Emily Dickinson "Forever"
"Forever is composed of Nows" - Emily Dickinson
Why is it that the most profound human truths are so often conveyed by the most eye-roll inducing, clichéd phrases? All you need is love! Live in the moment! Stop to smell the roses! Dickinson’s poetry always manages to end-run these dull platitudes and tackle the biggest, weightiest ideas.
In her poem Forever - is composed of Nows, she blitzes two of her favorites, time and mortality. We humans seem to have a unique capacity to contemplate the infinite expanse of "time." We codify it, and arrange our experience of the world along an imagined timeline: first there was then, now I am here, and tomorrow I will be there.
But useful as this ability is to human civilization (would there even be civilization without it?), it obscures a simple truth. Time is merely a series of "nows." Outside the scope of memory, there is only here and now. Dickinson’s poem explores this truth, and re-contextualizes “forever” as a stream of present tense experience.
In our illustration, this present tense is represented as a map pin, a temporal “latitude of home.” The “nows” flow along a path that winds its way forever, taking the form of a snake biting its own tail.
Forever is composed of Nows -
’Tis not a different time,
Except for infiniteness
And latitude of home.
From this, experienced here.
Remove the dates to these.
Let months dissolve in further months.
And years exhale in years.
Without certificate or pause
Or celebrated days,
As infinite our years would be
As Anno Domini’s.