William Shakespeare wrote of one woman, "And though she be but little, she is fierce." How many strong women that you know ascribe to those characteristics?
Little, yet fierce. That's precisely how Emily Dickinson, a poet first appeared to me in the pages of an anthology when I was 11-years-old. She would appear again later when my life was splintering away in trauma due to divorce (and I felt like eleven again).
Was it Emily who first taught me that people who suffer often do remarkable things? I don't know but I know that's what remained with me from my early reading of her in that convent school room. Her intentions, I believe, are to describe human nature and recovery. She seems to voice suffering, despair, anguish, sadness, overwhelming thoughts, grief and yet hope eternal like none other. As long as there is Emily Dickinson in my life (and yours, I hope), there is encouragement and hope. For, as someone else said, "Once you choose hope, anything is possible."
We all have our own wounds, self-inflicted or otherwise. Separation, divorce, relationship break-ups don't make them any easier but somehow Emily Dickinson, never married or divorced already knew this.
In a single poem, actually in six words, she conveys strength, heartache, loneliness, determination, bravery and more important encouragement. She writes, "A wounded deer leaps highest." And who among us divorced or in break-up mode are not wounded deer in some way?
I was that wounded deer when I divorced three years ago with two small children by my side. And when my son was confirmed with autism at 18-months-old in the midst of this ragged process, more suffering, more despair arrived. Personifying raw and defeated, I saw little reason to continue on except for the fact that I had no choice but to continue. I had to leap higher. Little people were dependent on me. In "A Wounded Deer Leaps Highest," I saw myself vividly. I didn't even need to read the last four lines since the first eight lines of the poem are alone, sufficient:
A wounded deer leaps highest/ I've heard the hunter tell/ 'Tis but the ecstasy of death/ And then the brake is still/ The smitten rock that gushes/ The trampled steel that springs/ A cheek is always redder/ Just where the hectic stings!
I like to believe perhaps the wounded deer, knowing it is hurt, leaps higher so that it doesn't let anyone know that it's hurt; it leaps higher so that no one sees its pain. But it also leaps because this is in its nature. Emily seems to summon the idea of motivation and one's ability to recover against any illness, pain, or emotional disturbance in life.
Emily Dickinson knew pain, even though as a recluse it is argued she rarely left her small Victorian home or bedroom from where most of her prolific work was created. All of the critics agree there appears to be no concrete evidence for an event that would explain her remarkable poetry. Yet, she knew and understood my suffering intimately.
Perhaps all suffering is interconnected somehow and born within us, sealed up since childhood. One suffering triggers another older trauma. Emily knew this too.
I have loved and lost some. My divorce reminded me of a suffering I felt many years earlier in my late twenties when I lost a man I loved long before marriage and separation and divorce and children:
Heart, we will forget him!/ You an I, tonight!/ You may forget the warmth he gave/ I will forget the light/ When you have done, pray tell me/ That I my thoughts may dim/ Haste! lest while you're lagging/ I may remember him!
This was a different love to divorce love but it was a loss, nevertheless, and one that Emily easily voiced whereas I could not. Emily's poetry could easily explain how without him I was part of an ordinary world.
To me, Emily's poetry somehow conjures the idea of unspoken motivation and one's ability to recover against any illness, pain, or emotional disturbance, eventually even if thoughts linger.
After divorce, after an autism diagnosis, after litigation, after the loss of someone dear, Emily presented herself to me again, once more. She had seen me through three decades or more and wasn't about to abandon me now in my hour of need. I reread some of her old poems and she spoke once more.
This time she told me, "Hope is the thing with feathers/ That perches in the soul/ And sings the tune without the words,/ And never stops at all/ And sweetest in the gale is heard/ And sore must be the storm/ That could abash the little bird/ That kept so many warm."
Ah, Emily! Sigh.
How can we interpret these words of Emily's, embody them into our own lives and help move ourselves on from suffering and difficult times? The answer: hope and optimism. And also via a realization that bad things happen but good people overcome bad things. The deer within us will always leap forward. Yes, broken hearts happen but after we will leap higher and stronger. Yes, life sends us curve balls but we will deal with them accordingly. Yes, we must go through things and not around them so that healing can happen. In the meantime, we can laugh and cry, and laugh some more. We can also help others which removes us from our own pains for a while. We can construct new worlds, worlds we were afraid to build before. We can find hope. We can remember to love again, ourselves first and then others. And finally we can forgive. "There is only one emotion stronger than fear and that is forgiveness." But forgiveness requires hope. And as Emily Dickinson has taught us by now, hope springs eternal, internal within us.
Hope is deeply rooted inwardly, perched within our souls. Emily says so!