a way of persons outside windows

I had been hungry all the years;
My noon had come, to dine;
I, trembling, drew the table near,
And touched the curious wine.

’T was this on tables I had seen,
When turning, hungry, lone,
I looked in windows, for the wealth
I could not hope to own.

I did not know the ample bread,
’T was so unlike the crumb
The birds and I had often shared
In Nature’s dining-room.

The plenty hurt me, ’t was so new,—
Myself felt ill and odd,
As berry of a mountain bush
Transplanted to the road.

Nor was I hungry; so I found
That hunger was a way
Of persons outside windows,
The entering takes away.

~Emily Dickinson
Image via Pexels.com

If I’ve learned anything about Emily Dickinson over the course of this year of an Emily poem a day, it’s that there are vastly more Dickinsons than I realized when I began this project. This is a very specific one of them–the I-got-what-I-thought-I-wanted-and-realized-I-don’t-want-it Dickinson.

On one level, this is simply that. A hungry person, upon having food made available to her, realizes it isn’t as appetizing as she imagined it would be. So often we long for something, only to be disappointed upon receiving it.

But there’s much more going on here. In the third stanza, the speaker metions “Nature’s dining-room,” where she shared her meager crumbs with birds. Upon leaving nature and entering into human habitation, she becomes disconnected from the natural world, from the birds and from the just-enough that nature offers–in other words, just what we need, without the excess that many of us have come to expect from our civilized lives.

Le 14 juillet

I never hear the word “Escape”
Without a quicker blood,
A sudden expectation –
A flying attitude!

I never hear of prisons broad
By soldiers battered down,
But I tug childish at my bars
Only to fail again!

~Emily Dickinson

À mes amis français, bonjour et bonne fête nationale!

If you’re unfamiliar with France’s most important national holiday, you can read more about it here. Joyeux quatorze!


Who never wanted,—maddest joy
Remains to him unknown;
The banquet of abstemiousness
Surpasses that of wine.

Within its hope, though yet ungrasped Desire’s perfect goal,
No nearer, lest reality
Should disenthrall thy soul.

~Emily Dickinson

I am firmly in the Emily Dickinson camp on this issue–anticipation is better than actuality. The maddest joy comes not in the moment of realizing a happiness, but in the hope for it. What do you think?

“Sometimes almost more”

THIS was in the white of the year,
That was in the green,
Drifts were as difficult then to think
As daisies now to be seen.
Looking back is best that is left,
Or if it be before,
Retrospection is prospect’s half,
Sometimes almost more.

~Emily Dickinson

This morning I woke to a dusting of snow across the yard and driveway. The snow is gone now, but more hangs in the pale, heavy cloud blanket that rings my sky.

Winter is a time for introspection, and for retrospection. I like the notion that “retrospection is prospect’s half”–the looking-backward and the looking-forward dovetail, inform each other. In order to look ahead with any clarity of vision, it’s good to know where you’ve been. In order to look back with any optimism, it’s good to know you are headed somewhere.

I also like how Dickinson says that retrospection is “sometimes almost more” than prospect. “Sometimes almost” is the same thing, really, as “not ever,” but it sounds so different. There’s a suggestion here that retrospection could almost tip the balance, could weight the scales so ponderously that maybe, just maybe, it could almost change the equation.

The white-lead clouds brood overhead, heavy with unfallen snow.