Is Love Possible? On Dickinson’s “I could suffice for Him, I knew…” (643)

“I could suffice for Him, I knew…” (643)
Emily Dickinson

I could suffice for Him, I knew –
He – could suffice for Me –
Yet Hesitating Fractions – Both
Surveyed Infinity –

“Would I be Whole” He sudden broached –
My syllable rebelled –
‘Twas face to face with Nature – forced –
‘Twas face to face with God –

Withdrew the Sun – to Other Wests –
Withdrew the furthest Star
Before Decision – stooped to speech –
And then – be audibler

The Answer of the Sea unto
The Motion of the Moon –
Herself adjust Her Tides – unto –
Could I – do else – with Mine?


Is love possible? Here’s a whole, a couple (“hesitating fractions”) that’s probably outside at night (“surveyed infinity”), with one part – her – absolutely in love. “Could suffice for Me” is only a cautious formulation of how she feels; we know it to be too cautious when her “syllable rebels” at the notion that with her, he wouldn’t be whole.

At that point, this couple becomes symbolic. She implies that he has been “forced” face-to-face with “Nature.” Nature (Gk. “physis”) is what she thinks she represents to him; it is a pagan attempt to understand the world. Human nature is connected to our being a rational animal (species/genus). As rational animals, we work within the sphere of reason, which is complete for a divine nature, but not for us – we can never possibly know everything.

She, on the other hand, is face to face with his desire to be whole. Only a holy endowment could fulfill that longing, it seems. It can be argued that virtue can be achieved and human nature perfected without divine aid, but that line of thought is full of ironies and traps (cf. Aristotle, Ethics). Furthermore, anyone holding that human nature can be perfected through virtue works to be virtuous themselves – they would worry a lot less about a significant other who loves them as blocking their path. The divine is fickle, and contrasts with the love of wisdom which is eros when all is said and done.

So now the night becomes darker; the sun removes itself to other worlds, the stars fade away completely. The sun reminds of where the philosophers dwell in Plato’s Republic; the stars remind of Dante’s vision of Paradise.  Now one might say this scene was never night, that the poem thrives on an ambiguity where Infinity can be surveyed night or day. It could also be said that the poem actually moves from day to night, given the explicit mention of the moon in the last stanza. My thought is that this poem is set entirely at night and only night: that we’re fractions is clearest when there are other worlds visible. The darkness of the sky mirrors the darkness in “could;” “broached” speaks to me of a world where all is quiet, not where all is active and noisy.

The key argument is in the word “audibler” – it has always been night, because the response to him was always there. In the deepest sense his objection was anticipated and addressed; she made her decision to bring this moment about.

The Sea’s tides move in accordance with the Moon’s motion. “Unto” links the “answer” and the “motion;” “unto” reminds us of moral principles from the Bible – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The most precious love, that of Love itself, is explained to us there by God being a person and telling us how we should relate “unto” Him. “Sufficing for Him” was always about something more than a human lover.

The displacement of “unto” in the last two lines is the whole story. The Sea may adjust on principle, but this shouldn’t be a matter of divine and human love. It should be a matter of purely human love. Her decision to love means she will bear it out; her syllable rebels because she does not. There is only one person loving at the end of this poem, and therefore she does indeed suffice.


  1. Ashok …

    This name and style rings a bell. Are you Ashok from the now defunct WU?

    If so, hi from me … Quiddity42. ;)

    I just poked around Problogger today for the first time and put in an entry, and here I am reading your blog. What a coinkadink – if it is indeed you, that is.

  2. wow, this is fascinating. i find your interpretation very difficult to follow; obviously, i see something quite different.

    and that’s what i love about good art. it is a sparkling diamond, with so many facets …

    here’s what i see:

    they could suffice each other the way the moon is sufficient for the sea to ebb and flow.

    but but but: hesitation. fraction. sudden. broach. rebellion. force. withdrawal. not audible enough.

    and yet: she cannot help but be drawn to him … ( … or can she? …)

    i revel in the motion of this poem. the ebb and flow. love is much bigger than attraction.

  3. I have been reading the poem repeatedly and waiting…I don’t think I’m ready for an interpretation, but I’ll just throw out a few ideas: one can always change and add things later.

    My first intenton with a difficult poem is not to try too hard to understand and to take things very literally. This is a great lesson I learned from an anecdote about Rimbaud. His mother was looking at some lines of his poetry and asked him, “What the hell does this mean?” He replied, “It means exactly what it says.”

    The keys to my interpretation are “Hesitating Fractions” and “my syllable rebelled” and the form of the poem. Here form, by breaking up synthetic logic, becomes content. The syllables and fractions rebel, so I feel an interpretation should not put them back into discursive syntheses.

    If one removes the punctuation, the first lines become a perfectly nromal poetic idea:

    I could suffice for him, I knew
    He could suffice for me.

    The dash after ‘knew’ throws the verb back on itself and makes it enigmatic. She is not sure what she knows. Then ‘He’ becomes a fraction, an alienated being from the social world. ‘..could suffice for Me’ is followed immediately by ‘Yet hesitating fractions.’ Unity is broken. ‘Both surveyed Infinity,’ which reaches far beyond earth-bound logical norms.

    I see it’s time for me to go. I’ll continue my interpretation after lunch!

  4. I think the next line,

    “Would I be Whole,” he sudden breached -”

    is the gaffe of the poem, with the adverbial ending of ‘suddenly’ lopped off. Conceptual language shrinks into itself and shatters. The answer is ‘my syllable rebelled -,’ clearly a rejection of rational wholeness, and again immediately -E.D. was an inspired contrapuntalist – ‘withdraws the Sun-‘ and it withdraws ‘to other Wests -‘ Wests in the plural; I hazard to say, to other regions of rationality.

    Withdrew the furthest star
    Before Decision – stooped to speech –

    How beautiful the star! – is it the fleeting star of joy on earth? The word ‘Decision’ comes as a shock and is immediately devalued by ‘-stooped to speech -.’ This is followed, after another hiatus, by the one most synthetically intact sentence of the poem:

    ……be audibler
    The answer of the Sea unto
    The Motion of the Moon –

    Audibler the language of nature which cannot be translated into human speech. This is a last remnant of fragmented lyrical pathos, to be found here and there in Dickinsen’s earlier poems.

    Herself adjusts Her Tides – unto –

    The isolation of the word ‘unto’ is essential; its predicate is left unspoken. The sea adjusts its tides without our aid. These lines bring all the paratactical fragments of the poem into motion and give a, perhaps, unintended pathos to the last, refragmented line.

    Could I – do else – with Mine?

    ‘Mine’is an inspired false rhyme to ‘Moon.’ Dickensen’s language shrinks and dries out lyrical pathos in order to release a counterpoint of phrases that is the more musical for not being obviously imitative of musicality, as Adorno writes about Hoelderlin’s late poetry.

  5. P..S.

    It is hard for me to imagine a vocal reading of the poem. The reciter would have to be a virtuoso. Perhaps it would be best read by two or more voices, so that the fragmented words and phrases stand out against each other. They are part of a puzzle that cannot really be made to fit.

    Humpyy Dumpty had a great fall,
    All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
    Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

  6. interesting – i actually find her very easy to read out loud but then maybe that’s because i’ve done quite a few poetry readings.

    i did go to youtube to see how people treated emily dickinson there, and so far the results were pretty disappointing (if not to say disturbing)

  7. A bit off thread – but I get back.
    Isabella, it would be nice to hear you read!

    I have done quite a lot of reading aloud myself – of the loads of poems I have translated from 4 languages into Italian. At first I wanted an Italian to do the reading, but they missed the content of the poetry so completely that I felt obliged to read myself.

    You will have heard Yeats reading his own poetry on youtube. Incredibly, the same page has others reading his poetry in deadpan voices.

    I overlooked two lines of the poem above in my interpretation and they have been ringing in my head ever since:

    Face to Face with Nature – forced –
    Face to Face with God

    They fit in O.K. with my so far interpretation, but ‘forced’ is enigmatic, and strong. I feel like Hercule Poirot trying to solve a mystery.But take it literally, Felix, take it literally & then see how it looks in the poem!

    I found support for my interpretation in another of D’s poems:

    Much madness is divinest sense
    To a discerning eye.
    Much sense the starkest madness.
    ‘T is the majority
    In this, as all, prevails.
    Assent and you are sane;;
    Demur, – you’re straightway dangerous,
    And handled with a chain.

    I took our poem through with a student of English, partly because he has a friend who likes Emily D. He said, I believe she went mad? I said, Heavens no! What gave you that idea? Then I remembered that she became somewhat peculiar in later years, like speaking to people through closed doors.

    After the lesson I thought again, But maybe that was a sign of sanity?

    It is through Ashok that I have become interested in ED, whom I had previously ignored. I like the title of his site: Rethink

  8. aaah, what a lovely conversation!

    it’s late at night, i should have gone to bed long ago. what better time to attempt a quick-and-quirky (and entirely unreflected) translation of this poem into german?

    ich wusst ich koennt genug fuer ihn sein –
    er – er koennt genug fuer mich –
    und doch, ein kleines zoegern – beide
    sahn etwas ewigkeit –

    “waer ich nun ganz” ein ploetzlich wort von ihm –
    mein silbensein boehmt auf –
    ‘s war aug in aug mit der natur – mit zwang –
    ‘s war aug in aug mit gott –

    weg mit der sonne – hin zu andern westen –
    weg zu dem weit’sten stern
    bevor entscheidet in herabgelass’nem wort –
    und dann doch – lauter ward

    wie meer ihr’ antwort gibt
    zur wanderung des mondes –
    und ihr’ gezeiten fuegt – ganz ihm –
    kann ich – es anders – tun mit mir?

    what’s really interesting here is that it was not difficult to get the same 19th century/early inklings of dada tone as in english. i don’t know why that was … something to ponder over … it was kind of magical, actually …

    what’s it like in italian?

  9. Isabella, your translation into German looks pretty good. Just now two lines flashed through my mind:

    Ich koennte ihm genuegen, wusste ich –
    Er – koennte mir genuegen –

    As impulsively as you, I have done a quick translation into Italian:

    Potrei bastare per lui, lo so –
    Egli – bastare per me –
    Frena il particolare –ambedue
    Rivolti verso l’infinito.

    “Sarei Intero,” disse bruscamente –
    La mia sillaba ribelle –
    Di viso in viso con la natura – costretta –
    Di viso in viso col Creatore –

    Il sole si ritira – ad altri Occidenti –
    L’ultima stella si ritira
    Prima che Decisione – si pieghi a parole –
    E poi – un più-sentire

    La risposta del Mare
    All’andamento della Luna –
    Accorda Lei Stessa le maree – verso –
    Potrei far’ – di meno – con le mie?

  10. A short note on my Italian translation.

    La mia sillaba ribelle

    Ribelle would do as an adjective, the verb in the third person would be si ribella, but I didn’t like the sound of three a’s in succession.

    I’ve changed it to
    La mia sillaba insorge

    I’m tempted to leave out the ‘my’ and say
    La sillaba insorge

    Italian is such a polysyllabic language and the number of vowel sounds is small compared with English and German. When I translate Lamartine and Swinburne I let the polysyllables flow.

    Ashok, excuse my mutterings. I read some of your personal notes this morning and found them quite moving.There is a touch of diffidence, uncertainty, melancholy in them which is a sign of intelligence for me.

  11. and thanks, ashok, for providing this forum.

    my italian is very sketchy but from what i can understand, it seems that we have a similar understanding of the poem.

    i find it particularly noteworthy that you went to the word “insorge” which in a way is quite similar to my “boehmt auf” – both, IMHO, more intense – wilder? – than “rebelled”. (of course i don’t know the connotations of “insorge” so i might be quite wrong).

  12. oh, and for any readers who think we’re doing nothing but showing off our languages here – for my part at least i’m doing it not only for the fun of it but also because translating a poem helps tremendously with understanding it.

  13. i came to this thread through isabella’s twitter comment. hmmm, twitter good for something… Interesting discussion guys. Hopefully, I’ll put my $.02 in later, but whatever I have to say will be pretty worthless ;)

    I will say that I like this poem, it reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about lately- about choosing to (and whom to) love.

  14. Nah, I have nothing worthwhile to say. I do like the flow of the poem. I printed it out and looked at it at work, I wrote out my interpretation. I am uninspiring :P

    But it does have something in the choose to love v. destined to love area… and I have no answers there.

  15. Showing off our languages – Good Heavens no! All I have is a passion for poetry and music, and everything else is irrelevant. Then I think it adds charm to this thread to have two tentative translations of the poem into other languages. Yes, translation does help understanding.

    Amanda! Amanda! Don’t worry too much about understanding and being inspiring. Take the poem as it stands with the suggestions it gives you. Put it away and look at it again in a years time, and it may suddenly click. It may do the same for me.

    I remember feeling desperately like you do, surrounded by super-intellectuals and having nothing to say about – among other things – Fellini and Bergman films. For a while my anxiety spoiled my pleasure in watching the films, because I was worrying about finding something clever to say. Then I decided to forget about this and just ‘enjoy’ the films and say what I had seen.

    But I have been thinking about what you said about the poem and that it’s theme may be about choosing or being destined to love.

    I think I can see something of what you say in the poem, but my feeling is that it remains an open question. The last line is a question and ED – uses the conditional ‘could.’

    Maybe she is trying to fragment language to make a space for it in the eyes of God, of Divinity? May the true relationship of the poem not be with God and nature? The uncertainty about this gives some meaning to the isolated -unto – in the fourth verse -?

    This brings me to the two lines I overlooked in my interpretation above:

    ‘Twas face to face with Nature – forced –
    ‘Twas face to face with God –

    ‘-forced -‘ is the most jarring dissonance in the poem. Before we even begin to think of the sense, it removes any banality there might otherwise be in the two lines. Is it the dissonance between delusions of wholeness in our world and a language of nature and the Divinity, evading synthetic logic, which has always been a nature dominating instance. “Much madness is divinest sense,” says D. herself.

    Poets – like Shelley – loosen up synthetic logic in order to strive for a language that is semi-divine; D. gives us the broken particles of our language. Unlike music and painting, poetry is irredeemably tied – for better and worse -to conceptual language; it is forced on us, and this may give an inverted sense to ‘forced’ in the poem.

    Amanda, these thoughts will put you off forever. But don’t be fooled by ‘intellectuals’ as I used to be. Go your own way. This poem is difficult, and I feel as though I’m struggling helplessly, as with late Beethoven Quartets and Hoelderlin’s late poetry.

    Isabella, ‘insorgere’ is much stronger than ‘aufbaeumen’, but it doesn’t make much difference.

    I’m waiting for Ashok to put me in my place.

    Now Hercule Poirot must have a rest. The grey matter is boiling.

    1. Perhaps the concept of “Forces of Nature” is at play. The idea of when there is life threatening storm such as a tornado and we all pray to be spared. ‘‘Twas face to face with God.” Then back to the ebb and flow of nature with the tides and the Moon. Additionally, Mother Nature could be the femine and the face of God the masculine.

      True love….

  16. I’m here, I’m just quiet b/c I’m listening. I do want to thank you all for this thread, it is a wonderful read and I have to pay closer attention to it.

    I am thinking how best to deal with the question of whether love is a matter of choice or not. I was thinking about this the other day, I’ll get something more explicit written later.

  17. In the poem, the question (about love) is as unanswered as it is in my head.

    I may as well give my interpretation, and I know, Ashok (and probably others), that you would not agree ;)

    Two people, presumably right for each other are pondering their future together. Should they get together (should they get married?) (should they continue their relationship?) they consider the future.

    But, wouldn’t I lose myself in this, he wonders (argues).
    Um… she said and she had to think it over.

    Late late into the night she replied,

    I will lose myself to you- how could I do otherwise?

    She is choosing to love him, and choosing to give something up for him, but her reasoning is that he is the moon to her tide and she cannot do anything else. Hardly a choice.

    Soooo, is it free will that makes her decision or is it her nature to make that decision? I suppose we can go against our nature- and we do- (and maybe it’s even possible to overcome love toward a person that is unwelcome) and so there are as many answers as there are ocurrances of love. And the initial feeling of love (which is involuntary) is quite different from the continued act of loving (which is a definite choice).

  18. felix, thanks for the gentle correction of my rusty german – yes, it’s “aufbaeumen” not “aufboehmen”. even though it’s my mother tongue, not speaking it daily for nearly 20 years shows …

    amanda, i come from a school of thought where it is impossible for one’s interpretation of a work of art to be “wrong”. any poem, painting, piece of music etc. that had nothing but one message would, IMHO, be propaganda not art. every person’s point of view enriches a work of art.

    in addition to that, i personally find this way of looking at the poem entirely intelligible. thank you for sharing it here!

    here is a discussion of this poem by a dickensen scholar. interesting read if you can stomach all the quotation marks. (but why not? dickenson uses a lot of dashes, i don’t use capitalization :)

    regarding love as a choice or as a force of nature, i’ve written on this a few times, for example here

  19. Isabella,

    I believe exactly the same, I’m mostly poking fun at our host because I used to argue that I hated poetry and literary analysis because I didn’t believe in any “correct interpretation”.

    I concede that sometimes people don’t quite get it, but I also still think that part of the beauty of art is in individual interpretation.

  20. (and individual interpretation is based on personal circumstances and beliefs and mood and a song or a painting or a poem can mean different things at different times… I live with an artists. His drawings don’t mean the same thing to him from year to year.)

  21. So we are beginning to have a kaleidoscope of different interpretations, which is fascinating. I think the poem itself is like a kaleidoscope that one can keep turning around.

    Amanda, I’m glad you decided to post your interpretation. I have read it several times and am thinking about it.

    Isabella, I didn’t even notice the German mistake. I’m glad I’m not the only one who makes mistakes – in all my languages, which are becoming confused. I looked at your links.

    Yesterday I spent most of the day at the computer, so have to have a break today, but I’ll be back soon with my ideas about your ideas.

  22. Oh! while I think about it, I should modify my negative remarks about conceptual language.

    On the positive side: it has been man’s attempt to free himself from the chaos and tyranny of nature, and is thus also essential to the miracle of being. Only conceptual beings can create and understand art.Unfortunately reason, in its turn, tyrannizes nature, as we all know.

    Its verbal labels are an impoverished representation of the experiences they subsume. “I love you,” can mean a thousand different things: I love you spirtually, sexually, both together, I want to possess you, to eat you alive etc. “I hate you,” can mean “I love you.”

    In our everyday speech we modify the inadequacy of conceptually organised language with emotion, intonation, emphasis, gestures, a look in our eyes. We do this rather confusedly; poetry does it systematically with all the means at its disposal. So I believe the arts seek to compensate for the limitations of reason, to recreate it, transform it in poetry.

    Now, if there is one thing that is certain beyond all individual interpretation, it is that Emuily Dickinson ‘plays’with language in our poem, breaking it up into fragmented words and phrases. Why?

  23. a quick and hurried “yes!” to you, felix. poetry brings all the shadings and nuances to life, it invigorates life. language is soooo much more than this shuttling back and forth of informational bits that exists in conceptual language.

    but of course it’s not just poetry. it actually happens everywhere in language (ie language is NEVER just conceptual) but poetry brings a big exclamation mark to it.

    boy, i wish i had an hour or two to expand/expound on that!

  24. I spent some time this morning reading your other ED selections and your commemts, Askok,not too thoroughly as I want to arrive at my own idea of ED first – but I will go back to them.

    isabella – your two links- When I looked at the first on, a Yahoo discussion of the same poem, my first thought was, “Oh no! not more dietrologia! – this is a un untranslatable Italian word meaning behind-the-scenesiology. I have had simply too much of this on Shakespeare blogs. On this Yahoo blog too the comments are about everything but the poem.

    If I’m not mistaken I read a sentence in a letter of ED’s saying that the I in the poem was representative and not her empirical I. Even supposing someone puts their personal I into a poem, it becomes immediately transformed in the poem into a lyrical psyche.

    isabella, i think I prefer “falling in love” to “going together to a place that is love.”, which sounds too rational for me. One could start another thread on this.

    Yes you are right that the trasformation of conceptual language could exist in other ways than that of its purest distillation in poetry. In fact, while I was writing my notes above, I was thinking of great novels I know and of words I have heard spoken.

    I will continue and get back to Emily Dickinsen and Amanda.

  25. Felix: I don’t know if I would completely knock looking into Emily’s life and the background of her writing for analysis, but the poem should stand alone- without her name even attached to it- and it does, and it is kind of annoying to only look at it from the perspective of “she was in love with this dude and it didn’t work out” or whatever they may be saying about it at Yahoo (I didn’t actually check that link, I just went to Isabella’s site.) I’m kind of glad I didn’t now.

  26. No, Amanda I wouldn’t knock biographical material and one often finds idiosyncracies that have a relevance, like ED speaking to people through closed doors.

    There are some aspects of ED’s life that may be relevant: that she was reclusive and considered eccentric. In a letter to Higginson she is using the dashes that become constitutive in her poetry:

    If I make the mistake – that you dared to tell me – would give me sincerer honor – toward you –

    Linking discourse is left out and she is working with mosaics. The connecting word ‘that’ in the second phrase does not entirely make sense, esp. whe related to the present tense ‘make’ in the first phrase. ED’s instincts are already rebelling against normal discursive logic.

    isabella wrote, in the past tense, that she hated analysis and interpretation. I think it depends how it’s done and whether it comes from within the poem. Sometimes analysis is the only way of revealing the content and beauty of a poem.

    You’ll agree that a piano piece by Chopin, Schumnann or Mendelssohn is much like a lyrical poem. Well, as a pianist (significantly called interpreter)and teacher you have to look at the pieces very closely. This still allows for different interpretations, but there are some basic things that have to be there.

    The poet has his/her own individuality, more important than ours, and it should be respected.

    I certainly can’t agree that all interpretations are correct.Varied interpretations, yes, but not a free for all, which would leave the poem devoid of any specificity, and ED was very specific. Interpretations can be wrong, as when a naive listener told me the Funeral March from Beethoven’s Eroica sounded like happy music.

    Amanda, I can imagine that your companion sees different things in his paintings year by year. Concerning my own literary and musical efforts, I’d rather not know and leave interpretations to others. I once interpreted the painting of a friend, and though she had never thought of the things I said, she was pleased. It was like telling her things she didn’t even know she was doing.

    As very long letters are not considered very blog friendly, I’ll come back to your interpretation of our poem, Amanda-

  27. oops, that was amanda who said she hatED analysis and interpretation, not me.

    btw, when i said that an interpretation cannot be “wrong” (or “incorrect”, as you say, felix) i used the quotation marks on purpose.

    as i may have mentioned before, i like to see this interpreting, describing, reflecting, analyzing, mulling-over as a form of participating in this work of art. thus, just as this work of art cannot be wrong, the participation cannot be wrong.

    however, in this here little community of interpreters (as in the larger community of ED lovers or huge community of appreciators of art) we can engage in discourse with each other. in this discourse, we can approximately determine the (ever-changing) parameters of what’s “fitting” in terms of interpretation.

    thus i don’t agree that hearing the funeral march in eroica as “happy” is wrong. it just goes against convention, and i would be interested in finding out more about why that person has the association of “happy”. (more discourse!)

    nevertheless, to bring it back to this poem and our readings of it – i find each of your musings – ashok’s, felix’s and amanda’s – interesting and enriching, none of them unfitting. some coincide more with my reading, some less.

    and once more, instead of a direct interpretation, i am going to rewrite the poem now into a readers digest version. again, this is quick and dirty, just what comes up immediately.

    i knew i could suffice for him;
    he could suffice for me.
    and yet, we hesitated both
    and sought an answer in the sky.

    “i am not sure i would be whole”
    he said then, suddenly.
    my heart and mind rebelled.
    out there in nature we were forced
    to look at ourselves, to look at god.

    the sky went dark. it was as if
    the sun denied its light.
    then slowly a decision formed
    and said these words:

    the sea has a response
    to how the moon moves close and far:
    she answers with her ebbs and flows.
    could i respond to him in other ways?
    no matter what his doubts?

    what was useful for me here was to look at the last line. “could i – do else – with mine?”

    all of a sudden it occurred to me that this may NOT just be a rhetorical question …

  28. Amanda’s interpretation.

    I think I can follow your interpretation as a possible one. I can read the poem thinking that what you say is happening. Basically, the problem of this love story is resolved at the end when the poet decides to concede herself as the tides do to the motions of the moon. This is more, however, like the resumé of a plot, rather than an interpretation. I feel one would have to look more closely at the poem and how it is constructed with all its peculiarities.

    They rebel against a smoothly told love story. I’m not at all sure of my interpretation, but I did try to look at the poem itself, its articulation in fragmented, enigmatic words amd phrases. So even if I take your interpretation as being correct, there’s an awful lot that happens inbetween. An awful lot of resistance to poetic wholeness. My impression is that Emily was allergic to any kind of normality, which she attacks firmly in the poem I have cited above

    But, Amanda, you do bring up the subject of voluntary and involuntary love, and this dilemma or schism could work its way backwards through the fragmented logic of the poem. Involuntary love could explain the word ‘forced’.

    But to go back to the biographical, it seems highly unlikely that Emily ever had a fulfilled love relationship. Nor does she seem like the type of woman who would give in to an involuntary sex-struck love. So the poem is taking place on a spirtual, if not intelllectual plane.

    But I still puzzle over the sun and the furthest star that withdraw leaving a solitary figure in darkest night, which makes the motions of the speechless tides – no intense passion – become more audible. This is a moment of quietude, of restfulness, the words flow more easily. Love cedes to nature in the face of God. She cedes not to an imposed love, but to the noblest form of involuntary love which follows the subdued motions of nature. The domineering ego is suspended. Looking back over the poem from this point, I find that the fragments begin to sparkle and glitter.

    The New Testament states: if you are afraid of losing your life, you most certainly will do so; if you are prepared to lose it, you will gain life eternal.

    I think Emily is beyond, or goes beyond the battle of wills that prevails – mostly – in love as we know it.

    Is it metaphysical tact that makes her use the condional ‘could’ with a question mark, as though we were thrown back into the realm of possibilities? I don’t know. Maybe she doesn’t really give us an answer and the enigma revolves around itself

    She could cede to a love that is not violent and that is in harmony with nature in which the Moon and the tides cede to on another in equal measure, far beyond the selfishness of most human love.

  29. Amanda and Isabella. Our discussion evidently came to an end. Maybe we have said what we wanted to say, maybe my comments were off-putting.

    I feel a bit guilty for telling Amanda that her comment was more of a resumé of the plot than an interpretation. With poems as enigmatic as this one, trying to elicit a plot of sorts is part of the interpretation.

    When I read that poem now I just enjoy it for what it says but find all the interpretations revolvong in my mind, so this is an enrichment. The poem will remain eternally enigmatic. Maybe she locked the door to interpretation and threw away the key, to throw us into confusion. Emily D. is new to me and it takes a lifetime to get to know a poet. It took me at least ten years to appreciate the specific qualities of Margot Fonteyn’s dancing. Fortunately I have had a few lifetimes to get to know other poets and composers, mostly the latter, whose work I know inside out.

    Ashok, I have certainly had several looks at your site and have been tempted to add comments to almost everything I have seen, but this would be too much, almost a persecution! The normal social rule is that over-eagerness to obtain someone’s friendship is off-putting and makes them withdraw. I would so much like you to have a little glance at my literary efforts on Facebook, even if you decided you didn’t like them. But I know how busy you are, and surely not only with your thesis.

    Best of wishes to all of you!

  30. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to conceive of a single, non-parodic female deity. The “Her tides” of this poem seems to suggest a way, for if we read this as “God’s tides” then the I of the poem can be male or female, suggesting a more democratic understanding of love on earth (which is surely what God / the Gods want).

    The beautiful intepretations above (ashok / felix / isabella / amanda) all seem directed to the conception of a single, non-parodic female HUMAN, an equally if not more important goal. To them, I have only these lines from Byron, addressed to the sea and its (ok?) tides:

    For I was as it were a child of thee,
    And trusted to thy billows far and near,
    And laid my hand upon thy mane – as I do here.

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