A Reason To Love? On Emily Dickinson’s "Our share of night to bear…"

Our share of night to bear…
Emily Dickinson

Our share of night to bear,
Our share of morning,
Our blank in bliss to fill,
Our blank in scorning.

Here a star, and there a star
Some lose their way.
Here a mist, and there a mist,
Afterwards—day!

Commentary:

The second stanza is most curious – some lose their way because of the stars? One would think that a sailor’s way was more sure because of the stars.

(Then again, while the poem implies a journey of some sort, it doesn’t look like “sailing” is really the main subject.)

Even more curious in that stanza is how “mist” isn’t regarded as an obstacle of some sort. The narrator leaves the decision of what “mist” is to us.

The first stanza contains the solution to both these puzzles. There are two “shares” and two “blanks,” each share corresponding to a blank. The “share of night to bear” goes with the “blank in bliss to fill.” Each of these lines has an infinitive ending the thought, which separates both from “share of morning” and “blank in scorning.” It looks like the sharing of night is enjoyable for the narrator, to say the least. It is a time one can do what one wishes with, a “blank,” that can be filled with “bliss.”

“Blank” is doing double duty. If it is an opportunity taken by the narrator in terms of night, then it is also an absence of cynicism or despair, a lack of scorning, too.

“Our share of night,” on my reading, is an invitation to a mystery that is not to be solved. There are plenty of problems that arise for people who love each other, thus causing people who love each other to ask this question: “Why do I love so-and-so?”

The second that question is asked, the relationship is over. There’s never a reason – something that can be apprehended by the intellect, like the position of the stars – for why people love. The search for such reasons wreaks havoc with the feelings one may have and the commitments one has made. Once we start searching for reasons to love, we find we have goals and ideals that we think can only be achieved elsewhere. We start staring at the stars.

And we forget those beside us.

Hence, night and mist are nowhere near the worst things, if we wish the journey to end in light. The worst thing is to try and make the most of lights that are perhaps purposely tiny, purposely obscured, and not to be scrutinized.

5 Comments

  1. I think you are saying in part that the narrator is talking about visceral, forbidden ‘night’ love and a sort of cyclic journey. I would have to agree.

    Interesting asides are:
    The possibility that “Our share of morning,” was meant to sound similarly to ‘our share of mourning’

    And of course the idea of blank to me brings up the tabula rasa. What a particular and strange idea that you would have two separate ‘blanks’ one for your negative and one for your positive.

  2. I must confess I was sucked in here. Having read the first paragraph I was ready to protest that it was all wrong.

    I should have known better, excellent analysis as always.

  3. i have to confess that as a poet, i find this interpretation thoughtful (if there anything that you do that is NOT thoughtful?) – and also a bit heavy.

    emily dickinson always feels light to me, even when what she writes is more melancholy than this poem. that’s to a large degree, of course, because of her short lines, stanzas and poems, and because of her peculiar use of punctuation.

    but in poetry there is almost always a strong element of the mysterious. a poem is not a story that happens to be told in stanzas, rhymes and rhythm. most poems well up from a place we don’t know, or at least don’t know very well.

    so i always feel a little strange when a poem is discussed from a very rational place. it feels a bit like talking about an exquisite meal by analyzing its vitamin and trace mineral contents.

    on the other hand (there’s always an other hand, actually many hands – are we talking about octopi now?) it is important that we each think about these poems in our own way. the beauty of poems and so many other works of art is that the creative moment never stops. the artist creates, brings it to the light of the audience, and then the audience takes it and creates their own ideas, their own interpretations, and sometimes entirely new worlds from it.

  4. Great post.
    Here are some notes I wrote down a while back after reading this poem. I have to admit I didn’t interpret the poem in any sexual way.
    I don’t say that my reading is any more valid than yours or anyone else’s. I may in fact be way off base. But it is my own personal response to what Dickinson has written. Hope you enjoy reading it.

    Night and day as things to be ‘borne’. Life itself a thing to be borne?
    We do not call ourselves into existence…we find ourselves in the world…thus we have placed upon us the burden (though I would like to think equally the privilege) of filling our days in some way or another.
    “Our blank…”…I have noticed in the past, and I have seen it pointed out by others, that Dickinson frequently communicates in a kind of shorthand, or ‘telegraphically’. By giving one suggestive word and allowing (I should say forcing) the reader (the ‘unknown hands’) to fill in the blank. And here, quite literally, the ‘blank’…
    “Our blank in bliss to fill/Our blank in scorning…”
    I take ‘blank’ here to indicate blank slate, or blank day….or something of the kind. Meaning that our days are a blankness which we fill in the way we choose to fill them.
    (Or perhaps, like the modern existentialists, the poet regards our very selves and natures as ‘blanks’, which we define by the quality of our relationship to life).
    “Our blank in bliss to fill,
    Our blank in scorning.”
    Here I think is the poet’s true genius at work: in the selection of words.
    Most of us, in coming up with pairs of opposites or alternatives might come up with something like, “to fill our days with joy/To fill our days with sorrow…hope/despair…etc…
    But Dickinson chooses bliss/scorn…this seems just about perfect to me. Either life fills us with bliss or it is a thing to be mocked, scorned, stoned.
    It is our response to life, the quality of our response to life, that Dickinson is interested in here. This is our burden (or, as I say, our privilege)…that in our moments of solitude and aloneness (night, morning), we must, in effect, adjust our attitudes, decide what we truly believe about life…decide who we truly are in life. We must respond to life, either in total acceptance and embrace (bliss), or else life is our enemy and a thing to be rejected (scorned).
    The two words Emily Dickinson chooses—bliss and scorn—admit of no middle ground (it seems to me).A tepid response is no response at all. One either embraces life wholeheartedly or one rejects it comepletely.
    The final quatriain asserts that night and morning alone provide the hours for such reflection…they are soon followed by…”Afterwards—day!”…
    I am thinking that what she means here is that in the ‘busy-ness’ of day, we are kept occupied with our duties and responsibilities to others (society, family), and thus have no time for such introspection.
    But why is there an exclamation point after ‘day’…’day!’…Is it that the poet welcomes the distractions and safe routines of daily activity as relief from the burdens of filling ‘the blank’?
    Perhaps.

  5. This stumblicious for the sparkling conversation, alone! You have a way of eliciting some really lively discussion.
    Throwing my hat into the ring, I think this poem is about lust.

    I think the first two lines are an executive summary of a night of passion fading into the harsh reality of day.
    Whether this socially reclusive author wrote from experience or vicariously, she seems to understand the compulsive nature of wantonness:
    by sharing both ends of the experience, one doesn’t feel so ostracized as to never repeat the deed.

    @genebrooklyn rightly points out the pivotal words: bliss and scorn. Without be judgmental, I would assert that a sexual encounter that is based on lust, rather than love, usually creates a dichotomy of feelings: one positive, one negative.

    Now, for the graphic portion:
    Here a star, and there a star (reaching orgasm)
    Some lose their way. (abandon oneself to the carnal climax)
    Here a mist, and there a mist, (afterglow, coming down from the high)
    Afterwards—day! (return to reality)

    The exclamation point seems significant, as if to say, “What have we done?”

    Cheers,

    Mitch

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