Emily Dickinson and Spinoza on an Ordinary Afternoon

Cover of Planet of the Blind....man and dog....

These lines by Emily Dickinson have long puzzled me:

“That Love is all there is,
Is all we know of Love;
It is enough, the freight should be
Proportioned to the groove.”

The first two lines are an assertion and express a sentiment older than Plato. The second two lines create a problem as while we dimly understand love and accept this condition, now there’s a simile dressed as a metaphor, we carry our inexact knowledge of love like freight (which we assume is heavy) and further, that freight is proportioned to the groove by which she means a furrow—so there’s a plough in this figure, we press down with our limited knowledge of love into the field of life. But what about “proportioned”? She means, I think, that our thinking of love should be in accordance to the lives we’re “in” and not according to the lives of others. In the end the effect is lonely. Love confounds. Keep ploughing according to your own understanding.

In his excellent book “Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief” Robert Lundin writes: “Dickinson realized that belief is an art that demands trial and practice. A product of the romantic age and a prophet of modernity, she comprehended more fully than most people in her day how much the human mind contributes to the process of belief. Art, after all, is about the making of things; and in matters of belief, the history of the modern world is the story of our increasing awareness of the extent to which we participate in the making of truth as well as in the finding of it.”

Are making and finding connected to “proportionate”? Are truth and faith? One has to conclude that faith has material effects much as Spinoza told us—God is in the gravity and answers no prayers. God in the Spinozan sense is not concerned with you but is nature alone. Proportoniate means in this sense a man or woman corresponds exactly to something else. We are each responsible for the proportioned making of our places in the world. Faith, as Dickinson understood it, is material.

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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