A poor torn heart, a tattered heart,
That sat it down to rest,
Nor noticed that the ebbing day
Flowed silver to the west,
Nor noticed night did soft descend
Nor constellation burn,
Intent upon the vision
Of latitudes unknown.

The angels, happening that way,
This dusty heart espied;
Tenderly took it up from toil
And carried it to God.
There,—sandals for the barefoot;
There,—gathered from the gales,
Do the blue havens by the hand
Lead the wandering sails.

~Emily Dickinson

Dickinson is definitely going for the pathos with this one. “A poor torn heart, a tattered heart.” Intent upon its visions, the “heart” does not see the ebbing day, the encroaching night. It slips away, into the embrace of angels who carry it to God. I don’t know what to say about this one because it seems too obvious. And maybe a little cutesy, too, compared to the angst and existential dread of which Dickinson is so capable.

This is the kind of poem that makes me really, really wonder who Dickinson was. Was she this person? Or the person who wrote about the numbness of death? Or was she both? I suppose we all contain multitudes, and all of these are her. But some of her poems are rather difficult to reconcile with other ones. This feels like the kind of poem that would have been written by Emily Dickinson, Good Christian Girl. Very different from yesterday’s, which was clearly penned by Emily Dickinson, Preacher’s Kid Gone Wild.

But hey! It wraps up a month of (largely) shipwreck poems with a reference to salvaged ships, so it’s all good.


PROUD of my broken heart since thou didst break it,
Proud of the pain I did not feel till thee,
Proud of my night since thou with moons dost slake it,
Not to partake thy passion, my humility.

Emily Dickinson

Another day, another love poem that may not really be a love poem. The first thing that strikes me about this poem is the repetition: three of the four lines begin with “proud.” Given that this poem is one long sentence, that’s a lot of pride to display in such a short punch of a poem. So what’s the speaker proud of?

Firstly, she’s proud of her broken heart, “since” the unnamed lover broke it. Curious, here, is the double meaning of “since”: is the speaker proud because the lover broke her heart, or is she proud from the period of time since it has been broken?

Secondly, she’s “proud of the pain I did not feel till thee.” Sure, this is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s interesting that this is a new pain. Is she proud because this is the first time her heart has been broken, or because she’s loved deeply enough to have been deeply affected?

Thirdly, the speaker becomes entirely to attached to her rhyme scheme. “Proud of my night since thou with moons dost slake it” is a line that practically shouts STOP RHYMING THIS POEM. It also requires some unpacking, because the narrator is doing literary gymnastics to fit this line in her scheme. She’s proud of her night, since you, Mr. Ex, are feeding it with moons. Hold up. What?

Not only does this make little sense on first read, it also breaks the scheme set up in the first two lines. You broke my heart – past tense. You hurt my feelings – past tense. “Thou dost slake” – present tense. If the narrator is heartbroken, how is she also being slaked? The idea of being slaked means not just having something to eat or drink, but to have that foodstuff to satisfy a hunger.

But what else could night be hungry for, than light? Here the speaker is telling us that, yes, she might be in the dark, but she’s not bothered. Even though Mr. Ex–or Mr. Never Was–isn’t with her, he’s still giving off enough light to satisfy her thirst. I hate to say it, and perhaps I’m reading this wrong, but here the narrator seems like nothing more than a moth, battering herself against a light that pays her no notice.

The fourth and final line gives us our last break from repetition. No longer is the speaker proud: now, she’s professing her humility! She is entirely too humble to have any hope of passion with this person; perhaps it is her humility which is holding her at length.

XIII – HEART, we will forget him!

HEART, we will forget him!
You and I, tonight!
You may forget the warmth he gave,
I will forget the light.

When you have done, pray tell me,
That I my thoughts may dim;
Haste! lest while you’re lagging,
I may remember him!

Emily Dickinson

I adore this little nugget of a poem. Not because I think there’s anything special going on here; there’s no thread of hidden knowledge I plan to tease out. This is a breakup poem, pure and simple, and I love the absolutely done-ness of that opening line: we don’t need him, anyway!

However, it’s an Emily Dickinson breakup poem. This means that we have to deal with the narrator speaking to the heart as though it’s a separate entity; as though head and heart must both forget the object of their affection. It makes sense. In high school, I dated a boy for around three years, and when we broke up, my heart was done but my brain hadn’t gotten the memo yet. I must have picked up the phone to call him half a dozen times–we talked on the phone every night, bless the late 90s–before breaking that habit.

It wasn’t that I wanted to talk to him; I didn’t. I was just so used to the motion that my brain kept trying to repeat that same pattern.

The narrator here seems to have a slightly more complicated problem. She’s asking the heart to forget, and to let her know when that’s done–because if it’s not soon, the narrator is going to remember him. Is this an inevitability, then, since head and heart don’t seem to be on the same wavelength?

For what it’s worth, I’m not sure that this relationship is finished. Having to tell yourself that you’re going to forget a man seems less like Frodo taking the ring up Mount Doom, and more like Gollum hoarding his treasure in a deep cavern. Or, to put it more plainly: if Emily’d had a phone, she might have dialed this gentleman’s digits before she finished blotting the ink on this poem.