She rose to his requirement
She rose to his requirement, dropped
The playthings of her life
To take the honorable work
Of woman and of wife.
If aught she missed in her new day,
Of amplitude, or awe,
Or first prospective, or the gold
In using wore away,
It lay unmentioned, as the sea
Develops pearl and weed,
But only to himself is known,
The fathoms they abide.
It’s been over a year since we ran a Dickinson poem, so I thought it was about time.
I don’t know where to begin to praise this poem. I love the subversion of the message – the way the opening stanza loudly dismisses the “playthings of her life” and celebrates the “honorable work / of woman and of wife” only to have the second stanza make disappointment and suffocation seem almost inevitable. I love the arc of the poem – the first stanza rising, the second stanza losing momentum, leveling off, and the third dropping quietly to the bottom of the sea. I love the conciseness of it, the precision of the word choices (“amplitude, or awe”, “pearl and weed” “abide”), that startling ‘himself’ in the penultimate line that always takes my breath away. And I love the music of the poem, the rhythmic perfection that makes the end rhymes (awe, away; weed, abide) seem entirely natural, the way the opening line of each stanza is a shift in gears, the subdued gentleness of those last lines with their sense of something coming softly to rest.