A Poetic Aside

I measure every Grief I meet (561)

  by Emily Dickinson

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes – 
I wonder if It weighs like Mine – 
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long – 
Or did it just begin – 
I could not tell the Date of Mine – 
It feels so old a pain – 

I wonder if it hurts to live – 
And if They have to try – 
And whether – could They choose between – 
It would not be – to die – 

I note that Some – gone patient long – 
At length, renew their smile –  
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil – 

I wonder if when Years have piled –  
Some Thousands – on the Harm –  
That hurt them early – such a lapse
Could give them any Balm –  

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve – 
Enlightened to a larger Pain –  
In Contrast with the Love –  

The Grieved – are many – I am told –  
There is the various Cause –  
Death – is but one – and comes but once –  
And only nails the eyes –  

There's Grief of Want – and grief of Cold –  
A sort they call "Despair" –  
There's Banishment from native Eyes – 
In sight of Native Air –  

And though I may not guess the kind –  
Correctly – yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary –  

To note the fashions – of the Cross –  
And how they're mostly worn –  
Still fascinated to presume
That Some – are like my own – 

– See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15394#sthash.7OI6J2YP.dpuf

This was a poem I had to read several times to dwell on different parts of it I liked. The basic idea is that we all have our crosses to bear, and in noticing others’ burdens, we often compare them to our own. 

When I think of this in the context of teaching, I think about how often I find aspects of students I can identify with, and how that strengthens my compassion toward them. Even the most challenging students have some part of them you can notice; feeling alienated, learning boundaries, trying for perfection, being confused or hurt. We have all experienced these things to some degree. 

It would be hubris to say one “totally” understands another, because it is impossible to live another’s life, but it is very possible to recognize hurt, pain, and suffering in many forms. I don’t think I’d readily teach this poem to a class, but I like it as a reminder that everyone carries burdens and that it’s important to see them with compassion rather than focusing on the external effects in behavior that stem from those struggles. 

Everyone acts the way they do for a reason. I think that’s part of the reason why I have grown to have a lot of patience for students and friends. Life is too short to be shallow.