Parenthood: assisting in the Bright Affair

Dorothy Martyn’s book Beyond Deserving (see previous post) is structured around the following poem by Emily Dickinson:

Bloom — is Result — to meet a Flower
And casually glance
Would scarcely cause one to suspect
The minor Circumstance

Assisting in the Bright Affair
So intricately done
Then offered as a Butterfly
To the Meridian —

To pack the Bud — oppose the Worm —
Obtain its right of Dew —
Adjust the Heat — elude the Wind —
Escape the prowling Bee

Great Nature not to disappoint
Awaiting Her that Day —
To be a Flower, is profound
Responsibility —

As Dr Martyn observes, this poem can be read as “a comment on the kind of parenting that truly assists the gradual flourishing of a child”.

She unpacks the metaphors from Dickinson’s poem as follows, arguing that “they richly symbolize the tasks children (and all of us) must accomplish in order to grow into mature human beings”:

  • pack the bud (stoke future potentialities)
  • oppose the worm (wrestle with gnawing conflicts)
  • obtain the right of dew (procure nourishment)
  • adjust the heat (of anger and of sexual strivings)
  • elude the wind (of inner and outer pressures)
  • escape the prowling bee (of overweening conscience and what the child experiences as unneeded intrusion by parents)

Dr Martyn also observes that, just as a gardener cannot make a flower grow, so a parent cannot make their child “bloom”. All we can do is assist in the flowering, as “the minor Circumstance / Assisting in the Bright Affair”. As she continues:

the “profound Responsibility” for becoming a flower lies dominantly in the flower itself.

Hence Dr Martyn distinguishes her “assisting” model from a “permissive” one. (Or, to put it another way, we might say she is promoting “grace” as opposed to “licence”.)

As parents, we know (or ought to know) what it means for our children to “bloom”, in a way they often cannot yet understand. Hence our task is neither to be controlling nor permissive, but to assist our children to develop healthy, balanced personalities with “the ability to love and to work”, by standing alongside them against everything that opposes this, both within them (negative and destructive behaviours or thought-processes) and without (external threats and dangers).

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One Response to Parenthood: assisting in the Bright Affair

  1. Phil Walker says:

    Yes, I think that does help. Reading a few pages of Martyn’s book was a help too, to see what examples were going through her mind. I can see I was generally thinking of rather different situations from hers!

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