No Notice gave She, but a Change —
No Message, but a Sigh —
For Whom, the Time did not suffice
That She should specify.
She was not warm, though Summer shone
Nor scrupulous of cold
Though Rime by Rime, the steady Frost
Upon Her Bosom piled —
Of shrinking ways — she did not fright
Though all the Village looked —
But held Her gravity aloft —
And met the gaze — direct —
And when adjusted like a Seed
In careful fitted Ground
Unto the Everlasting Spring
And hindered but a Mound
Her Warm return, if so she chose —
And We — imploring drew —
Removed our invitation by
As Some She never knew —
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 remembrance.
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 again.
Any other interpretations, of the poem as a whole, or of details are welcomed. Austin