This poem is by no means among her best. For all its strange syntax and violations of conventional grammar, it is nonetheless clear. In the beginning, the speaker sees a dying tiger, and then proceeds to find some water for it. By the time she returns with water, the tiger is dead. Curiously, she and the water are reflected in the tiger's eye. I've had a somewhat similar experience with one of my cats, while I did everything to help save it or at least alleviate some of its suffering. This poem is about compassion, but that even compassion often has its limits. The sufferers still have to suffer and die alone, while those around are often helpless. They can't help in the way they feel is adequate.
I love Emily's work, though as in the case of most classic poets, her reputation is inflated. Out of the nearly 2000 poems she wrote, I cannot find more than about 25 that are truly great. Most of her work reads like footnotes on grand or serious themes, which is to say that they are nowhere near sufficiently developed enough to stand as satisfying poems. They simply end too abruptly.Yes, less is often more; I certainly prefer suggestiveness to plain statement. BUT she takes it to the extreme: most of her poems lack richness precisely because there is insufficient development of theme.
For those readers who love animal poems I strongly recommend those of Robinson Jeffers, in particular 'Hurt Hawks' and 'Vulture'. He has written some of the best I've ever read.
It has been awhile, I know Emily.
To know and stay unknowing,
mighty sand it drinks it dries it.
Frantically, held aloft soft palms.
Once heavy, so helpless, waning.
Sun grasps tigers soft, last moan.
How they wonder even when sea,
in lives wave there deaths abased.
Sorry fellows, but she meant the balls to be the globes of the eyes—note the immediate reference to the retina. She was looking into them as into a crystal ball. There they saw the saving possibility–water and she. Many of Emily Dickenson’s poems deal with the transitory condition of life. Her mother died in her young childhood; she nursed her father until his death. Her apparent acceptance of these facts and yet a quest to understand is found throughout her writing. The compassion and yet the acceptance is found in this poem. This is a deep traverse into the very essence of her thinking.
I am a Dickinson fan. However, would one of those who praised this poem please enlighten us as to its meaning and why they praised it? It would certainly help me to also appreciate it better. :)
In her unique style, Ms. Dickinson carries one theme throughout the poem until the last few lines, then delivers the coup de grâce, the twist of fate and intended entendre, as in her poem 'A Drop Fell On The Apple Tree'.