He Was Weak and I Was Strong – Then – Poem #190 by Emily Dickinson
I’ve been working my way through The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson for the last week or so, and I’m in love with her writing.
Here’s a particularly beautiful one that I read yesterday (#190, written in 1860), followed by my thoughts and interpretation of the story:
He was weak, and I was strong—then—
So He let me lead him in—
I was weak, and He was strong then—
So I let him lead me—Home.
‘Twasn’t far—the door was near—
‘Twasn’t dark—for He went—too—
‘Twasn’t loud, for He said nought—
That was all I cared to know.
Day knocked—and we must part—
He strove—and I strove—too—
We didn’t do it—tho’!
The first thing that jumps out to me is the confidence of this woman in the era that pre-dates the Civil War. This was a time when a young woman would have been expected to “know her place” in society and in a relationship. So to be the forward (or strong) one, while writing that the man was the weak one probably required some chutzpah on her part. I think being strong in this case refers to being the pursuer of the young man, at the very least initiating the flirtation.
But then, just as soon as I’ve had a chance to digest that, the narrator shows another side of herself and becomes the vulnerable one. Now she is the weak one while the young man is the one doing the pursuing. This time it goes beyond a mere flirtation; the young man summons up the courage to grab the young lady’s hand and walk her home.
It seems that there wasn’t much talking going on (for he said nought) when they made their way home, and likely there was not much talking when they made their way inside, either. The obvious implication here is that the two went inside, had an intimate encounter and spent the night together.
I love the way Dickinson manages to tell such a grand story in such a few short lines. The way these two lovers are strong for each other and finally meshed together as one reminds me of my relationship with my wife, Krissy. We’ve been married for fifteen years, and for some reason, I always liken our relationship to that of the great Italian philosopher and his wife (Rocky and Adrian Balboa). Rocky once told Adrian that their relationship worked so well because they filled each other’s gaps. And I recognize exactly what he meant by that because I have a partner who I share a similar relationship with. I think the lovers in this poem are maybe at the beginning of just such a relationship.
At the end (when the morning came), they were so connected and in love/lust with each other that they couldn’t even part from one another (Day knocked- and we must part-… We didn’t do it- tho’!).
As usual, I reserve the right to have completely missed the point here. I’d love to hear your interpretation of the poem, especially if you have a different one from mine.
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