Emily's the Man

Pain - has an Element of Blank -
It cannot recollect
When it begun - or if there were
A time when it was not -

It has no Future - but itself -
Its Infinite contain
Its Past - enlightened to perceive
New Periods - of Pain.

I adore the way Dickinson uses metaphor and in this poem, especially, we can see a master poet working the language so that we are not only able to read this poem horizontally - from the beginning to end - but also vertically. When I first read, so many years ago, "Element of Blank," I thought immediately of the white flash of nothingness that shoots through the head when one, say, hits a thumb soundly with a hammer. The world does go blank in that moment, the brain, too. But there is more than the physical pain to reference here. Think of the emotional blankness one feels after a great grief. How many times have we heard that after a funeral, a loved one can't recall who came to visitation nor turned up at the church? And there is also that blankness that comes from depression, the separation of self from all else, the loss of memory caused by desolation, and I can't help but think of the forgetting of the pain of childbirth. That word blank is like an open well on the page.

But what I love even more is the way Dickinson's sense and form are married here. Look at the first word of the poem, now look at the last . . . pain leads to pain in what is here, for Dickinson, a never-ending circle of grief. It's an illustration of just how challenging it can be to let go . . .


  1. I taught a graduate seminar in Dickinson several years ago that was one of the main highlights of my teaching career.

    I heard that someone had asked one of the students, "How can you talk about Emily Dickinson all semester," and she had answered, "How can we stop."

    It was marvy!!

  2. I love that you're blogging more! Keep it up! I'll be reading!


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