Emily Dickinson, “We outgrow love, like other things” (887)

“We outgrow love, like other things…” (887)
Emily Dickinson

We outgrow love, like other things
And put it in the Drawer –
Till it an Antique fashion shows –
Like Costumes Grandsires wore.

Comment:

“Grandsires” is pretty much just an archaic word for a male ancestor; the concern seems to be with love and nostalgia. I remember a wedding columnist talking about how she met her husband. She mentioned that when they first met, something of him reminded her of her childhood, and he mentioned later on a date that something about her reminded him of his childhood.

So it doesn’t seem to me that “we outgrow love” is necessarily a cynical statement. Apparently we take out love when it shows “an Antique fashion,” and one doesn’t usually throw away heirlooms. However, “like other things” does push us, at least briefly, to take love cynically. Is love just like wanting to be homecoming queen? Or having the flashiest tuxedo at the prom?

I mean, those are the sorts of things that get stuck in the drawer and don’t get looked at again. They’re the sorts of things parents tuck away in appreciation of their children. And that makes me wonder about what sort of love we are talking about here. Is this love generally, not merely our most intimate relationships?

It has to be love generally: “like other things” could very well be defining love, not just describing love outgrown. That already implies something very warm – the outgrown love is kept inside, never let go. Apparently we are peeking in on it, waiting for the right moment. But “shows” could also imply that love we think well-hidden is actually anything but. Our whole lives demonstrate what we truly love, and if we are close to achieving what we love – if indeed love has grown with time – then we’re certainly showing off our love as if we were wearing a costume from long ago.

I guess the irony is “wore” – were we wearing the love earlier truly, or are we wearing love when we are costumed grandsires ourselves? The poem looks to be challenging an idea much in currency among the younger adults I speak to, that there are lovers and there are friends and never the twain shall meet. It is challenging this idea by forcing one to account for love simply, and not just break the concept into categories that cannot be reconciled. Where your heart is, that’s where your treasure is.

There are twists: we do put the outgrown love into a drawer, implying categorization. The “Antique fashion” is like “Costumes Grandsires wore,” and “like” had followed what was outgrown before. I understand these things as hinting at disunity, but the poem itself to have a thematic structure which strongly suggests unity. “We” links with “Grandsires,” and in becoming the people of the past we model ourselves after, it is true we join past and future as well as meet each other in the present. “Like” on that reading does not suggest distance, but operates as a bridge.

2 Comments

  1. Yes, when something reminds us of our childhood–and we like it–we are revealing what we will never out-grow. If you look at the philosophical educational theorist, Parker Palmer, he has a lot to say about how our “calling” is actually intrinsic–something we were born to do/be–the way our best self meets the world’s greatest need.

    I love your analysis here! The bridge imagery etc…

  2. We can be reminded, and feel the pull, of a childish desire – to be the prom queen, or a sports hero – and yet realize that is no longer vital to our lives. That is to say we do outgrow some things that were once important to us – and love could be one of them, even if we retain certain fond memories of them.
    Dickenson does not make clear whether she means erotic love or love in general. Erotic love seems to be more fragile, but other kinds of love are not indestructable, either. Many people who fall out of love with their spouses still claim to love their children. Yet many people abandon, neglect, or abuse their children, or their parents. Maybe falling out of love with parents and children is necessary for children to grow up, to accept a parent’s weakening influence on an adult child’s life. As we move into middle age, parents become less thrilled by our milestones of maturity. We come to accept that certain kinds of love we previously insisted on, or took for granted, have dissipated.

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