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  • Mary
    Apr 17 8:28 AM
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      There is a solitude of space 
      A solitude of sea 
      A solitude of death, but these 
      Society shall be 
      Compared with that profounder site 
      That polar privacy 
      A soul admitted to itself — 
      Finite infinity. 

      Emily Dickinson
      (#1695 of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson, several copyrights) 

      Poetry sometimes offers existential insight with which we can relate. One needn't be a recluse to appreciate the meaning of this poem, since there are moments away from our busy lives and relationships when some of us privately face "intimations of immortality" without the surety of rational judgment. Our response to this uncertainty is nearly inexpressible. No one else's prescription heals as well as one's own "soul admitted to itself." For me at least, the potent word here is "admitted." Perhaps modern exclusion of the irrational — those so called nonintellectual yearnings of the soul — are comprehensible only through admitting them. 

      I also like Dickinson's idea of social solitude which I take to mean an individual's experience of the solitude of space, sea and death of which anyone can partake in their own unique way. Yet she opposes this to the uniquely private act of contemplating our own infinity. Are these actually opposed however? If others are also admitting themselves as a "finite infinity," isn't this a social solitude? Aren't both types of solitude simply ways that point to how we are paradoxically separate as well as interrelated? Words, these imprecise signifiers, connect us despite our private different experiences. 

      This poem evokes complex feelings and thinking. Self and other, different and the same, finite and infinite, social and solitary are unions of opposites which define each term through their interrelation. Isn't part of existentialism the dilemma of reconciling these polarities? I risk exposing my vulnerability and uncertainty only because I suspect some of us consider our solitude similar to but different from others. I admit my soul to itself because it has been insisting rather strongly lately that I listen and feel as I once did, before I became so rational.

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