I measure every Grief I meet
by Emily Dickinson
Stanzas 5-6 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
I wonder if when Years have piled—
Some Thousands—on the Harm—
That hurt them early—such a lapse
Could give them any Balm—
- Here comes yet another hypothetical scenario about grief—what if someone has felt sad for a really long time—could they ever feel better? As in, could the people in stanza 4 really be smiling genuinely? Or are they just full of it?
- She seems to doubt the idea that "Time heals all wounds," suggesting that not even a lapse of time "Could give them any Balm" (balm being a soothing cream to heal wounds).
- Once again, we're making some very abstract concepts all too real here. Check out how the years are piling, as if they're papers on a desk or bricks in a wall. And they're piling on the harm, or grief, that these folks are feeling.
- Plus, time, or "lapse" in this case, is metaphorically referred to as a "Balm," which is something very real and very tangible that you put on your skin.
- Time and again, our speaker is emphasizing that though we can't see or touch grief, it sure seems like we can.
Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve—
Enlightened to a larger Pain—
In Contrast with the Love—
- It just keeps getting worse in this poem. Here, the speaker suggests that long-term depressed people may just continue to be sad forever—"Through Centuries of Nerve." Dropping in the word "Nerve" here connects the emotional pain of grief with the physical pain that we all get thanks to our nerves.
- Instead of their pain ending, they may just reach a heightened state of "Enlightened" pain. What might that be? Well, it sounds like somehow, through all their grieving, these folks are connected to something like The Pain of the World. Maybe their grief connects them to the grief of others… or something.
- The speaker contrasts this pain with the "Love," and frankly we're not sure what that's all about. She could be talking about God's love, which would seem to counterbalance or "Contrast" the pain that these folks feel.
- It seems we're leaning a bit more abstract here, with concepts like "larger Pain" and "Love" given no tangible qualities—yet.