Wednesday, October 7, 2009

We never know we go when we are going--

We never know we go when we are going--
We jest and shut the Door--
Fate-- following-- behind us bolts it--
And we accost no more--
(F 1546)

This is one of the poems that I like to view as a "pseudo-gibberish" poem, because at first glance or hasty reading the words seem to talk around each other. Her clever twists of language and logic demand a careful reading, and through several careful readings, the meaning of the poem emerges. It reads much like a form of parable called similitude. Similitude is a short parable consisting of about one line. In the Bible a similitude might read something like "the kingdom of heaven is like a bit of yeast that a woman works into the dough until it is hidden". They are the most concise of parables, and this poem consists of barely two sentences, a meager four lines. In this poem Dickinson compacts language as tightly as possible to create that single moment of intense experience.

Anyone who has had a surprise, particularly a bad surprise, knows that we often live our lives unaware of what is coming in a few days, hours, or minutes. This summer a local principal was walking through a parking lot to grocery shop, only to collapse from a heart attack (thankfully he survived). Loved ones can die suddenly or even instantly, and a single word can undo a person in a second. In a slight deviation, another intepretation, one never knows when a single comment or action can "close the door" to other opportunities. It is so easy to offend or insult, and often some of the gravest injuries given are those that occurred without the insult-er being aware he or she hurt someone. Still, a door can be shut and bolted all the same, preventing any further relationship or experience.

This parable illustrates the universal experience that is common in parable-- there is a familiar experience that the poet draws upon as a point of contact to the audience. In this care there are two points of contact-- 1. going out or going upon one's normal day or routine and 2. fate shutting the door to end an experience or potential experience. The first is the familiar or a stereoptyped action, namely walking out the door. It can mean a literal walk or figuratively represent embarking upon a new decision or direction, venturing into the unknown. This experience is tweaked by the poet, however, and what should have been adventure and good things has twisted into not a beginning but an end. The archetype of the new dissolves into ruin.

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