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Featured Poem: We Grow Accustomed to the Dark by Emily Dickinson

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 18th February 2019

The Reader's Learning and Quality Leader, Natalie Kaas Pontoppidan, shares her thoughts on this week's Featured Poem, We Grow Accustomed to the Dark by Emily Dickinson.

I read this poem with my reading group recently and it was interesting how we went from speaking quite literally about light and darkness - being able to actually see versus not being able to - to speaking about what someone called 'the mental darkness'. Perhaps this was due to the line:

Those Evenings of the Brain -

and the little word "within" in the third verse. In fact, we spent quite some time on that word: what is it that does (or does not) ‘come out’ from within?

The second line in the first verse:

When Light is put away -

made us wonder about what the light may be for us personally and who or what is capable of putting it away. It is as if you get the sense that someone or something does it to us. Yet, later it says: "A Moment - We Uncertain step/For newness of the night." Despite uncertainty and the feeling that this is not our fault, we do something with it! I am interested in these moments of taking a step despite hesitation and anxieties – have we any examples of these from our own lives?

And then there are the hyphens. Why are they there - why are they important? When I read it aloud I sort of get the feeling that the rhythm with its many breaks in fact seems to mirror what characterises the process of “growing accustomed to”: you observe, you try, you stumble, you pause again, you want to go back but also forward until you reach something stable or at least “almost straight”. But why only almost? What may the relation be between the surrounding darkness and the sight in the final verse, and how has it changed since the first verse? And finally, I wonder if we perceive darkness in the same way?

We Grow Accustomed to the Dark

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.

by Emily Dickinson

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