May 29 2013

Emily Dickinson – Forever — is composed of Nows

Published by at 9:50 am under Poetry

Forever — is composed of Nows
by Emily Dickinson

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

/ Photo by Aravil1 /

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 —

Emily Dickinson, Emily Dickinson poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Emily Dickinson

US (1830 – 1886) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Christian : Protestant

More poetry by Emily Dickinson

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Emily Dickinson – Forever — is composed of Nows”

  1. Veena Veanaon 29 May 2013 at 10:44 am


  2. Sharon Blessumon 29 May 2013 at 11:14 am

    Ivan, your thought of the day
    retraining our eyes
    means the world to me

    the spaces and secrets

  3. Kimberlyon 29 May 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Ivan, I’m so thankful for all you give us. I
    was deeply touched by today’s message. Wish
    you well and happy, K.

  4. sandon 29 May 2013 at 12:52 pm

    ivan, that was most beautiful, you interpreted that just right. almost brought me to now. s.

  5. Aguaeeshaon 29 May 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Interesting conversation about ‘Time’. No so much from an esoteric or spiritual sense of time, but some perceptive comments none-the-less.

  6. Sobhanaon 29 May 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Hi Ivan,

    Enjoyed both –Emily Dickinson’s Forever… & your thoughts on it How splendidly you put Now… our [one &] only home

    Thank you

  7. Nasseron 29 May 2013 at 9:40 pm

    Hi Ivan,
    In end 1970’s when I was a young student of English literature we had the chance of touching a small piece of good poetry in those times of learning about life and asking the same eternal questions of where we have come from and where we are destined to. And Emily Dickenson was one of those with overwhelming impression and thoughtfulness gave me. I am nobody are you nobody too. Then it makes 2 of us…

    Thank you very much for taking me back to those good old days but still passionately living only in now.

  8. Therese Monaghan O.P.on 30 May 2013 at 10:49 am

    Enough to hold on to: Forever is composed of nows.
    thank you Ivan

  9. Shapur Ion 12 Aug 2014 at 10:29 am

    Hello, I think your interpretation of the line “And Latitude of Home –” is incorrect. It’s about how the poetic words or inspiration naturally flow into us, within the present, when we “spend time in natural scenery or at night looking at the stars or wandering over/through a moonlit landscape to let the infinite soak in and remedy us to itself”. In solitude within natural scenery when the mind is choicelessly aware and free from judgments, the poems and words naturally come.

    You are correct about the present moment, but you must combine it with creative inspiration in order to get the full meaning of the poem. An Eternal Now without creative inspiration is akin to a lobotomy.

    “Do you imagine the universe is agitated? Go into the desert at night and look out at the stars. This practice should answer the question. The superior person settles her mind as the universe settles the stars in the sky. By connecting her mind with the subtle origin, she calms it. Once calmed, it naturally expands, and ultimately her mind becomes as vast and immeasurable as the night sky.”

    Hua Hu Ching, verse 5

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