Day of the Dead

The distance that the dead have gone
Does not at first appear;
Their coming back seems possible
For many an ardent year.

And then, that we have followed them
We more than half suspect,
So intimate have we become
With their dear retrospect.

~Emily Dickinson

This seems an appropriate poem for today, when the Day of the Dead concludes. When someone has died, that they are gone at first seems impossible. As time passes and the loss settles into our bones, we wonder if we have joined them. You can read this on different levels–the pain of grief, the wishing to be with the departed, the fact that they take pieces of us with them…The last two lines are intriguing–“So intimate have we become/With their dear retrospect.” I wonder if Dickinson is talking here about the way we change the dead in our memories–we become familiar with their retrospect rather than hanging onto them exactly as they were. Memory is tricksy, and we alter the dead in our imagination.

“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.