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Comment 1 of 6, added on April 11th, 2006 at 4:36 PM.
Many of us may have seen an elderly person that we had admired for their
empathetic and open mind slowly undergo a change in character and social
attitude eventually making them a different person, far removed from their
earlier self. They seem to close in on themselves, almost set on gradually
severing all links with their environment. If after a while this insidious
change cannot be overlooked, it still seems to bear no relationship with
the fatal illness whose physical signs then or later become manifest, other
than that the person may have been secretly aware of their condition, but
perhaps too proud or alienated to share it. We now know these things are
connected, that certain brain diseases, for instance, first destroy our
social and affective bonds before carrying us away.
Emily Dickinson in this almost clairvoyant poem masterly and
compassionately describes such lonely way to the grave, whose loneliness
may --so to say-- even extend beyond the grave, in that the deceased is
almost barred from death’s reconciling power and people’s sweet
The only thing the sick woman could give notice by was her change in
attitude, and only a sigh she had for a loved one for whom any notice would
have been too short.
She lost all warmth of character, and the increasing frostiness she met in
social contact she returned unbothered and with little delicacy.
When the ways people had with her changed into shrinking from any contact
and staring unapprovingly, she kept aloof and unimpressed.
When death put an end to the conflict between her and the living, she could
be laid to rest, and the pain she had inflicted perhaps buried in oblivion
– yet with the vivid hope of those she had loved sometime for her old warm
personality to return to remembrance. But painful memories still seemed too
great a hindrance. How to forget? Them, and not her. How to make up with
somebody who is not there; had not been for so long; and never will be
Any other interpretations, of the poem as a whole, or of details are
Austin J. Peters from Netherlands