Forever -- is composed of Nows

by Emily Dickinson


Original Language English

Forever -- is composed of Nows --
'Tis not a different time --
Except for Infiniteness --
And Latitude of Home --

From this -- experienced Here --
Remove the Dates -- to These --
Let Months dissolve in further Months --
And Years -- exhale in Years --

Without Debate -- or Pause --
Or Celebrated Days --
No different Our Years would be
From Anno Domini's --

-- from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Edited by Thomas H. Johnson

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Although Emily Dickinson is rightly praised as one of the great American poets, less commonly is it recognized that she was also a mystic describing states of ecstatic awareness. If her poetry had been composed in India, she would have a place beside Lalla and Mirabai.

Forever -- is composed of Nows --

Forever, eternity, and, by extension, heaven... We have a tendency to think of these as something to be reached or attained, something not here, but elsewhere. Something in the future. Thinking this way, forever is never found.

This is such an essential insight: Forever -- is composed of Nows. The future is only an idea; when we reach it, it is the present. Time is not composed of past, present, and future. It is composed of now, and now, and now. We have memories of the past and imaginings about the future, but we only ever experience now.

When we understand this deeply enough, we stop teetering back into the past or tilting forward into the future. We finally come to rest in the present moment. And we are shocked to discover how little we have known of now, though it is our only home.

All the months and years of the past, the countless dates stretching into the future, all the experiences they hold, everything, flows into the present, filling it. The present expands to hold the whole world and our own unseparated selves. Each year, each moment of each moment of each year, is a vast blissful space just waiting for us.

This sounds like a nice poetic description, but it is actually something very real, something that is directly felt and witnessed.

We don't need to look to the future or the past for Anno Domini, the Year of the Lord, we need to look deeply into Now.

I will add that this is a great problem with historical ideas of spiritual events and places -- Eden, the coming of Christ or Mahdi or Maitreya, the rebuilding of the Temple, the Final Judgment, etc. Regardless of what the calendar says, they don't exist in the past or the future, they all exist right now. When we look for them in the past or the future, we ignore the present and fail to find them. The more desperate we become, the more we adopt an ends-justify-the-means approach to force them into being. That hyper-utilitarian philosophy is an overt rejection of the present moment (without ever truly knowing it); and the terrible irony is that it tends to create a hellish present without opening real pathways to that promised paradise.

When we are truly ready to discover our "Forever," we will stop our cruelties, give up our desperations, we will sit, become quiet, and finally know the space that holds us -- right now.

No different Our Years would be
From Anno Domini's --



Recommended Books: Emily Dickinson

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry American Triptych: Anne Bradstreet, Emily Dickinson, and Adrienne Rich Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson
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Forever -- is composed