And grateful that a thing
So terrible – had been endured –
I told my Soul to sing –
She said her Strings were snapt –
Her Bow – to Atoms blown –
And so to mend her – gave me work
Until another Morn –
And then – a Day as huge
As Yesterdays in pairs,
Unrolled its horror in my face –
Until it blocked my eyes –
My Brain – begun to laugh –
I mumbled – like a fool –
And tho' 'tis Years ago – that Day –
My Brain keeps giggling – still.
And Something's odd – within –
That person that I was –
And this One – do not feel the same –
Could it be Madness – this?
F423 (1862) J410
In 1858, Dickinson wrote “I never lost as much but twice” (F39), where she grieves for two deaths that put her “a beggar / Before the door of God.” This poem also speaks of two griefs. The poem begins in the past, with first one tragedy and then another. It ends in the present with the poet reflecting on the psychic aftermath of those calamaties, wondering if she is mad.
The first line of the poem recalls the Biblical book of Genesis, where the chronicler details the beginning of the cosmos: “And God called the light Day, and the darkness e called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day” (Genesis 1:5). Dickinson pulls from that cataclysmic event the thread of tragedy. Surely there was cataclysm when God created light; who but Emily Dickinson would see the potential for horror. With a sudden onslaught of light, something very catastrophic may well have happened.
Likewise, there had been a cataclysm in her own life. She was “grateful” to have gotten through the day, but night proved little better. She told her “Soul to sing” – and once again we have the division between the conscious Self and the Soul – but the soul’s strings were “snapt” like those on a violin after rough tratment. But it wasn’t just the strings on the violin, but the bow, too, was destroyed: blown to bits so completely that only its atoms were left. Nope, no songs left in the soul’s violin. The Self was willing and able, however, to cope: mending the soul was her “work” throughout that dark night.
|Humor and madness and death|
Yet the last line of that stanza brings us to the present tense. The speaker’s brain is still “giggling.” This leads to the poignant last stanza. These events changed her. She does not feel like the same person she was before. The last line, “Could it be Madness – this?, is carefully constructed not only to mirror her sense of not being quite right, but to emphasize her internal sense of madness. Dickinson fractures the syntax and leaves the pronoun hanging. The reader must fill in the referent for “this,” and what we come up with is the giggling, the hysteria, the snapped strings, the never again feeling like the same person.
The effect is sad, the voice referring helplessly to the upheaval in her heart and soul. As far as rhyme – the predictable (but satisfying) rhyme of “thing” and “sing” in the first stanza give way to an unrhymed ballad form. We expect more rhyme, but Dickinson is out to show mental disruption and lack of coherence. After all, the strings are snapped. And so she offers only the slant rhymes of “fool” and “still,” and “was” and this.” To a giggling mind, rhymes must all be slant.