If Recollecting Were Forgetting, Emily Dickinson: Summary & Analysis

"If Recollecting Were Forgetting" by Emily Dickinson presents a paradoxical exploration of memory and forgetting. Through its distinctive structure and contrasting ideas, the poem delves into the complex interplay between remembrance and oblivion. By juxtaposing notions of remembering and forgetting, the poem questions the nature of memory and the emotional responses associated with it.

If Recollecting Were Forgetting

Oh if remembering were forgetting —
Then I remember not!
And if forgetting — recollecting —
How near I had forgot!
And if to miss — were merry —
And to mourn were gay,
How very blithe the maiden
Who gathered these today!

Summary

"If Recollecting Were Forgetting" engages in a series of paradoxical statements that highlight the intricate relationship between remembering and forgetting. The speaker contemplates the nature of memory by imagining scenarios where remembering could be akin to forgetting, and forgetting could lead to recollecting. The poem also plays with the notions of missing and mourning, suggesting that missing something could be a joyful experience, and mourning could bring happiness. The final lines introduce a blithe maiden who gathers these contrasting emotions, implying that she embraces the complex range of human experiences.

Critical Analysis

"If Recollecting Were Forgetting" invites readers into a realm of paradoxical contemplation, where the boundaries between remembering and forgetting, missing and mourning, become blurred. The poem employs a unique structure to create a sense of rhythmic exploration, with each line inviting readers to consider an opposing perspective.

The poem's opening lines, "Oh if remembering were forgetting — / Then I remember not!" set the tone for the paradoxical journey ahead. By suggesting that remembering could equate to forgetting, the poem challenges conventional notions of memory as a retention of the past.

The subsequent lines, "And if forgetting — recollecting — / How near I had forgot!" continue to blur the lines between these opposing concepts. The speaker contemplates the close proximity between forgetting and recollection, illustrating how memory can be unpredictable and elusive.

The poem further explores the idea that missing could be merry and mourning could be gay. These paradoxes challenge the conventional associations of sorrow and happiness, emphasizing the complexity of human emotions and experiences.

The final lines introduce the "maiden" who gathers these contradictory emotions. This figure serves as a symbol of someone who embraces the full spectrum of life's experiences, including the paradoxes and contradictions that come with memory, emotion, and existence.

"If Recollecting Were Forgetting" ultimately prompts readers to reconsider their assumptions about memory, emotion, and the ways in which human experiences are intertwined with contradictions.

Themes

  • Paradox: The poem explores the theme of paradox by juxtaposing opposing concepts, such as remembering and forgetting, missing and mourning.
  • Complexity of Emotions: The poem highlights the intricate nature of human emotions and experiences, suggesting that emotions are not always straightforward or easily categorized.
  • Perception and Perspective: The poem challenges readers to consider different perspectives and question their assumptions about memory and emotions.

Attitudes/Feelings

  • Curious Contemplation: The poem conveys a sense of curiosity and contemplation as the speaker engages in thought-provoking paradoxes.
  • Openness to Contradictions: The final lines suggest an attitude of embracing contradictions and complexities, symbolized by the maiden who gathers contrasting emotions.

Language

  • Paradoxical Statements: The poem's use of paradoxical statements challenges conventional thinking and prompts readers to consider the interplay between opposing concepts.
  • Imagery: The poem employs imaginative language to depict scenarios where remembering equates to forgetting and other contrasting situations.

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