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31 August 2011

Went up a year this evening!

Went up a year this evening!
I recollect it well!
Amid no bells nor bravoes
The bystanders will tell!
Cheerful—as to the village—
Tranquil—as to repose—
Chastened—as to the Chapel
This humble Tourist rose!
Did not talk of returning!
Alluded to no time
When, were the gales propitious—
We might look for him!
Was grateful for the Roses
In life's diverse bouquet—
Talked softly of new species
To pick another day;
Beguiling thus the wonder
The wondrous nearer drew—
Hands bustled at the moorings—
The crowd respectful grew—
Ascended from our vision
To Countenances new!
A Difference—A Daisy—
Is all the rest I knew!

                                                           - F72 (1859)  93


This might be titled “Death of a Good, Christian Gardner.” The poet reflects on a man’s death on it’s first anniversary. It was memorable to her, not for any fuss made over it, for there was none, but for the cheerful tranquility and calm the dying man showed. He was cheerful to those who came from the village, was resting quietly, and had made his peace with God.
            Dickinson makes sure to point out how he specifically complimented the Roses and talked about picking more. But this is a metaphor for moments of beauty in “life’s diverse bouquet”—the roses we find in life are to be cherished. As he was dying he hoped to find new sorts of Roses in the afterlife. And as he made these pius homilies, the ‘wondrous’ advent of death approached. Dickinson again returns to the image of a soul setting out to cross a sea: hands here ‘bustled at the moorings’ as his friends and loved one helped ease his way.
            Death for these New Englanders would be experienced quite differently than for many of us. Whereas we might have nurses and a spouse nearby, here there was a ‘crowd’ to watch him die. At the end, she sees a difference in his countenance as the living man becomes a corpse. The Daisy, unlike the beautiful Platonically eternal Rose, is a simple graveyard flower. All that remains of the mystery and of his assumed ascension into Paradise is this homely little flower soon to be planted in the ground.
            The poem is written in iambic trimeter, a meter well suited to a conversational tone.

3 comments:

  1. “Old Amos” Newport, grandson of an African slave, died in Amherst on 16 August 1859 at age 84. He had worked for the Dickinsons as a gardener for at least 8 years, and his son, Wells, was employed in the Dickinson barn. Given ED’s use of Black dialect in a letter to Austin dated 27 July 1851 (L49), she may have worked with Old Amos for some time before that:

    “…. we have one foundling hen into whose young mind I seek to instill the fact that "Massa is a comin!" The garden is amazing - we have beets and beans, have had splendid potatoes for three weeks now. Old Amos weeds and hoes and has an oversight of all thoughtless vegetables.”

    ED’s description of the dying person in F72, ‘Went up a year this evening’ and in F74, ‘My nosegays are for captives’ may well describe Old Moses, who at 84 had seen death coming with “dim, long expectant eyes” and arthritic “Fingers denied the plucking, Patient till paradise”:

    F72
    “Cheerful—as to the village—
    Tranquil—as to repose—
    Chastened—as to the Chapel
    This humble Tourist rose!
    Did not talk of returning!
    Alluded to no time
    When, were the gales propitious—
    We might look for him!
    Was grateful for the Roses
    In life's diverse bouquet—
    Talked softly of new species
    To pick another day”

    F74
    “Dim, long-expectant eyes,
    Fingers denied the plucking,
    Patient till paradise”

    If “Old Amos” is the person who died in ‘Went up a year this evening’, then Johnson and Franklin date this poem one year too early (Johnson “about 1859”and Franklin “about spring 1859”) because ED tells us that Old Amos “Went up a year this evening!”

    All her life ED had doubts about what happened to a human soul after death. She is honest with us in “Went up a year this evening”, telling us that the only thing she observed with her own eyes after Old Moses died was

    “A Difference—A Daisy—
    Is all the rest I knew!"

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for linking the two poems and for the interesting info on Amos!

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