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28 April 2013

I see thee better — in the Dark —

I see thee better — in the Dark —
I do not need a Light —
The Love of Thee — a Prism be —
Excelling Violet —

I see thee better for the Years

That hunch themselves between —
The Miner's Lamp — sufficient be —
To nullify the Mine —

And in the Grave — I see Thee best —

Its little Panels be
Aglow — All ruddy — with the Light
I held so high, for Thee —

What need of Day —

To Those whose Dark — hath so — surpassing Sun —
It deem it be — Continually —
At the Meridian?
                                                                         F442 (1862)  J611

In this simple love poem, Dickinson takes three scenarios of separation to show that her deep love for her beloved will never dim. Threading the poem are images of dark versus light, for love does not need light – or vision – to thrive.

          In fact, love does better in the dark. The first stanza tells us that love is a prism that excels “Violet.” Here, “violet” stands for the spectrum of visible light. The poet’s love is so much better than visible light that she can see her beloved better in the dark than with an artificial light – or even day. She “sees” him or her in a deeper and more complete way than just the physical form we see from the play of light and shadow in ordinary light.
         The second stanza takes us deep into the darkness of the mine, its long, dark tunnels representing the stretch of long separation. But this separation does not dim the poet’s memory of the beloved. Just as the “Miner’s Lamp” illuminates the darkest mine, so her love can see across the years. I love the way these years “hunch themselves between” the two lovers as if they had a physical contour that blocked sight. But again, Dickinson claims that even these hunching years help her to see her loved one better than if she were seeing him every day.
        The poet’s love is so powerfully illuminating that it lights up even the grave. She has held her love for him or her “so high” that it lights up even the cold marble tomb.  It seems odd that the poet sees her beloved best once he or she is dead, but perhaps that is because there are no more obstacles to obfuscate his or her true nature. Even people we love can give us mixed messages in their glances or in what they say or write or do. After death, to the clear light of true love, only the truth remains. Or so Dickinson would like us to think.
        She ends the poem by saying, rather unnecessarily I think, that if your love light is strong enough – so strong that it is always noon time – you don’t need day at all.

The poem is written in standard hymn or ballad form.


  1. Susan, so I've been using your blog every day as accompaniment to EDs poems; thank you for the diligence and passion you have brought to your exegesis. I'm curious, the story of ED's spell over you and what has compelled you to enact this love project in her honor.

    1. thank you! I discovered Dickinson sometime in the 90s, rather by accident. I am old enough that the only poems of ED availble to me were those heavily edited to regularize them. The unedited versions and hundred and hundreds of ED's poems had yet to be published.

      Someone gave me a book of ED poetry in the 90s. I wasn't excited because all I remembered from school days was "A Bird came down the walk" and "She sweeps with many-colored brooms" (a poem I hadn't properly appreciated as a little girl). But it was an illustrated book (Acts of Light) and it soon drew me in. I was flabbergasted by the poems. I couldn't imagine anyone writing them, couldn't make the ED I'd learned about into the same ED who wrote these intense, surprising, often disturbing and haunting poems.

      Anyway, when I started teaching lit. at Community College, the core of the class was a unit on Whitman and Dickinson. That's when I dived deep. And the student papers helped, too -- many were very insightful.

      Then, when that life phase was over, I bought the Franklin reader and decided to, as you are doing, read all the poems. I soon knew that they were often hard to figure out. That's when it occurred to me to write this blog. I thought I'd just pencil out my thoughts, work through the poems a bit as I would for my students.

      However, after about 300 poems I realized that each poem takes very long, now. I have almost 600 poems to consider as I read each new one! So I don't write every day anymore. I copy out the poem, jot some initial notes, let it gestate a bit, and then go into it. It's like a meditation process then: I have to sink into the poem and let it hold sway. I guess that's why I don't quit (that and reader comments that encourage me!). I love that process -- and I don't get it from anyone but emily.

      There -- too much info, but thanks for asking!!

  2. Thank you, the dedication to keep going is immense. I have read poetry seriously for 30 years. Coming to ED takes such fierce concentration I can only read two or do a day. It's like being put under a lazar or sniffing ammonia or eating a bullion cube, so concentrated with emotional flavor I can hardly take it, and yet. . .

    So thank you for being my companion on this ED journey. I've determined that should I ever get stranded on a desert island, her collected is the one book I'd take with me.