I had no time to Hate—
Because The Grave would hinder Me—
And life was not so
Ample I
Could finish—Enmity

Nor had I time to Love—
But since
Some Industry must be—
The little Toil of Love—
I thought
Be large enough for Me—

Dickinson begins poem #498 with the idea that she could not hate because she did not have enough time.  This lack of time to hate occurs because life is too short; she is taking a cliché and transforming it into a revelation. Life is too precious to be filled with hatred. The grave in the distance encourages her to have love for people rather than hate. Capitalizing Hate emphasizes the importance of the idea of hatred in this poem and is connected with the capitalized word Grave.  In the second part of the first of two stanzas, Dickinson is explaining that life is not generous enough to allow, or to finish with, enmity (typically mutual hatred or ill will).  She wants the reader to be aware that life does not allow for one to pass away while harboring hatred for another person.  Perhaps this is a suggestion towards ghosts, haunted souls who cannot be put to rest until they have finished their business on Earth.  Dickinson lets readers know that one has to live a life full of love because life is short and does not allow any space for hatred or bad feelings between people.

The second stanza begins with a much sadder message: Dickinson not having enough time to love. She goes on to say that some have to be diligent in order to find love and suggests she had found her own version of love, which is enough to satisfy her.  She refers to it as the ‘little Toil of Love,’ suggestsing that she does not think of it as a large feeling with the use of the term ‘little.’  With toil (laborious effort) Dickinson is saying that love is not something that is enjoyable to those involved, but rather a long-winded effort in which neither involved are particularly enjoying themselves.  The final two lines leave the reader with a sad sense of Dickinson because the reader is left with the image of someone who has not experienced true love, but thinks what she has felt is good enough for her.  Her use of sizes shows that she thinks of love as something that is small, but that even that small amount she has experienced is large enough for her.

David Preest’s commentary on the poem is succinct. “Life is too short to do anything properly, but ‘since some Industry must be,’ as Dickinson chooses ‘the little Toil of Love’ rather than Hate or Enmity as the right-sized task for her” (161).  While this is a very condensed view of the poem, it captures the main point, which is that life does not go on long enough to do anything as it really should be done. He explains that Dickinson decided that a small amount of love is better suited to her than a large amount of hate or enmity.  She chooses the love that takes much more effort, but it seems as though it is enough for her because life is too short to do anything ‘properly’ anyways, which is what Preest is pointing out in his reading of this popular poem.

Bibliography and Further Reading David Preest. “Emily Dickinson: notes on all her poems” Emily Dickinson Poems (2012).

Credits Composed by Jamie Clark, Spring 2017.


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American Poetry and Poetics Copyright © 2017 by Mark C. Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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