Review of At the Door by Lillie Fuller Merriam
I answered a question on Quora today that went something like “What is the biggest trap people fall into?” I answered it with what I believe to be the most daunting omnipresent danger in our lives – the conditioning that we are subjected to. The conditioning that grabs us by our throat, gets a vise like grip on our lives and emotions making everything from breathing to even moving your muscles difficult. The poem below while not directly aiding this conditioning, does put it in perspective. We want to do one thing, but we are conditioned to want to do quite another thing altogether. Even if we were to do what we wanted to do all along, ignoring what we are conditioned to do, the regret always remains that we must have been better off had we done what the society has conditioned us to. I know it is getting a little confusing here, so here we go towards the poem:
Children are at the door.
Shall I let them in?
If I let them in, I can do no more the work I love.
If I let them go, then can work no more
For thinking that I should have let them in
And worked no more.
I want to take these lines metaphorically. I think this represents a classic dilemma for all women who have neared, nearing, passing the child bearing age. Even though a woman realizes that the birth of a child will change her life and take her way from everything that she loves to do, she still contemplates the idea. Here the poet compares it to having visitors knocking at your door. You don’t want to let them in, but at the same time you know they are not going anywhere. You ignore them, but you are at unease after that. You keep thinking that you should have let them in and that you are a bad person for not doing so otherwise. You can’t even continue to do the work you want to do. This is the power of conditioning. Once you let the thought in that you should adhere to a set of rules that were designed, developed and implemented for thousands of year, you will never get over it. That thought will overtake your psyche and make you very, very unhappy. If you let it, that is.
The power of thought is that you can control it. If she could stop thinking about it, she could carry on doing the things she loves to do. But no sir! The poor poet has no such luxury. She keeps thinking about it, not able to do the work she loves. Wanna guess how long before she caves in to the conditioning? I will give her a week or two at the most. That represents the power of conditioning.
Duty is at the door.
Shall I let her in?
If I let her in, my life must change it’s course,
If I bid her go, my life will change itself.
For thinking that I should have let her in
And followed her.
These lines also represent to me a cry for help before drowning in the whirlpool of conditioning that we are all subjected to. We have our lives, we have our joys, we have our pursuits. But above all stands our duty. Our duty to God, duty to parents, duty to children, duty to country, duty to home, hearth and everything else. Forgotten or forbidden is the duty to oneself. Duty wants you to change the course of your life to make someone else’s life easier. Again a case of doomed if you do, doomed if you don’t. Its not easy being a grown up, is it?
Love is at the door.
Shall I let him in?
If I let him in, my heart’s content may cease.
If I bid him go, I may weep bitter tears.
For thinking that I should have let him in to wound me
With an arrow from its sheath.
Ah! These lines represent such big truths that I want to rub my hands in glee. There is so much going on in these lines. The hallmark of a good poet is not just the rhyming of the words as most of us would like to think, but to convey a whole lot of sense in a few aptly placed words. These 6 sentences convey so much that to make an attempt to understand their meaning, I would have to write 6 more blogs. So I will not attempt it but simply stand there with my mouth open and salute Lillie!
While the other 2 stanzas depicted something positive coming out of the knocking at the door – the children bringing happiness, duty making you proud, love in the 3rd stanza on the other hand is seen as bringing nothing but misery, whether you let him in or leave him out. Letting him is going to end the content she feels in being by herself and not depending on her happiness on someone else. But still she doesn’t want to miss the chance of letting him in. He might never come knocking again and that would mean she feels like she will never be loved. Ah! The sweet dilemmas of adult life.
Adding my own to this:
Death is at the door.
Shall I let it in?
If I let it in, my life must end it’s course.
If I bid it go, I may have to seek it out later,
For who knows how long,
As my rotting body and soul look for a way out.
Grotesque? But I think that would cover the entire gamut of human life from Kids to Responsibility to Love and finally death!