Emily Dickinson & Love
Hope, Agony & Everything In-between
THAT I did always love,
I bring thee proof: That till I loved
I did not love enough.
That I shall love always,
I offer thee
That love is life,
And life hath immortality.
This, dost thou doubt, sweet?
Then have I
Nothing to show
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of Emily Dickinson’s. Her words speak to me in a way that no other poet or writer ever has. As an English major and a lifelong bookworm, that statement is really saying something.
This poem in particular has always been my favorite. On the surface, you see only romantic love. However, digging deeper, you see love and yearning of all kinds. Though alone in the room, I see my Grandmother giving me a look of disbelief. English majors have their own, secret language and sight or so she, a nurse, has told me using less gentle words. For her and for you, I will elaborate.
In the first stanza, Ms. Dickinson is telling her intended audience that she loves them and always has. She has proof! Her proof could be the smile that has yet to leave her face since becoming involved with them. The proof could also be the stories she’s told them about past unhappiness. Her life was little to speak of until they came along. You could take “love enough” to mean live enough/heart beating strongly as when you are in love with someone or something. I’ve always taken this stanza to mean that she saw this person or item and cared for them, but didn’t fully see their worth until she allowed herself to. Now, she can’t stop seeing their worth.
The second stanza pretty much says I love you and you bring me life/joy so why would I stop loving you and lose this new life/way of thinking? Also, were the subject to leave her, she’d keep on loving them. Once the heart and mind let someone/something in, it never truly lets it go, giving it everlasting life in memory. Even if she wanted to let it go, she couldn’t.
The final stanza is about, in one word, desperation. She has told her subject how she feels and they doubt or may one day doubt it. In the final line, to bring home how deeply she loves her subject, she makes an allusion to Calvary. Calvary is thought to be the place where Jesus died on the cross. If her love is doubted, she might as well die because the suffering their disbelief causes/will cause is too much for her to bear. She might as well use her death, as Christ did, to show them how much she loves them.
Sadly, Emily Dickinson never got to find her happiness in love. Well, at least not conventionally speaking. She never married. There are no official beaus to speak of. It was noted that she exchanged “letters of romantic intent” with three individuals over the course of her life: Susan Gilbert (her future sister-in-law), Charles Wadsworth (a married minister) and Otis Phillips Lord (a Massachusetts Supreme Court judge). I had always been told that the bulk of her love poems were about Wadsworth. It would be fitting due to the allusion to Christ if she had written this poem for her minister.
Knowing that Dickinson died a spinster, it makes the yearning in this poem all the more powerful. Until (let’s pretend we know for sure that this was written for Wadsworth) he came along, she didn’t feel this happy. Having him in her life, knowing that even if he isn’t beside her he may still be thinking of her, brings passion to her life. So inspired by this man, she wrote this poem for him, pouring all of her emotions on to the page. Could they one day, after his wife dies, build a life together? They corresponded for nearly thirty years until his death. That type of yearning could squeeze a single poem out of the least creative mind. For Dickinson, it became a way of life and the topic of many poems.
To me, this poem speaks to the passion and insecurity in all of us. We pine over someone, hoping they will notice us. We worry if, once they notice us, they will believe the degree of love we pronounce to them. “I have noticed you from across the room so many times. Seeing you makes my heart smile. Just knowing you exist makes my life joyful. You don’t know how often I’ve wanted to say hello to you. I don’t know what you’re really like, but I appreciate you for all that I think you are.” You are a balloon filled with love and hope. Disbelief from someone so highly regarded could burst you without them even really trying. You are fragile and can’t believe that such love wouldn’t be accepted and admired. Before they even have a chance to react, you deflate yourself.
As stated before, the poem doesn’t necessarily mean love of another person. Easily, it could be love of an item, a hobby, a way of life. For example, you have seen every musical known to man. You know every song, line and blocking. You feel that you are finally ready to perform. “I have loved you, Theatre, for as long as I can remember. Since I first heard the score of Meet Me In St. Louis I have been hooked. I have all of these show buttons. Want to see them? Anyway, I can’t imagine not loving you as you’ve become such a part of my life. Nearly every happy memory I have involves you. I know that there are a lot of fake people out there who say that they love you, but I’m not one of those people. I hope you don’t think I am one of those people. If you do, I think I might as well join a hockey team.”
Like Dickinson, we try to experience as much as we can out of the elements that make up a life. We have expectations and often fear that they won’t be met. We self-doubt. Through Dickinson’s poem, we feel her longing and are reminded of our own. Especially in love, we have measured life to such extremes as Dickinson did. The time between a confession and a response is agonizing whether it be seconds or thirty years. Isn’t it wonderful?
To read more poetry analysis by this writer, please click on the link below.
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