Category Archives: Emily Dickinson

‘Why Do I Love” You, Sir?’ by Emily Dickinson

“Why do I love” You, Sir?
The Wind does not require the Grass
To answer—Wherefore when He pass
She cannot keep Her place.

Because He knows—and
Do not You—
And We know not—
Enough for Us
The Wisdom it be so—

The Lightning—never asked an Eye
Wherefore it shut—when He was by—
Because He knows it cannot speak—
And reasons not contained—
—Of Talk—
There be—preferred by Daintier Folk—

The Sunrise—Sire—compelleth Me—
Because He’s Sunrise—and I see—
I love Thee—

This breathtakingly unique and original poem by Emily Dickinson expresses the notion that love cannot be explained (and cannot, must not be justified) by reason or logic. Dickinson was an incredibly innovative poet, ahead of her time; although she lived in the 1800s, the way she writes often reminds me of 20th century poet E.E. Cummings. This piece is a perfect example of that. Notice the way she uses syntax, and punctuation; the characteristic hyphens; all of this breathes uncommon ease and freedom of language.

I adore the opening stanza of this poem. The speech marks indicate the poet is responding to a question: “”Why do I love” You, Sir?” and then that touching, self-contained, almost childish answer: “Because”. A concrete answer is never given, though the simple “Because” is illustrated with examples taken from nature. For example, the wind does not ask the grass for an explanation when it “cannot keep her place” as he blows. “Because he knows”, says Dickinson — again, enigmatically. He knows, presumably, that the grass has no choice but to move as it is moved by the wind.

Another example given is that of the lightning, which “never asked an Eye/ Wherefore it shut – when he was by”. Because he knows the eye cannot speak. And in any case, the reason is “not contained of -/ – of Talk – “. There is no explanation that can be put into words for such a phenomenon.

I find the last verse very touching as the poet employs a final example to illustrate her love. “The Sunrise”, she tells us, wakes her “Because he’s Sunrise”. She is woken by the light, because it is light – because it is itself. “Therefore, then -/ I love Thee”. What a beautiful, simple expression of something that is beyond us.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh

‘Of all the souls that stand create’ by Emily Dickinson

Of all the souls that stand create
I have elected one.
When sense from spirit files away,
And subterfuge is done;

When that which is and that which was
Apart, intrinsic, stand,
And this brief tragedy of flesh
Is shifted like a sand;

When figures show their royal front
And mists are carved away,—
Behold the atom I preferred
To all the lists of clay!

This is a beautiful love poem by Emily Dickinson. I picked this poem today because it is heroic and bold, and about an enduring, spiritual love.

The phrase that really gets me in this poem is “this brief tragedy of flesh”; I think that is just perfect wording. Dickinson is telling us in this poem that of all the souls on earth, she has chosen only “one”. And when the “subterfuge” of the human guise, and the brief tragedy that is out material life, is “shifted like a sand”; when “mists are carved away” and we pass on to a spiritual realm (i.e. when we die?)… “Behold the atom I preferred/ To all the lists of clay!”

I love the tone of triumph in the final two lines. The word “atom” is interesting, here. I suppose what Dickinson is getting at here is that this spirit, or “soul” is something more than the material shell — the “lists of clay” — and cannot be seen or touched physically. I love the poet’s use of the word “lists” here because it delivers a sense of the physical plain of almost being boring; there are lists and lists of physically beautiful, materially rich people, but she has chosen one “soul” — one “atom” — who is all that she could ever want, even when the material realm has passed away.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh

‘I died for beauty, but was scarce’ by Emily Dickinson

I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth, -the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.

I initially chose this poem because it reminds me of  Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn (you know, “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty – That is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”?) Keats’ Ode is the best answer I could give to the question ‘why do I love poetry?’ It never fails to hypnotise and nourish me with its enchanting, awesome music… so maybe I should be writing a blog about that instead. But I don’t really feel like it; I want to write about Emily Dickinson.

Well, this poem is pretty gloomy, being about two martyrs in their tombs talking to each other until everything that remains of them has been overgrown by moss and forgotten. One died “for Beauty”, the other “for Truth”. I imagine the dead in this poem to be revolutionaries; they died for their ideals. The two ideals are “one”, and that makes the dead men “brethren”. One of the martyrs asks the other “why [he] failed”. The word failed seems important. Apart from meaning that the person died, it also implies that he failed to achieve his ideal. Is that another reason why Beauty and Truth are equal — because, in their perfect forms, they are equally impossible?

The image of the two dead men talking between their graves is a disturbing one, but in a way it is comforting too because it makes for a slow adjustment to death. The moss slowly creeps over them and their graves to silence them — covering up even the memory of them by obscuring their names. It’s a bleak outlook; death erases everything of a person, eventually. But there is no fear, no horror in this poem. I do think there is comfort here, too; there is a real sense of brotherhood between the two martyrs, and the way that they talk softly to each other and face the encroaching blackness together is a hopeful image. The men don’t express any fear in the poem — only that they are in good company — and I like that attitude, seeing as the situation they’re in is inevitable.

Not the most cheerful of poems, I know, but I really like it.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh