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21 September 2020

I could not prove the Years had feet –


I could not prove the Years had feet – 
Yet confident they run
Am I, from symptoms that are past
And Series that are done –

I find my feet have further Goals –
I smile opon the Aims
That felt so ample – Yesterday –
Today's – have vaster claims –

I do not doubt the self I was
Was competent to me –
But something awkward in the fit –
Proves that – outgrown – I see –
                                   Fr674 (1863)  J563


This reflection on time and personal growth is written in hymn form. You could sing it to the tune of 'Amazing Grace' (or 'The Yellow Rose of Texas', for that matter). The end rhymes are regular and unremarkable. In fact the 'me' and 'I see' rhymes in the last stanza feel a bit forced. The sentiment is unremarkable. Nevertheless, I like this poem. It is comfortable 

and warm, delivering a truth in an easy, contemplative tone. It lacks the twists and startlements that Dickinson is known and loved for, and the conceit of the years running by on feet is somewhat problematic, but I still like the poem.

The problem with the feet is that in the first stanza it is the Years that have the feet, and in the second stanza the feet belong to the speaker. But I shan't quibble. I like that it is the feet that have ambitious goals. And perhaps she is comparing the Years' feet to her own: the former marches on leaving symptoms and Series (events and chains of events) in its wake, knowable things that can be identified and discussed in past, present, and future vantages. Her own feet, however, look strictly to the future, heading out with Goals more vast than those that came before.

The poem ends with an inward turn: Yesterday's self was worthy and sufficient in its time, but it no longer fits. There's something 'awkward' about it, and although the speaker could not prove that the Years had feet, she finds that awkwardness proof that she has outgrown the former self with the simpler Goals.


7 comments:

  1. Yellow Rose of Texas? Ha! Even worse, you can sing ED’s hymn poems to the tune of Gilligan’s Island. Try it, and then banish the thought!

    Much thanks to you for your ongoing project. What an undertaking and what a service! I always look forward to your emails.

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    1. Thanks! and ... thanks a lot. I tried it and it banished not.

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  2. I think we have the same mind in reading ED's poems. I also found the exact rhymes a little too conventional and noted that, unlike many of ED's poems, there is nothing in this poem that "blows my hair back". But, like you, I really enjoy this poem.

    I like how, in the first stanza, there is a sense of the timeless present. ED finds "proof" of the movement of time only in "symptoms that are past" and "Series that are done". It is as if she is alive in the present where there is no reference point for things being other than they are, but she plumbs her memory as if inspecting a crime scene. The word "symptoms" is interesting -- as if the past is a disease that infects the present. The word "Series" is clinical or technical -- like a catalogue or a recording of data. ED from time to time -- often in a playful way -- likes to use legal or technical language in describing an intimate or emotional experience ("Surgeons must be very careful"). The language of objectivity contrasts with and emphasizes the intimacy.

    The second stanza, as you point out -- creates another image of feet -- the speaker's feet. In the first stanza, the speaker's reflection on the past yields a confident conclusion that time has moved. The movement in the second stanza is the speaker's movement. There is a looking toward future "Goals" and a sense of agency -- the speaker controls her fate.

    The last sentence introduces the idea of different selves. The past self is "competent" -- a beautiful word that conveys a sort of back handed praise. That self was competent or sufficient in its sphere of reference. But that self is now "awkward in the fit" and "outgrown" -- invoking the image of self as a pair of shoes that is outgrown (without using the word "shoes").

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  3. Both of your readings are sensible and insightful. For me, however, when I first read this poem (which I hadn’t seen before), I “stumbled” right out of the gate. As a metaphor, our “feet” are just awful. Feet are clumsy, earthy, slow, smelly, while they can also be balletic, fleet and, if well shod, elegant. But putting “feet” on “years”? OMG - what is ED up to?

    Because a different kind of foot exists in poetry - metrical feet - I read this poem through with that meaning in mind. And I felt better. Maybe ED is commenting on her earlier, youthful verses, the “series” that were already “done.” By 1863, she was well into her burst of mid-life creativity.

    Might she have had her own earlier “feet” in mind?

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    1. Oh, good -- I feel better now, too. And the metrical feet fit with the idea of her poetic 'gait' that HIgginson referred to -- spasmodic or not ...

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  4. Hi Susan, have you talked about "I could bring You Jewels - had I a mind to" yet? I'd like to get your views on it!

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    1. No, haven't gotten there yet. Do you have a specific question or thought?

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