The Ghost, The Beggar, and The Widow by Kaitlyn W. A response to Emerson’s “The Amulet.”

I teach freshman composition for two colleges and American Literature for  Delta Community College in Monroe. Sometimes, I find a student who really appreciates and understands the classics of our literary canon that I require them to read. Kaitlyn W., a student in my American Literature class in the fall of 2023, wrote one of the best reader-response essays I ever received. She permitted me to share her essay on my blog.

The Ghost, The Beggar, and The Widow

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote some very moving poems in his time. In 1899, Emerson wrote a poem titled “The Amulet”. When I read it, I was left feeling like someone could relate to a very specific feeling I have had before. I know people can relate to the feeling of being alone, but this is something not everyone experiences. This poem, in its entirety, softly describes the phases of a broken love. Not your typical “true love” experiences.

These are the ones that are slow burns. These are the ones that leave those silent scars. They are the ones that will always be remembered and leave a person wondering how things would be if that special person was still in their life. It isn’t a dramatic high school breakup; It is half a soul being ripped from the other.

In this poem, I felt the narrator was a more feminine character, despite being written by a male. So, for the purpose of this paper, I will use she and her pronouns. This was a painful read, but a good one. It posed as a reminder and as proof that there are stages to all cycles in life, but particularly focused on the burnout of love, as I previously mentioned. The title of my paper comes from what I would label these phases after having read Emerson’s poem.

In the first stanza, I was presented with an image in my mind. While this was not a descriptive poem that was meant to channel all the senses and make me feel like I was there and able to see the room as it was, I was able to. I think the reason for this is because I could relate to it. The image I was given was a woman in a rocking chair looking out the window. She was staring down at her ring, remembering her love, who in this poem was described to be at a distance. It was written, “No tidings since it came,” (Emerson “The Amulet”, 1) I see in this quote that she was waiting for another letter, but she was patient. This is the first phase of love when it starts to die out. This is when the person that one loves has become so distant or so absent that they are not involved anymore. It is back to being alone but with the title of being together. This is thephase of The Ghost.

In the second stanza, we reach a new phase. Bargaining is one of the stages of grief after losing someone. In relationships of any kind, this stage exists here too. The partner or friend that loses their other half falls apart for a minute, and in hopes that it isn’t too late, they wonder if something can be exchanged. No matter how small or how large, just something. I remember when I left a very abusive relationship, no matter how bad he hurt me, I still muttered “I want my best friend back” in between each tear after I left. In this stanza, she is left wanting. It was written, in regard to the amulet, “That keeps intelligence with you,” (Emerson “The Amulet”, 2).

She wanted more than anything to know what was going on with him. In modern times, this is the equivalent of waiting for a text back or constantly checking their social media. This stage is a time of desperation. This is the time of begging. In this stage, the lover becomes the beggar. In the very last stanza, we reach the final break. “Torments me still the fear that love Died in its last expression,” (Emerson “The Amulet”, 3). This quote was the one that reminded me the most how empty that feeling is when something is over before it ends. That feeling always leaves me to wonder what I could have been doing with myself in the time we had wasted. I wrote my own poem in another English class before this one. It was about these same stages, but particularly the last one. After a love breaks off, there is that emptiness like I said, but there is also that memory. That is something that can’t easily be gotten rid of. Part of my poem said this: “I was a widow, hoping to scrape enough skin and dust from our sheets. Just enough to have one last hug.” This is the stage that forces you to feel your loss and realize the break has happened. This is the stage of The Widow.
With a heavy heart, I must say this poem was beautifully tormenting. It was a reminder that all good things do come to an end. But it was also comforting to be reminded that I wasn’t alone in the times when I felt broken. I never have been alone in those moments, and I know that now, but it is always good to be reminded. I think with this one, Emerson put in just enough of his own pain and mixed it with his own method of writing, and it produced absolute art.
Works Cited
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Early Poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York, Boston,   Thomas Y. Crowell & Company. 1899.