Monday, September 10, 2012

Why Floods Are Served In Bowls

SUCCESS is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple host
Who took the flag to-day
Can tell the definition,
So clear, of victory,

As he, defeated, dying,
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Break, agonized and clear.

Emily Dickinson wrote the poem above in response to the close of the Civil War.  In her opinion, the sweetness of success was not truly understood by the victorious Union army.  Rather, only a Confederate soldier who lay dying on the field for his cause could fully comprehend the cruel and tantalizing meaning of victory.  In Emily's poetry, we often see that positive emotions, such as love or success, juxtaposed with deprivation.  For instance, look at "ONE blessing had I, than the rest" (a personal favorite):


ONE blessing had I, than the rest
So larger to my eyes
That I stopped gauging, satisfied,
For this enchanted size.

It was the limit of my dream,
The focus of my prayer,--
A perfect, paralyzing bliss
Contented as despair.

I knew no more of want or cold,
Phantasms both become,
For this new value in the soul,
Supremest earthly sum.

The heaven below the heaven above
Obscured with ruddier hue.
Life's latitude leant over-full;
The judgement perished, too.

Why joys so scantily disburse,
Why Paradise defer,
Why floods are served to us in bowls,--
I speculate no more.

She is granted one, short-lived blessing, and refuses to contemplate why gifts in life are so rare ("joys so scantily disburse").  Or why Paradise is deferred, while floods are served to us in bowls, she'll speculate no more.  In other words, gaining your heart's desire is rare indeed, but, heartbreak and tragedy are all too common.  Personally, I find a great deal of comfort in Dickinson's work.  The thought that someone who lived a century and half ago, felt things things that I feel.  That she so often experienced loneliness and heartache. That she, like so many of us, not only wondered at the scarceness of happiness in our human lives, but also did so in beautiful rhymes is no small blessing to those of us who are left with her work.

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