She bore it till the simple veins

Yuki-onna - Bakemono Zukushi, 18th - 19th century, Unknown
Background Image: Yuki-onna – Bakemono Zukushi, 18th – 19th century, Unknown

The standard reading of this is that she is writing about someone who has died. At the start she is crying (her eyes red with tears) and now this person is in heaven. However, there is another reading in that she is talking about the cycle of life and of memory and forgetting. In the first line she is born (“bore”), life fills her veins (“azure”), but in the end she’s forgotten.

Looking back at the previous poem, “They have not chosen me,” he said” Emily wrote about feelings of abandonment even though she has remained true. This poem expands on that emotion with its unusual ending question, “Of whom we’re whispering here?” Whom indeed are we “whispering” about? We know it’s a “she”, but we don’t know anything more about her and the poem has a ghost-like quality to it.

The first stanza can be read two ways. As I said above the standard way is to read this as an image of Emily crying over the death of someone. In this reading the “veins” on her hand stand out because she has the balled into fists and her “eyes” are “purple” from crying. Yet the word “bore” can mean more than her bearing the news of a friend’s death until she can’t hold it in anymore – in fact, why was she bearing something to begin with? Wouldn’t the news of someone you knowing dying cause you to be upset right away and not bear the news with no emotion?

This question of why she was bearing the emotion led me to think she might be talking about a cycle of life and that “bore” was really being born. Instead of her hands balled up in fists with grief, her “veins” are “traced Azure” as life enters her body (at birth). The first two words of the poem are “She bore” which can be read as she was born and life filled her body. Lines three and four then can be read not just as an image of her grief and crying, but of her maturity. This “pleading” is not just the “pleading” of someone begging someone to come back, but a “pleading” of being noticed, the way a young woman might wear makeup (“Crayons”) to be beautiful and plead that the person she lives will notice her. This ties back the being born not only in the way that she is being born into society as a woman who wants a lover, but there is a slight sexual connection with finding a mate and being born.

The second stanza deals with time passing. Since we were last left with an image of her “pleading” it would seem she was unsuccessful in matters of love and so her life was just a “sum” of “Daffodils” blooming and dying for years and years until she could no longer “bear it” (meaning the weight of life) and perhaps killed herself. The first lines of the poem allude to an unusual image of her giving birth to herself and here she can take her own life when she can no longer “bear it” because the pain of being forgotten by a lover is to great. Again, going back to the previous poem, “They have not chosen me,” he said” she has been dealing with people who are not as passionate towards her as she is to them, so if this is a continuation of that theme then it’s entirely possible she is alluding to suicide in this poem.

And it’s the third stanza which makes me think of ghosts and the Gothic with this almost supernatural image of a woman who is “No more” yet still seems to haunt the “village street” at “twilight”. Though Emily writes that she is no longer there, creates a hole in the environment where she used to be, an emptiness in that “village street” where a young woman once walked but now is only a memory. This is a clever way to write a ghost by describing what isn’t there to imply something that still haunts that place. Yet even if this poem is about someone else whom has died and Emily is describing the places her “patient” and “timid” friend used to be, there is still the sense of a haunting here because this is the memory Emily chooses to recall and is thus haunted by it.

The final stanza suggests she has gone to the afterlife – perhaps heaven, but it’s her use of the word “midst” which, again, is unusual. Whomever has died is not necessarily wearing a crown, rather she stands in their “midst so fair”, she is somehow both part of the scene and yet separate from everyone around her too, like being alone at a lively party – perhaps a gathering when someone you love is there but they don’t notice you, which recalls the first stanza.

And it’s the final line with its question asking “Of whom we’re whispering here” that is most intriguing because it suggests that the person who has died as been forgotten, or at least has gone unnoticed, even in a busy room full of “courtiers” (which could also be read as suitors which enforces the idea of a lover and an unrequited love). Yet in the end we have no idea who this person is and so she is like a ghost. She was born, life “traced” itself into her veins, but time passed and she died, and now nobody remembers her. She is a ghostly figure who passed through life unnoticed by those she loved and now live in an afterlife where she stands in the “midst” / mist but is forgotten there too. In fact, the final line could be the question asked by the object of the woman’s affection at the gathering when they are told someone is interested in them but their reply is “who?” (meaning, I don’t know them and I don’t really care).

I know this is an unusual reading of this poem, but her word choices of “bore” and “midst” and the ghost-like quality of the third stanza, as well as its relation to “They have not chosen me,” he said” seems to add up to much more than a simple story of some unnamed person that the poet describes as her grieving over. I think Emily sees herself as the object of this poem due to her feelings of abandonment in the previous poem.