Sunday, March 14, 2010

We Grow Accustomed to the Dark

by Emily Dickinson

We grow accustomed to the Dark—
When light is put away—
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye—

A Moment—We uncertain step
For newness of the night—
Then—fit our Vision to the Dark—
And meet the Road—erect—

And so of larger—Darkness—
Those Evenings of the Brain—
When not a Moon disclose a sign—
Or Star—come out—within—

The Bravest—grope a little—
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead—
But as they learn to see—

Either the Darkness alters—
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight—
And Life steps almost straight.

I loved this poem in college. I put a copy of it on my dorm room door, and memorized it.

Notice how, in the second to the last stanza, Dickinson gives us our first nice, obvious rhyme of the poem (tree/see). And it's put, for the first time in the poem, where we expect in the stanza (second and fourth lines). Although the whole poem has had either half-rhymes or rhymes in unexpected places, we have gotten used to it and have learned not to expect a lot of satisfaction from the rhymes. This second-last stanza gives us a bit of poetic satisfaction, which moves us along faster to the final stanza and incidentally sets us up to expect to find another satisfying rhyme there.

But - PSYCH! - Dickinson is not going to give it to us. She sets up the rhyme with "sight," but delivers only "straight." (What were we expecting? "Right," perhaps?) This feeling of being let down - of disappointment, of loss - is perfectly fitted with the theme of the poem, and also with the content of the last line - "almost straight."

I don't mean she did this all on purpose. It probably "just came" to her, in a whole piece perfectly consistent with itself.