Emily Dickinson, "Our share of night to bear" (133)

...your literal self is on full display during a move.

Emily Dickinson, "Our share of night to bear" (133)

"...your literal self is on full display during a move."me, 6/26/22

Moving is a particular kind of overwhelm. It is a long, drawn-out puzzle game. If you figure out what you need, you sort that into the correct containers, and the containers in turn are fit to maximize space in a transport. Moving is also endless paperwork and fees. I'm juggling the requests of two landlords, one old, the other new, and "to do" lists fail to capture the entirety and priority of their dictates. Many times I feel like my stuff. Scattered, hoping I'm in the right box, waiting for unpacking and settling.

Moving forces you to confront what's yours, one item at a time. For me, this has not been entirely unpleasant. I've found I have a lot to value because I've done and tried to do a lot of value. But at the heart of the experience, there's an encounter with a fragmented, incomplete self. When I revisited Dickinson's "Our share of night to bear" on a whim, I saw in that poem about loving and lusting a similar fragmentation.

About the poem: it's not about moving, exactly, though it involves motion. Dickinson presents an ecstatic first stanza. "Our share of night to bear" is no less than "morning." It is filled with "bliss," lacking any hint of harshness or anger. Her second stanza rejects trifling notions such as knowing where you're going: "Here a star, and there a star, / Some lose their way." More important is being lost in the mist.

Our share of night to bear (113)
Emily Dickinson

Our share of night to bear,
Our share of morning,
Our blank in bliss to fill,
Our blank in scorning.

Here a star, and there a star,
Some lose their way.
Here a mist, and there a mist,

"Our share of night to bear" emphatically opens with "Our." "Our share of night to bear, / Our share of morning, / Our blank in bliss to fill, / Our blank in scorning." This "Our" has no hint of irony or sarcasm. No wishing or pining resides in the first stanza. Rather, it elaborates a vision of love and partnership. "Our blank in bliss to fill" stays tender, not descending into acrimony and division, eventually becoming "Our blank in scorning."

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Still. "Our blank in bliss to fill." Nothing was there, just a space, and it happened to be the right space. Dickinson's line evokes a number of types of love, not only sexual. For many of us, feelings of happiness are tied to those of acceptance. Thus, "Our blank in bliss to fill" sounds exceptionally sweet, as mutual acceptance creates happiness out of nothing. That "blank," that emptiness which shapes the fragments, underlies "Our."

When I think about the move I'm in the middle of, I realize a sense of recognizing and being recognized is not dissimilar to rediscovering one's own possessions. Even what I've given away I know to be of value. Things I've tried to find good homes for: a graphic novel with rich, personal detail about retail hell, volumes of essays on poetry which inspired me, and some rare books which could use less of a hobo as an owner. The puzzle I have is why I feel myself moved by any of this, as if I'm a bit in love. "Our" is a word far from my mind and my reality.


Dickinson herself moves away from "Our" in the second stanza. She's in love, she is loved. More mystery than fact, she celebrates the mystery. "Here a mist, and there a mist, / Afterwards—day!" These last two lines take a moment which terrifies and make it proof of faith. Mist is beautiful, but it should terrify given the possibility of being adrift at sea.

If you asked me at the beginning what I wanted most from this move, I'd have said I wanted it to be over already. I wanted to depend on a star, a point outside myself, for direction. Now, as I'm slowly taking stock, I'd rather continue doing that. The guy who owns these toys, games, and books doesn't seem too bad, even if he stumbles over his words most of the time. Not the facts of self-discovery but the fact of self-discovery has priority. I'm envisioning, as I sort, the kid I was decades ago. Collecting odd bits of junk, making dioramas with action figures, yet eager to have an authority assess value. I understand that kid a little better now, but I needed obscurity akin to mist rather than a given destination to get there.


Dickinson's mist shrouds wholeness, completeness. As if such a thing can only be veiled. That makes sense to me, but I wonder about a lyric so exuberant about love that it fails to provide any detail about the beloved. Even journeying alone, as I'm relating, entails knowledge of someone.

They say you've got to find out what you want in a partner. "Our share of night to bear" addresses anyone and everyone as a potential partner. It resonates with joy, so it doesn't immediately feel lonely. But as I'm packing, alone, I imagine I've glimpsed the truth.