Friday, October 16, 2009

My Wars are laid away in Books

My Wars are laid away in Books--
I have one Battle more--
A Foe whom I have never seen
But oft has scanned me o'er--
And hesitated me between
And others at my side,

But chose the best-- Neglecting me-- till
All the rest have died--
How sweet if I am not forgot
By Chums that passed away--
Since Playmates at threescore and ten
Are such a scarcity--
(F 1578)

This poem is a good example of the unexpected reversals found in Dickinson's work. The poem begins rather vaguely, about wars "laid away in books," using the enigmatic language that either has the reader intrigued or utterly confused (or both). The reader is told that this final war is between the speaker and a foe that chose others while leaving her behind. All signs point to death as this foe, a sort of grim reaper in contrast to other poems which personify death as a gentleman. Death in this poem is random or calculating, a separating force. There is a sense of respect for death, for the speaker claims that death has previously "chose best" in selecting others to take.

The unexpected reversal comes in the second part of this poem, when the persona claims in lines 9-12 that it will be "sweet" if s/he is not forgotten by those who have already passed away because playmates are so hard to find in older age. Typically the reader would think of the person still living, such as the speaker, as the person who would remember those who have passed on. In the second half of this poem Dickinson inverts this expectation. Here, the speaker longs for the dead playmates to remember him or her.

Dickinson, through her speaker, expresses the loneliness of being the survivor. Rather than feeling that the deceased are lonely in their graves or perhaps missing the companionship of a lost friend, this speaker feels personal loneliness and expressed a desire to be united in friendship beyond death again. Perhaps Dickinson is implying that this final war the speaker must face-- the war with death-- is already won because there is no fear or regret in the speaker's mind?

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