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08 August 2012

I know some lonely Houses off the Road

I know some lonely Houses off the Road
A Robber'd like the look of—
Wooden barred,
And Windows hanging low,
Inviting to—
A Portico,
Where two could creep—
One—hand the Tools—
The other peep—
To make sure all's asleep—
Old fashioned eyes—
Not easy to surprise!

How orderly the Kitchen'd look, by night,
With just a Clock—
But they could gag the Tick—
And Mice won't bark—
And so the Walls—don't tell—

A pair of Spectacles ajar just stir—
An Almanac's aware—
Was it the Mat—winked,
Or a Nervous Star?
The Moon—slides down the stair—
To see who's there!

There's plunder—where—
Tankard, or Spoon—
Earring—or Stone—
A Watch—Some Ancient Brooch
To match the Grandmama—
Staid sleeping—there—

The Sun has got as far
As the third Sycamore—
Screams Chanticleer
"Who's there"?

And Echoes—Trains away,
While the old Couple, just astir,
Fancy the Sunrise—left the door ajar!
                                                                                 F 311 (1862)  289

Oh, this one is just fun. Here’s Miss Dickinson planning to burgle a nice “old Couple” while they sleep. I see her acting the poem out, declaiming it as an actress would and using plenty of gestures. She creeps and peeps and snatches plunder and then stealthily steals away.
            The first line sets the scene and readers know they’re in for a story. We Dickinson fans are waiting for the twist that surprises us into some higher consciousness, but for once we are treated to a simple story. It would go well at night, sitting with an audience of children, perhaps, out on the front steps.
            We first see the house from the eyes of the robbers. It’s a tempting target with its “Windows hanging low and a portico or porch that helps shield them from view. Then the vantage shifts and we see it rather objectively although from the point of view of a woman. Instead of looking at locks and doors we instead see how the kitchen looks “orderly,” and how the spectacles are lying open on some shelf. An almanac is open. It’s also “aware”—must be all the intelligence it holds that gives it this faculty. Even the door mat gets a mention.
            The “plunder” doesn’t sound particularly rich: a tankard, silver spoon, earrings, old jewelry. The “Ancient Brooch” matches the sleeping “Grandmama.” She is “staid” as well as “old fashioned.” She and Grandpapa are simple, trusting sould. Even their rooster is slow off the mark. He doesn’t get alarmed until the sun hits “the third Sycamore.” And by that time the robbers have made their getaway. They are as distant as the receding trains whose whistles can be heard far off in the distance.
The Dickinson house looks pretty tempting. Maybe
she was trying to encourage them to be more watchful...
            The last stanza has the old couple wondering why their door is open. “The sunrise did it,” is their best guess. They may never miss the stolen objects or figure out how the robbers gagged the ticking clock. The mice aren’t talking and the walls are as uncommunicative as always.
            I wonder if Dickinson isn’t making a fond joke about the forgetful elderly. They hobble off to bed forgetting to shut the door. They have misplaced some things. It’s as if burglers paid a visit in the night. Heck, I’ve had days like that. The old jewelry is eventually found behind some book, the spoon is down the garbage disposal, and the earrings … well, I never have figured out where they go!
            To help the oral delivery (whether aloud or just to the internal ear), Dickinson weaves in slant and recurring rhymes. The second half of the first stanza, for example, has (and I’m adjusting spelling and punctuation for modern tastes): “Inviting, too; / A portico, / Where two could creep — / One—hand the Tools— / The other [robber] peep[s]– / To make sure all’s asleep— / Old fashioned eyes— / [Are] not easy to surprise!”
            That gives us “too / Portico / two; creep / peep / asleep; and eyes / surprise. These are quiet sounds and the stanza should be read in a suspenseful whisper. The second stanza has ‘noisier’ rhymes, and words with hard consonants: Kitchen / Clock / Tick / bark. My favorite line is the one where “The Moon—slides down the stair— / To see whose there!”

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