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16 April 2013

You'll find — it when you try to die

You'll find — it when you try to die —
The easier to let go —
For recollecting such as went —
You could not spare — you know.

And though their places somewhat filled —
As did their Marble names
With Moss — they never grew so full —
You chose the newer names —

And when this World — sets further back —
As Dying — say it does —
The former love — distincter grows —
And supersedes the fresh —

And Thought of them — so fair invites —
It looks too tawdry Grace
To stay behind — with just the Toys
We bought — to ease their place —

                                                                F441 (1862)  J610

In this rather conventional poem, Dickinson suggests that thinking about joining our dear departed loved ones will make it “easier to let go.” She drops a few words that would give the poem grammatical correctness (and accessibility), but this can add some interesting ambiguity and double takes.

I love it when the names get mossy
         In the first stanza, for example, we read “You’ll find –  it when you try to die.” I immediately begin to wonder what it is and under what circumstances I would “try to die.” Greater literal clarity might be accomplished with “You’ll find, when you are ready to die, that it is easier to let go …” But the initial impression is more interesting and more powerful. The “try” is useful, too, for the tension it introduces. The subject both doesn’t want to die (hence the tip to  make it easier) and does want to (hence the trying to die).  
         There’s a nostalgic feel to the poem – if not an overly sentimental one. The friends who died are preferred over newer ones: we don’t choose “the newer names” over the old. New friends are also superseded by the “former” loves. In fact, just thinking about those dead loved ones makes it seem tacky to hang around in the land of the living.  We are but children in this life, lacking understanding and clinging to things that in the end are no more than playthings to keep away the tears and fears.



  1. She must have known enough old people to have observed that in senility the mind loses the short term memory first, while the beloved held in the long term memory re-emerge in new relief. It’s why old people talk your ear off about their old buds!

  2. ED has made it big time . . . . ROBLOX has a fun video game called 'TRY TO DIE'. Whoever dies first is the winner, but dying is not easy because you have to find ways to help others die before you can "win". I kid you not. Here's the URL and sales blurb:

    Roblox › games › Try-To-Die

    "Check out 'Try To Die'. It's one of the millions of unique, user-generated 3D experiences created on Roblox. THE BIG UPDATE IS HERE!" (Levels 1-100).

    Is she receiving royalties? Only Emily knows.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. OMG! Two rip-offs in one poem! reports that ED's last two lines are being ripped off without attribution:

    "he who dies with the most toys wins" -dingleman