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14 June 2012

Forever at His side to walk –

Forever at His side to walk –
The smaller of the two!
Brain of His Brain –
Blood of His Blood –
Two lives – One Being – now –

Forever of His fate to taste –
If grief – the largest part –
If joy – to put my piece away
For that beloved Heart –

All life – to know each other
Whom we can never learn –
And bye and bye – a Change –
Called Heaven –
Rapt neighborhoods of men –
Just finding out – what puzzled us –
Without the lexicon!
                                                            F264 (1861)  246

I doubt if Dickinson
really wanted to be the
humble little woman
Dickinson shows here that despite her remarkably original mind she was a traditional sort of a girl when it came to the man / woman relationship. The poem’s narrator begins by imagining herself and her beloved walking through life fused by love and commitment into “One Being.” Just as a couple vows at marriage to stick together for better or worse, the narrator wants to be “Forever” part of her man’s life whether in “grief” or “joy.”
            Life, here, is presented as a meal. The narrator wants to “taste” her beloved’s fate as if sharing a lifelong dinner. When grief is served up, she will eat most of the dish; if it is joy on the plate, however, she will give her portion to “that beloved Heart.”
            The last stanza looks forward to a more perfect union after death. It begins with the assumption that we can never truly know another person on earth. In fact, we have to depend on a “lexicon” – our partner’s words and explanations of what he or she means or intends. We go through life trying understand our loved ones, but our tools are insufficient. Despite our best efforts we never really know them. But after death there is “a Change – / Called Heaven.” And so it is after death, in a heavenly marriage, that the  narrator and her beloved will finally understand each other – “Without the lexicon!”
            Although Dickinson was doubtless sincere in this portrayal of a woman’s love, I doubt that she herself would have enjoyed being the “smaller” of the two lovers and the one who has to forfeit joy but take on extra grief. 


  1. Perhaps the last three lines mean that men finally will understand women (us) and what puzzled them in life. This is a contrast to the subservience of the first two stanzas.

    1. Sweet! At last men learn the answer to "what do women want?" I think, though, that Dickinson was using the universal "men", as folks did until, oh, about the 1970s-80s. She probably meant 'people'.

  2. It is easy, even pleasant, to humbly declare that we are inferior when it is evident that we are superior... Greatness is admitting our inferiority when we are really inferior. Emily Dickinson was a superwoman and I am pretty sure she knew perfectly well she was.

  3. The first two stanzas fit together as a unified poem, albeit obsequious. ED was probably obsessing over Rev. Wadsworth’s aftern00n visit in March 1860.

    Stanza 3 stands alone as a fine poem about impossibility of perfect communication, at least in this world.

    Can anyone fathom a reason why ED thought the two “poems” formed a poetic unity?