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30 July 2011

I often passed the village

I often passed the village
When going home from school—
And wondered what they did there—
And why it was so still—

I did not know the year then—
In which my call would come—
Earlier, by the Dial,
Than the rest have gone.

It's stiller than the sundown.
It's cooler than the dawn—
The Daisies dare to come here—
And birds can flutter down—

So when you are tired—
Or perplexed—or cold—
Trust the loving promise
Underneath the mould,
Cry "it's I," "take Dollie,"
And I will enfold! 
                                                           - F 41 (1858)

Sorry, but this one is a bit like Corpse Bride, at least in that the poet envisions herself dying young and waiting for a special person, Dollie, to whom she has made a 'loving promise'. "Dollie" was one of her pet names for Sue, her best friend and then sister-in-law (that had to be a bit awkward at times, particularly since Dickinson was very effusive and passionate about Sue). 
     We begin with the scene: Dickinson went to Amherst Academy and would pass by the graveyard on her way home to the house where she lived until she was 25. The graveyard is the village that is so very still. 
     She is talking to the reader from the grave. In the second quatrain, she informs us that by the great Dial of life and time, she died earlier than most people. A very romantic notion to the Victorian, to die a maiden and so young!
     However, she paints a rather attractive picture: rather than calling it deathly still or cold, it is instead "stiller than the sundown" and "cooler than the dawn". Wouldn't you like to visit? In addition, daisies 'dare' to grow there and birds visit.
     The last stanza is six lines and as it unfolds we realize the poet is addressing a single person, "Dollie". It is a macabre scene: The beloved Dollie, or Sue, is drawn to the charms of the place and to the grave of her former friend. In despair--or rather if tired, perplexed, or cold--Dollie simply cries out to the grave and the dead friend will 'enfold' her. It's an interesting choice of word, implying Dollie will be subsumed by the dead poet. We might normally think of the "mould" as subsuming--or consuming--a corpse, but here it is merely a counterpane. Crawl under the covers, dear--I'm waiting for you!
     The last verse has the strongest rhymes, complete ones: cold, mould, enfold. The other stanzas make liberal use of slant rhymes: school / still; come / gone; and then sundown / dawn / down (okay, not all slant). The last stanza also is trochaic--accents on the first syllable--versus the iambs of the other stanza. The strong rhymes and trochees help build the climactic ending where the still living friend throws herself (kills herself?) into the enfolding embrace of the departed poet.

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