At this moment, as I write this at 6:01 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, that means it’s a moment of being alive, which means it’s a moment to gush over how freakin’ awesome Emily Dickinson is. Every single time I read one of her poems it’s an absolute delight. To use that word, when the “normies” think of poetry, especially poetry written in the olden days of the mid-to-late 1800s, Dickinson belies every possible notion they may conjure of a stuffy, hoity-toity genre that’s out-of-touch and difficult to process. Her poems don’t read like that at all. I also appreciate that Dickinson’s poetry, at least a lot of the poems I’ve encountered so far, are rather short.
Oh, it also happens to be Dickinson’s birthday, as she was born Dec. 10, 1830, and so, that’s even more occasion to celebrate her beautiful, wonderful poetry.
Today’s poem is, “My life closed twice before its close,” which is in the public domain:
My life closed twice before its close—
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me
So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.
If that’s not one of the best opening lines to a poem I’ve ever read, then I don’t know what is. Dickinson seems to be contemplating death, and the closest we get to death before our own death is experiencing the death of those close to us. Presumably then, she’s experienced death on two occasions already, and wonders if there will be a third.
But also, the closing two lines on the duality of how the parting of loved ones is all we know and can glimpse of heaven, but is surely all we need of hell. Because experiencing death is a certain kind of hell.
Growing up, particularly through my younger teens, was an odd juxtaposition of experiencing a rash of funerals and weddings, both celebrations of life in different contexts. And not just funerals of older relatives, which is still cause for melancholy, but there’s something wholly different, and yes, a certain kind of hell, to see someone your own age in a coffin.
And then there’s also the death of beloved pets, which is a certain sort of madness for dog-lovers (or uh, cat-lovers), right? Because we know their window is even shorter than ours, and yet, we can’t help but get another dog, knowing what awaits at the end of that short road. I’ve been through that once already, had another near-case of it, and am dreading it happening in full again.
Dickinson gives voice to that sort of low-hum madness that sits behind our ears, where we are walking toward death every day and we know we’re on that road, but we are rather “hopeless to conceive” of it, as it were, and it’s only the billboards of other deaths along that way that give us a glimpse (to really stretch this metaphor).
Also something to give further contemplation to is the word “closed.” Is to close the same as to end? Closing makes me think of something that isn’t permanent because to suggest something is closed is to suggest it can be opened again, whereas to say “ended” is permanent. You can’t “unend” something. Along with talking about Immortality and heaven/hell, it seems like Dickinson believes there is more after death, even if it “closes” on our lives.
What do you make of this lovely poem?