To Lives that stand alone —
When One has failed to stop them —
Is Human — but Divine
To lend an Ample Sinew
Unto a Nameless Man —
Whose Homely Benediction
No other — stopped to earn —
F492 (1862) J767
Perhaps there is one in every family or circle of acquaintances. One individual goes his or her own way, standing, ultimately, alone. We might have tried to reason with this individual or offer persuasions to join the norm, but that doesn't mean that we won't go to great lengths to offer assistance when it is needed. We feel a bit committed to someone we have been involved with to such an extent. We can't just watch them suffer or get into trouble. It's human to try to help.
That's the first stanza. In the second, Dickinson presents a different scenario. Here there is a "Nameless Man," whom apparently no one knows. When this poor soul needs some help most people just pass by. While it is human to help the "Lives that stand alone," it is "Divine" to help the nameless and unknown. I think Dickinson means "Divine" in the sense of inspired and with great spiritual qualities (this is similar to Pope's usage in "To err is human; to forgive, divine").
Now for a different reading:
In the first stanza the assistance offered is "brave." I don't think this means "daring" or "valiant" so much as the old-fashioned meaning of "loud" and "flashy." Read with that connotation, the rest of the stanza becomes tinged with cynical irony. Perhaps we are happy to help those who ventured out despite our efforts – because we can then feel both a rightness about our earlier actions and a righteousness about helping them.
|William Ramirez Valenzuela
It is not religion, not the pius, not most of us who will minister to the poor when they need it most, but people without regard for their status – other outcasts, perhaps; Samaritans. (Odd that we really only know of Samaritans by this parable and so they are always "Good."
I think Dickinson was thinking about these lessons as she wrote the poems in this fascicle. In the previous poem she wrote about a dying soldier, ending it with
Mine be the Ministry
When thy Thirst comes —
Dews of Thessaly, to fetch —
And Hybla Balms —
She, humble in her own way as a retiring spinster, can nonetheless imagine herself freely giving of herself to help the dying and downtrodden. The poem challenges us to do likewise.