A Close Reading of Emily Dickinson’s ‘Love reckons by itself – alone’

Love reckons by itself — alone — [826]

by Emily Dickinson

 

Love reckons by itself — alone —

“As large as I” — relate the Sun

To One who never felt it blaze —

Itself is all the like it has —

[written c. 1864]

 

 

The first thing that struck me about this poem was its subject: Love.  But what does Love mean in this instance?  Is this poem a dedication, a love poem for a lover or friend?  The poem certainly does not resemble a sonnet, and throughout it she never adresses anyone else directly; there is no indication of there being another person, a ‘you’,  or something else besides the one singular Love.  Her use and repetitions of itself, One and I lead me to think that this poem was not about anybody else, and perhaps was a more introverted reflection on herself.

My interpretation is that Love is a metaphor that she uses for the poem itself; she writes the poem alone, she alone feels it blaze.  When she uses the word Sun, the Sun being all powerful and the giver of life to all worldly things, we can take this to mean that Love or the poem is, for her, the most powerful, the most important.  The Sun is high up in the sky as, for Emily,  poetry is the highest art form, and she emphasises this all-powerful importance, as well as it’s uniqueness, with capitalisations on LoveSun and One.

The use of the word reckons is very interesting; a possible meaning could be that she is implying judgement, as in the day of reckoning or day of judgement.  Love can only judge itself, as this poem can only judge itself, alone – nobody else can judge Love or this poem from the outside, it is unique and you have to be it, itself, to judge it, to reckon it.  Another meaning of reckons could be to confront, as in to be reckoned with, to confront Love, the poem, itselfin writing this poem Emily is confronting her own poem.

In Emily’s language she may also be indicating herself as the poet; her use of alone, itself, I, One could all be alluding to her reclusiveness.  She spent all her time alone, by herself, so only she will reckon with this poem, she is alone in writing it and feeling it’s powerful blaze.  As we know, she never wanted her poems published or publicly read, so, again, she alone will read this poem  – only she will reckon with it.

Emily puts herself in the present, in the poem, with her exclamation, “As large as I”.  Perhaps, again, as she was completely alone, she felt she needed to bring the poem off the page and into the room, to say it out loud and make it present here, now.  Putting herself in the poem also introduces this meta-poetic idea; she is the poet, this powerful Sun and Love is hers and in reading this poem we must remember where it came from.  In the line relate the Sun to One who never felt it blaze, is she speaking to her younger self?  The young Emily who had not yet truly discovered the Love and meaning of poetry, and had yet to feel it’s blaze? Or is she trying to convey her feelings about her work as a poet to someone else who cannot understand this passion?  Perhaps she is even reaching out to other young and budding poets in the world.

Is blaze a positive word?  It could refer to a blazing fire, blazing heat which implies something aggressive, powerful and even hurtful or painful.  Perhaps she is saying that this poem or this Love or Sun is not always beautiful and lovely, as emotions that we might associate with a typical Love poem, but can sometimes be painful.  Blaze is also almost an action word; to blaze is to be alive, so Emily is bringing life to her poem, it is not laying still on the page but is blazing with energy.

Itself is all the like it has could mean that there is nothing else like this poem, each poem and each Love is individual and unique and only like itself.  It is interesting that like has not been capitalised; I take this to mean that she wants to differentiate between the Love as the poem, the subject, and like as in the description of the poem as being unique, aloneLike could also suggest that nobody else likes this poem except her, because nobody else will see the poem – only she can like it and appreciate it because only she will read it.

Emily has used dashes throughout this poem.  This punctuation reinforces the meta asoect, indicating the poem itself; the subject of the poem is the poem (referred to as Love or Sun) and the dashes emphsise that this is poetry as opposed to prose.  The dashes also open up her ideas to a whole range of meanings, where other punctuations would limit them.  As usual, Emily wants us, the readers, to work to find all the possibilities of meaning in her poetry and to keep looking for more, as is represented by the finishing dash, leading us further into the unknown.

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Comment

Filed under Culture

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *