Search This Blog

26 July 2015

'Tis Opposites — Entice —

'Tis Opposites — Entice —
Deformed Men — ponder Grace —
Bright fires — the Blanketless —
The Lost — Day's face —

The Blind — esteem it be
Enough Estate — to see —
The Captive — strangles new —
For deeming — Beggars — play —

To lack — enamor Thee —
Tho' the Divinity —
Be only
Me —

                                                     F612 (1863)  J355

Ruth Miller in The Poetry of Emily Dickinson has helpfully organized lists of the poems according to topic (a great resource I just discovered!). This poem falls into "Poems Rendering Compensation (Yoked Opposites)", along with forty three others including
-       "A Wounded Deer – leaps highest" (Fr180, J165)
-       "To learn the Transport by the Pain" (Fr178, J167)
-       "Water is taught by thirst" (Fr93, J135)
-       "The Zeroes – taught us – Phosphorus" (Fr284, J689)
-       "I can wade Grief" (Fr312, J252)
-       "'Tis so appalling – it exhilarates" (Fr341, J281)
-       "We lose – because we win" (Fr28, J21)
-       "Success is counted sweetest" (Fr112, J67)
-       "For each extatic instant" (Fr109, J125)
-       "Sunset at Night – is natural" (Fr427, J415)

Here, Dickinson seems to be writing a clever and somewhat tongue-in-cheek appeal for love. She begins by listing some fairly conventional opposites: a state of deprivation is linked to a desired state of greater fulfilment – that which seems opposite to the current, unfortunate state.

Beggar Children
Johann Georg Meyer von Bremen (1813-1886)
To those with physical constraints, it is grace or gracefulness; to the homeless, the warmth of a fire; to those lost or lonely, the clarifying and uplifting light of day; to the blind, seeing. The seventh and eighth lines are more difficult, but I think they might be paraphrased as "the captive will risk further oppression for the chance to dream and choose; the beggar wishes the luxury of play."
            The last stanza begins in keeping with the list of opposites, but as an address to someone. On first reading, the "Thee" might seem to be a universal "You", but as the poems funnels visually down to "Me", we realize that the speaker's remarks are aimed at a very particular "Thee". If you find yourself lacking or incomplete, she says, become enraptured, even if the "Divinity" you focus on is "only / Me".  It's a droll way to invite a romance.

Dickinson uses quite a bit of simple rhyme to add lightness to the poem. The first stanza has Entice, Grace, and face. The second and third stanzas all are based on "ee" rhymes: be, see, play, Thee, Divinity, only, and Me.


  1. The last two lines of the second stanza are difficult. I thought, maybe, the Captive "strangles new" (i.e. experiences his captivity more intensely) watching beggars play. In other words, the captive focuses not on the beggar's lack (wealth) -- but on what the captive lacks -- freedom.

    1. Yes, I got hung up on this one for about a week. I kept referring to the invaluable Dickinson Lexicon and finally decided that one of the definitions of "strangle" – "oppress" – fit pretty well here. But the syntax and line divisions make it all difficult. I ultimately decided that both the captive and the beggar should follow the pattern of deprivation/desire.

      I considered some version of the interpretation you suggest, but just couldn't twist "deeming" into any real link between the two images.

      I appreciate your thoughts on this poem and hope others jump in with ideas.

  2. As suggested, the first stanza "entices" the reader to create a binary world that finds its resolution in the third stanza.

    The first stanza could deal with "deformed men" considering or pondering beauty or grace (that which they presumably lack and therefore are thinking about). Are these "deformed men" readers of ED? That is certainly a possibility; especially, since these men are spending time forming and deforming meaning in ED's poetry. They do all of this while the homeless suffer and face many indignities. What is lost think all of this thinking is that the day has now past.

    The second stanza is very tough. Judith Far mentions that ED had an eye affliction that made her want to tend her garden before dawn ["Before I had my Eye put out--"]. There, in "Before I...," ED puts her being on the window pane, and acts as the filter between the reader and the natural world. So, being "Blind" may not mean that the blind person is unable to see. Paradoxically, "the blind" have enough "estate" to "see" that those are that are "captive" to "strangle new" (or manipulate/mangle) meaning into a "Beggar's play" (putting meaning into ED's poem). There might be a lot of mangling, but the dashes invite the deformation, and opposites in interpretation are also enticing. The "blind" could have enough "estate" to ignore grammar, order, or logic.

    I read the final stanza as saying: this lack (or want of something) is used to enamor the reader (thee). This lack is a charm ("A charm invests a face"). That which is at heart of this poem (that which is divine) is nothing, only but me. That what you are searching for, and that what you are attempting to posit, is only but me.

    1. Apologies for the typo: "What is lost think all of this thinking is that the day has now past."

      I mean.. "What is lost when pondering about this grace? Nothing just part of the day."

  3. Those that are blind could be viewed as being deformed by people that have ordinary vision. They "lack" the ability to see, and spend time pondering grace.

    1. Well, it's interesting to consider all the 'players' in the poem as interlinked. Especially if you link them all back to the 'deformation' of struggling with ED's poetry!

  4. It's ironic to me that ED is STILL considered a madwoman by many, while most of today's so-called heroes don't have an ounce of her compassion or insight. George Bush (#2) or Emily Dickinson? Does not take a genius to figure this stuff out. BTW, excellent analysis :-)

  5. I'm not sure what the final stanza truly means, but I view Emily as a bit of a prophet so I personally read "me" as her poetry.