Emily Dickinson, Valentine

February 14, 2013   •   By Dan Beachy-Quick

A GREAT LOVE POEM mimics love’s own nature, so often paradoxical: difficult wonder, and gentle ferocity. We begin in society: I always imagine it as a dinner party, and someone comes up to her, our poet, to offer kindness or sympathy. She denies the need that the stanza reveals. Its stuttering cadence breaks apart the breath as one might who is trying hard not to cry. Read aloud it feels as if one is “breaking — almost — with unspoken pain,” and that she is tired, is alone, is hurting. But it is not for this man, this other, in this setting, to offer her comfort; its not for him “to twine.” She turns ducal: not only aloof, but owner of that land in which her heart most dearly dwells. Well, hardly a land at all. For against the staggered sickness of the first four lines, we hear suddenly, cathartically, a wave-like music that gathers us into another world, oceanic and tropic, where — as she says in a letter — “moving on in the Dark like loaded Boats at Night, though there is no Course, there is Boundlessness.” She’d prefer to remain boundlessly tossed, cast into the wild sea by the absence of the one she loves, rather than build a harbor of another, sympathy’s merest shelter. That’s a valentine worth sending to one you love, whatever distance there is to cross, be it an ocean or be it a room, where love’s cargo floats, beautiful jetsam in the boundless sea, devotion undeniable despite its debris.

 — Dan Beachy-Quick


Emily Dickinson, 368


How sick — to wait — in any place — but thine —

I knew last night — when someone tried to twine —

Thinking — perhaps — that I looked tired — or alone —

Or breaking — almost — with unspoken pain —


And I turned — ducal —

That right — was thine —

One port — suffices — for a Brig — like mine —


Ours be the tossing — wild though the sea —

Rather than a Mooring — unshared by thee.

Ours be the Cargo — unladen — here —

Rather than the “spicy isles —”

And thou — not there —

[more Valentine's Day poems]