Contrast – Emily Dickinson

Here is a simple poem from Emily Dickinson to illustrate the effective use of contrast in poetry creation.

Contrast

A door just opened on a street –
I, lost, was passing by –
and instant’s width of warmth disclosed,
and wealth, and company.

The door as sudden shut, and I,
I, lost, was passing by, –
Lost doubly, but by contrast most,
Enlightening misery.

Emily Dickinson

To be lost walking the streets … on a cold winters night say, is something easily identified by many. I remember being in this position in London many years ago. But I never experienced the sudden surprise instant open-close of a door to reveal heavenly warmth, friendly company, and wealth. We can image the home to be rather nice in a well to-do-area of the city. Width is so well chosen providing alliteration.

The contrast in feelings is quite striking especially if we assume a party of great warmth and fun to be taking place, all be-it in our imagination. And we identify with the lost soul in the cold struggling on to find their whereabouts – their misery enlightened. I like the double use of that last word comparing the street with the inside of the briefly revealed brightness of the home.

Contrast is a rhetorical device through which writers identify differences between two subjects, places, persons, things, or ideas. Simply, it is a type of opposition between two objects, highlighted to emphasize their differences. Contrast comes from the Latin word, contra stare, meaning to stand against.

Drowning is not so pitiful – Emily Dickinson

Drowning is not so pitiful

Drowning is not so pitiful
As the attempt to rise.
Three times, ‘t is said, a sinking man
Comes up to face the skies,
And then declines forever
To that abhorred abode

Where hope and he part company,—
For he is grasped of God.
The Maker’s cordial visage,
However good to see,
Is shunned, we must admit it,
Like an adversity.

Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

This is all about accepting death when death is inevitable. It is part of human nature to fight for survival. So is our attempt to maintain life to the very end pitiful.

Dylan Thomas has a villanelle in the opposition direction as portrayed by the first lines of his well-known poem – ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’. He commands us to rage against impending death – ‘Old age should burn and rave at close of day’.

The question is when to be accepting of approaching death and view death not as an adversity but as a welcome friend. There is a time to be submissive and a time to burn and rave to squeeze the most out of life. Only at the very last is the former more appropriate – a matter of judgement.

The ED poem implies that death will be the meeting of the cordial visage of our creator. We are inclined to be negative despite the great goodness in God. But didn’t the bible say something along the lines that each hair on your head is of concern and not to be afraid. So do do not worry if you are having a bad hair!

I have taken a view in line with Emily Dickinson in my reply below to the Dylan villanelle, however I have taken a more gentle approach, rather than the pitiful reproach of Emily Dickinson –

Go Gentle and Enjoy Your Last Day

go gentle and enjoy your last day
focus not on the loss of your sight
give a smile as you pass quietly away

a wise man knows how to play
knows exactly what is indeed right
go gentle and enjoy your last day

a good man accepts the pathway
as he enters the door of the night
give a smile as you pass quietly away

a brave man shows strong display
knows it useless in giving a fight
go gentle and enjoy your last day

a grave man will rise up to say
‘the end is turning quite bright’
give a smile as you pass quietly away

so to all I earnestly pray
savour the disappearing light
go gentle and enjoy your last day
give a smile as you pass quietly away

Richard Scutter

… A link to Emily Dickinson on Wikipedia.