POTD: Life 1401 Feb 2020
Day 10. Today’s poem of the day is Life xiv.
Some things that fly there be,—
Birds, hours, the bumble-bee:
Of these no elegy.
Some things that stay there be,—
Grief, hills, eternity:
Nor this behooveth me.
There are, that resting, rise.
Can I expound the skies?
How still the riddle lies! 1
I really like the pace and rhyme of this one, too. And is that zeugma? Well, maybe something zeugma-adjacent. I’m not sure what to make of riddle though.
This poem is a Goldilocks and the Three Bears of time scales.
The first scale is too short. It is beautiful and buzzes and flits and flies. It’s easy to get lost even in such a short amount of time. These measures of time are the realm of the short-lived distraction.
It’s like a mosquito piquing at your ear while you sit down to concentrate on work: someone sends you a text message. Buzz. Buzz. You check a few stories on Instagram. Buzz. Buzz. More email comes in. Buzz. Buzz. You think about that casually callous thing you to your friend last night and are struck with horror. Buzz buzz.
None of these tiny episodes amounts to much on their own. But one-by-one they pile up. Before you know it, you’re left wondering where the day went.
The second time scale is too long. Great things can happen over large expanses of time. Gravity can crush nebulous clouds of gas to form planets and stars given enough time. Human civilizations rise and fall over these times scales. And if you spend all day planning for distant and uncertain eventualities, the world will march on without you. Same, too, if you are stuck mourning things that happened the past without looking up to the here and now and the future beyond.
The third time scale is just right. It’s person-sized. These periods of time might last a day, a week, a few months. I am totally biased, but a week is about as long as a cycle of weather. So let me expound the skies! That’s about as far as people plan ahead in their day-to-day. A week is how long it takes to study for that exam, or hit up the gym, or take your car to the mechanic, or get that thing at work done.
Life isn’t either/or, though. It’s both/and. We need to live life at all three of these scales to some degree. “Everything in moderation, including moderation,” they say. So, of course, read that text message. So, of course, contemplate the cosmos. And while you’re at it, save regularly for retirement, too. But also plan it out and remember to live most of your life somewhere in the middle.
Here’s hoping that we get things done.
Emily Dickinson. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Little, Brown, and Company. (1929) ↩