Love Towards Each Other: On Emily Dickinson’s "I should not dare to leave my friend"

“I should not dare to leave my friend…”
Emily Dickinson

I should not dare to leave my friend,
Because – because if he should die
While I was gone – and I – too late –
Should reach the Heart that wanted me –

If I should disappoint the eyes
That hunted – hunted so – to see –
And could not bear to shut until
They “noticed” me – they noticed me –

If I should stab the patient faith
So sure I’d come – so sure I’d come –
It listening – listening – went to sleep –
Telling my tardy name –

My Heart would wish it broke before –
Since breaking then – since breaking then –
Were useless as next morning’s sun –
Where midnight frosts – had lain!


Love, even love of the mind, is tied to this Earth. But this Earth is fading away in ways pertinent to love as we speak. If I lose my memory and can only love what I remember, then did love mean anything, or was it just a process?

Usually any belief in divinity starts with the inadequacy of erotic love: eros is actually desire, and therefore by its nature points to something greater.

But there is no divinity and eternality in this poem, only fraternity and fragility. Things fall apart, as falcon and falconer are already separated. The repetition in the second and third lines of the first and third stanzas, the second and fourth lines of the second stanza, and the second line of the fourth stanza clues us in: the speaker is talking about two people, herself and the friend. Their dissolution is parallel as the poem progresses, as they are united in an ironic way.

The tightness of that parallel is what frightens. In the first stanza, we are introduced to the speaker in (e)motion and the beloved at rest. His heart is cited as the reason why she should not leave. The second stanza discusses his “seeing,” but does so in a way that implies motion – hunting, shutting, taking note. The beloved almost seems active in the world, up and about and searching: we are given no reference to the contents of his mind except that he may “want.”

We were introduced in the first stanza to a hypothetical conflict: the speaker had in her mind the problem of “what if I go.” We have already not so subtly said that love could be an illusion and meaningless. He only desires, why does she want to please him?

The second and third stanzas begin with “if,” for the speaker is considering why she should stay. The third stanza goes back to the imagery of her moving and him waiting, but with a twist. Whereas in the first stanza she was debating about a choice to stay or not to stay, and he was defined in the first and second stanzas as wanting and searching, this stanza introduces the idea of “faith.”

His hopes can be defined purely physically up until that point – the heart quakes, the eyes move. If the eyes see what they want to see, heart stops moving, everyone is happy. If that sounds like a program written for a computer to execute, it is. And again, if love is written into the nature of the world, and the world is doomed, then love is doomed. Why stay anywhere?

The answer is that people in faith move in relation to you. Love exists because it is possible other people love you, not because you love. If our speaker betrays the gentleman – even if she’s just guessing about him loving her – it would have been better her heart broke before, just as his heart is breaking as he grapples with his finitude. If she leaves him for something else she “loves,” which would be the only reason why anyone does anything, then she’s not capable of love or goodness. At least if her heart was broken before, the coldness that defined it would not impact anything – or anyone – in its extent.

1 Comment

  1. hmm, interesting analysis. I got little of nature and dying out of it, but seem to have reached a similar conclusion. I guess that means she has projected an idea successfully- if different ppl take similar meaning in different ways?

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