Poetry – Emily Dickinson #2 (+ Stephen Crane)

Well, I decided to include two poets for this post, in part because of all that is happening right now with Afghanistan, and in part with the rise in Covid again. You might think that I pick out a lot of poems that seem to talk about sadness or grief, and that is probably true. I think poetry is one of the better ways to express emotions that are hard to discuss in regular conversation. Also, the best poetry has a way of getting to the heart of issues, which is one of the biggest reasons I like reading it. So for this post, I am going to highlight an Emily Dickinson poem about loss, and one by Stephen Crane on war.


Emily Dickinson wrote a lot of poems about grief and loss, and I think many of them are some of the best on those subjects. This poem is just 8 lines, but it conveys the first reality of loosing someone, no matter how strong a religious faith they may have. In many of her poems, Dickinson seems to have a very realistic and slightly sarcastic view of humanity (I like snark, and no matter what century a writer comes from, you can always identify those who recognize humanity’s foibles). When dealing with personal loss, she was much more likely to be straight-forward, and break it down to basic emotions. At least, that is how I have experienced her poetry. You may disagree! For me, it is hard to better express grief and loss than the last two lines of this poem –

My life closed twice before its close
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me

So huge - so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.
            Emily Dickinson

Now that we have talked about death, let’s look at war (yes, I know, pretty grim stuff). Stephen Crane was often writing about war; his most famous book was about Civil War soldiers on the Union side, The Red Badge of Courage. Crane often wrote about starting out with the idea of glory in war, only to be disillusioned by its reality. This poem was part of a book of poems, though I have never read all of them as a group. Like with Dickinson’s poem above, I think this one captures the end of a war in very few words, especially the confusion around why the war had been fought. As I see so much just in the last week on various explanations, analysis, excuses and reasons for the Afghanistan war, I thought of this poem, and I think that Stephen Crane had a lot right about our reactions, no matter the time period.

Poem 14
There was crimson clash of war
Lands turned black and bare; 
Women wept;
Babes ran, wondering.
There came one who understood not these things
He said: 'Why is this?'
Whereupon a million strove to answer him.
There was such intricate clamor of tongues,
That still the reason was not.
                     Stephen Crane, The Black Riders & Other Lines, 1905

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