Ever since I got back from England, my neurodoc has been selecting poems and reading one to me at the end of each session. Although he speaks slowly and enunciates fairly well, I have to concentrate hard, keep my eyes on his face, in order to follow and understand. This week, he read out Because I could not stop for Death by Emily Dickinson. He didn’t tell me who the author was, just read the title and the poem.
When I asked who the author was, he asked me to tell him. I couldn’t. He told me. At the time, there was no memory, no connection in my mind. It was like I heard a familiar name but she and the poem were strangers to me.
I also had had trouble understanding some of the words. I don’t think it was entirely a matter of his pronunciation being different than what I would be used to. For example, when he said “gazing,” I thought I heard “grazing.” I’m not sure I understood “Immortality.” And midway through stanza 3, I wasn’t sure what he was saying and stanza 4 too. I got a bit lost. Stanza 5 took me the whole of it to be able to visualize. It was like an ah-ha moment when I realized the roof was at ground level. Still, I did not “see” that it was a grave till after I read the interpretation.
He offered it to me, but I shook my head.
Much later, I changed my mind, decided to look up the poem and read it silently to myself. I went, ohhh, as I read words that had escaped me when being read to me.
I then read the interpretation.
And then I understood the poem as if I had glimpsed the surface of it but yet discerned none of what was underneath.
And when I let a day or two lag and looked again, I knew I had read this poem when I was young and read poetry regularly, not just in school, when I didn’t have trouble understanding at least surface meanings.