Wednesday, September 26, 2007

If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking by Emily Dickinson

If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
--Emily Dickinson

This is not precisely a love poem -- I'm thinking of revising my schedule since I have a lot of poems that don't fit into the listed categories. Anyway, here's another from the Belle of Amherst (though not our Amherst). I think that I'm drawn to her poems because of their simplicity. She doesn't try to take on the whole range of human emotions in one poem, or explore a deep metaphor. She picks one small thing and treats it carefully. You could paraphrase this poem to sum up her literary philosophy - If I can write about one thing well, I shall not have written in vain.

One thing I struggle with in my life is taking this philosophy (the original one, not the literary one I just made up) to the extreme. The flawed thinking goes like this: If a good deed is what keeps a life from being lived in vain, then any time not spent doing things for other people is living in vain, and therefore, if I'm not helping someone I'm a waste of space and not worthy of even being alive. I have to work hard to remember that while I can do many things, I physically can't do everything for everyone, and that I have to have the physical and mental resources available to do be able to do anything for anyone, and that means that I have to take care of myself too. Though at times, this train of thought devolves as well, and taking care of myself becomes one more duty that I have to do in order to be able to do more for everybody else.

Another conundrum I have is whether to tell people about all the skills I have, since if they know that I can do virtually anything well, they'll end up asking me to do more than I'm able to. This happens at church a lot. Each auxiliary is only asking me to do one little thing, but I end up leading the choir, going on splits with the missionaries, teaching a homemaking craft, and helping out with girls camp all at the same time and it's too much.

But then if I don't tell people that I can do things, I end up feeling bad too. Take the ward activity we had this weekend, for instance. It was advertised as a "Hoe Down" with dancing. The only dancing they ended up having was one single solitary line dance, badly taught so that half the dancers lost track of where they were every time through. If they had asked me, I could have taught six or seven line dances and/or called some square dancing (complete with music from Daddy's old reel to reel tapes (Oh Johnny Oh!).

But then I stop and remind myself that the poem says stop ONE heart from breaking. I've already managed that, so now my entire life is not in vain, and anything else I do is gravy. Gravy is nice though...especially on meat 'n potata's...though not on ice cream.


  1. I know what you mean! It seems like I always end up with too many obligations.

  2. If I can stop one heart from beating
    By piercing through the vein;
    If I can satisfy my aching
    For blood to drain,
    Or sieze upon a robin as
    With leath'ry wings I strain,
    I shall not live again.
    - Dracula

    Mike Stay

  3. This is one of my very most favorite poems., & no thank you Mike for ruining it.

  4. Mike, did you write that?

  5. No, like I said, it was Dracula! Couldn't be me. I'd never ruin a poem like that for my wife. Nope.
    Mike Stay