Emily Dickinson, “I had no time to Hate” (478)

Right now in the United States, we worry. There was an election. One man won with millions more votes for him. The party opposing him did not fare terribly, gaining more seats in one legislative chamber. But recently the losing party has decided this is not enough. For a day or two after the election results became certain, they were quiet. Then, as if coordinated by a single mind, they began relentlessly accusing everyone else of fraud with the flimsiest evidence.

Shortly before the widespread, unsubstantiated claims of fraud, we were told to embrace those making the accusations. Embrace those who gleefully hurt their fellow Muslim citizens. Who dressed up as “walls” to celebrate the sadistic violence against those at the border. Who endorsed the separation of children from migrant parents with the baseless assertion this was done previously. Who dismissed a virus as a “hoax” as it killed 200,000 because it was inconvenient to admit their leader was a failure. It is strikingly clear why some would dismiss the election as a fraud. For once, it is being stated that some things are actually wrong. It is notable this message cannot be delivered by a number of churches.

Thus, when I stumbled upon Dickinson’s I had no time to Hate, I chuckled. Was a voice from another century telling me to calm down?

I had no time to Hate (478)
Emily Dickinson

I had no time to Hate —
Because
The Grave would hinder Me —
And Life was not so
Ample I
Could finish — Enmity —

Nor had I time to Love —
But since
Some Industry must be —
The little Toil of Love —
I thought
Be large enough for Me —

I had no time to Hate — / Because / The Grave would hinder Me. Can’t be hateful, can’t be angry, because death makes hate and anger worthless. After I’m gone, who will care for my cause? The injustices unique to me are truly unique, and therein lies the problem.

This does not convince at the moment. For many in the United States, politics is a game. Their taxes may go up or down, but their citizenship is never in danger, their rights are always assured. The feeling that politics is a game is their security. If one had to take the rights of others seriously, one would have to confront that one’s own rights are a delicate matter. For a few, this is a wake-up call. They look to help, to make common cause. Others radicalize. They’re not even clear why there are other voices in the first place.

Hate and anger are sometimes the only response to deadly complacency. We have to hate the status quo and understand our anger as a sign that we’re taken for granted. But hate and anger too easily get out of hand. And Life was not so / Ample I / Could finish — Enmity. Even held righteously, enmity presents too much to complete. It stands to reason there are better things to embrace.

*

For Dickinson, perhaps, the first and second stanzas have equal weight. Hate and enmity are awful things, but in the context of trying to get a relationship started, they aren’t always accompanied by the sense the world is collapsing. Nor had I time to Love—yeah, sometimes we’re not feeling it.

For those in the current situation, Nor had I time to Love is an invitation to a different world. Hate and enmity are bound up with the necessity of political change. But the world of the second stanza assumes a neutrality. Not much is happening, as Some Industry must be attests. I cannot say I have been on the front lines helping others in immediate distress. I donate to causes, look for opportunities where I can make a difference, try for an honest understanding of the world and convey that understanding. That doesn’t sound like much, but I don’t ever feel like Some Industry must be. Rather, I feel there’s so much more I could be doing, but what I’m doing now needs to be done well, too.

The little Toil of Love — / I thought / Be large enough for me. Since something must be done, despite the lack of time, might as well love. I marvel at the precision of Dickinson’s construction of space. “Time” could be devoted to hate or love, but the poem ends with “The little Toil of Love.” As if the “Toil of Love” were independent of time, or within it. I submit it is both. A space “large enough for me,” where Dickinson feels free to do as she will. And also subject to time, as her efforts exhaust what she can give. Ultimately, work devoted to love shapes time itself from within time. Weirdly enough, the hate of the first stanza finds a slant justification. It is tragic people would waste time by provoking negativity. It is tragic because love doesn’t cost time as much as makes it.

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