin!
Haste! lest while you’re lagging
I may remember him!
                                              - F 64 (1859)

When you miss someone, the poem implies, there are two parts: the heartache and the loss of intellectual and spiritual stimulation. The poet speaks as the mind/soul addressing her heart, exhorting it to do its part. She has gathered up her resolve and wants the forgetting to be done now – ‘tonight’! It’s the heart’s job to forget the emotional warmth, and this must be done before the mind/soul can begin to let go of the 'light'.
It is not certain of whom Dickinson is writing – if indeed there is someone specific she had in mind. She was extremely fond of two men at this point, Rev. Charles Wadsworth and Samuel Bowles. Wadsworth she met in 1855, and Bowles she met just a year or so before this poem. Both men were happily married, so perhaps she wanted to forget the ‘warmth’ and ‘light’ out of a sense of prudence.
The poem doesn’t have a melancholy air, however. The exclamation marks lend it the feel of a rallying cry. And there is a bit of ironic humor in the second stanza. Of course the heart will not forget him tonight—and the “I” knows it.
Trochees begin several lines, and the strong initial emphasis supports the cheeky pep-talk feel of the poem. The third and fourth lines have an anapaestic feel as trochee gives way to iambs and they trip lightly off the tongue. As a final poetic touch, the seventh, penultimate line ends in an unaccented syllable, a feminine ending, that lends support to the fear that the heart is ‘lagging’. The line is lagging a bit, too!


  1. So, if I hear you, this poem can go two ways; trying to get over a death, or trying to get over a lost love. I think it the latter too, but I also like how she frames the process for doing so in either case, but I must state that I wish it was that easy!

  2. ED was fond of disguising the people she writes about by replacing feminine pronouns with masculine. If she does that here, this poem may be a futile effort by ED to quash her passion for Susan Dickinson, her sister-in-law, who in 1859 was, likewise, trying to convince herself that her marriage to Austin took precedence over her love for ED. If so, both of them were unsuccessful.

    If she is not disguising the gender in the poem, a likely suspect is Benjamin Franklin Newton. The ED Museum’s list of ED's friends has this to say about "Newton", as she called him:

    “Benjamin Franklin Newton (1821-1853)
    “My earliest friend wrote me the week before he died [at 32 of tuberculosis] “If I live, I will go to Amherst – if I die, I certainly will.” – Emily Dickinson to T.W. Higginson, spring 1876 (L457)

    [Newton gave ED a copy of the newly published] "Poems" by Ralph Waldo Emerson, [Inscription:]. “Presented to Emily Dickinson by Benjamin Newton, August 1849.”

    “My dying Tutor” (L265), “my Father’s Law Student” (L750), “The first of my own friends” (L110), “a gentle, yet grave Preceptor” (L153) “an elder brother, loved indeed very much” (L153) – these were all phrases Emily Dickinson employed in speaking of Benjamin Franklin Newton, a young man whose effect upon her development as a poet was early and profound, and to whom she long paid tribute.

    “Newton, as she called him, came to Amherst in the fall of 1847, a twenty-six-year-old aspiring law student desiring to study for two years in the recently formed partnership office of Dickinson and Bowdoin. Like other such law students of Edward Dickinson’s over the years, Newton became a familiar presence in the Dickinson household, befriending the Dickinson children and often partaking of family meals. Emily Dickinson met him just as she enrolled in Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, and she became acquainted with his love of books during several weeks the following March that she was home nursing a severe cold. She later wrote: “Mr. Newton became to me a gentle, yet grave Preceptor, teaching me what to read, what authors to admire, what was most grand or beautiful in nature, and that sublimer lesson, a faith in things unseen” (L153).