Sunday, April 20, 2014

[We grow accustomed to the Dark-] - Emily Dickinson

We grow accustomed to the Dark -
When Light is put away -
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Good bye -

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 - Darknesses -
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.

Having just been at a major crossroads, this poem seems to address the issues of uncertainty I've been dealing with myself in trying to make a decision.  Groping out into the "Dark" is always frightening, but as this poem shows us, we can adapt to any situation, and even if there are mis-steps, moving forward with bravery is noble and right.

"Dark" and "Light" in this poem are states of being, but are not moralized like they are in so many other poems.  Light is not some state of goodness and purity, Dark is not mired in immorality and Sin.  Rather, they are much closer to their literal counterparts, light and its absence.  Here, Dark is more the unknown, whereas Light is what is known and familiar.

Venturing into the unfamiliar is brave, here represented by the idea of "The Bravest" who wander out into the Dark.  They may "hit a Tree/ Directly in the Forehead", that is, stumble in their way, encountering hardships, but gradually, they can adjust, and "Life steps almost straight."  Things work out sometimes, which is what I take "almost straight" to mean.  We can make order out of the unknown by venturing boldly into it, just as our eyes adjust to a dark room.

The idea that we "fit our Vision to the Dark" is compelling, because besides mirroring real experience (who hasn't felt their eyes adjust to dim light?) it's a good metaphor for how we ought to approach the unknown in our lives.  Rather than fearing it, and seeking to stay in the realm of the known, we should do our best to adjust to it, and meet it head on, "erect."  The "Dark" of this poem is not some moral quality, and it is not treated with fear or suspicion.  It's something to be explored.

This poem came to me at a good time, as I was dealing with a lot of uncertainty over what to do in the coming year.  I was presented with the option to renew my contract and keep teaching in South Korea for another year, or to return to the US and seek work and move on with my life.  Both choices were equally attractive and either decision would have been equally bittersweet, and this poem, along with the idea of bravely pressing into the future, helped me to know that regardless of the choice I make, what matters most is how I act going forward.  I hope it helps you out, reader, if you've been struggling with any "Dark" of your own.


  1. I have a bit of "Dark" to explore for myself as my company goes through a reorganization and I too have a choice to make. Your decision makes mine a bit easier. Thank You for this timely post and reflection. It helps.

  2. It is like trying to discern what is shadow and what is not. Tip-toeing about until some form of confidence builds its way into conscious.

  3. You might like one of my poems.

    On the 10th of November 1793
    the French organized a festival of reason.
    Simultaneously, the guillotine
    bloated itself of flesh-feast,
    and turned blood into merlot.
    This is just one instance of man's
    inability reason's joust of serpents
    to tame and procure.

    How like a skylark reason's precepts evade us.
    She is like those fireflies in the wooden night,
    only appearing for an ephemeral moment,
    then vanishing forever into the nihlo-void,
    no hint of their law and pattern disclosing.
    How like jello are reason's secrets.
    As soon as we reach out and try to mold it
    into something we can use,
    it shreds itself into waste,
    and becomes the offal of ogres.

    None have ever grasped her talons
    and been born aloft into sky-glory,
    a majestic view of the scape obtaining.
    None has looked Minerva directly in the eye,
    spoke her language,
    and got from her those mysteries
    so intoxicating in their power and awe
    that even the she-devils renounce their allegiance
    to the sword-rake and wed themselves to the Virgin.