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20 August 2011

Could live—did live—

Could live—did live—
Could die—did die—
Could smile upon the whole
Through faith in one he met not,
To introduce his soul.

Could go from scene familiar
To an untraversed spot—
Could contemplate the journey
With unpuzzled heart—

Such trust had one among us,
Among us not today—
We who saw the launching
Never sailed the Bay!
                                                           - F 59 (1859)

The poem starts with the tolling of bells—two dimeter lines of spondees kick it off. And sure enough, the bells have tolled for a believer. The poem is written as a send-off and tribute to the faith of the departed. It may be that Dickinson’s whole heart wasn’t into the compliment here of someone contemplating the journey into the ‘undiscovered country’ with an ‘unpuzzled heart’—for surely Dickinson spent much of her life as a poet grappling with the mystery of what that journey is and where it might take us. She is probably being quite serious when she says that no one here today (as if this poem was written to be read on a funeral day—perhaps attached to some flowers, or at least as if it were attached to some flowers or even read to the assembled mourners) had his uncomplicated faith in the ‘one he met not’. Her own faith was certainly more complicated.
            The last stanza repeats the common metaphor of the soul being launched into the sea of death to reach, hopefully, the other side where peace and eternal life await at last.

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