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21 August 2011

I keep my pledge

I keep my pledge.
I was not called—
Death did not notice me.
I bring my Rose.
I plight again,
By every sainted Bee—
By Daisy called from hillside—
by Bobolink from lane.
Blossom and I—
Her oath, and mine—
Will surely come again.
                                                        - F 63 (1859)  46

One can read this poem in two ways—the specific and the metaphoric. Read for its specifics, we see the poet standing by the grave of someone dear to her. She has a Rose in her hand, the symbol of beauty and life. She pledges from her familiar trinity of nature words (that start with ‘B’!): Bee, Bobolink, and Blossom, that she will come back. It’s a lovely statement of constancy—although she was not called by Death, she will keep the memory of the departed one alive.
            And yet… the opening lines alert us to something deeper going on here. To be ‘called’ in the Puritan tradition means one has been selected to be saved. No every person is, and not every person who is called will answer the call. The ‘pledge’ is to pledge one’s heart, life, and soul to the Christian God and Jesus. Today we simply call it being saved. Interestingly, a few years earlier a revival had swept Amherst and many citizens wrote out a pledge. Emily’s family and friends did, but Emily did not.
            Instead, Dickinson makes her own pledge: not in the church venue or according to what her peers were doing, but to her favored church: that of the hillside and lane, that of the ‘sainted Bee’ and faithful Daisy, and chorister Bobolink. In poems F22 and F23, she links such natural emblems to her worship and sense of the divine. Her Rose, a flower she often uses to symbolize life or hope (among other things), is bound to ‘surely come again’—and so is the poet. The Blossom, of course, returns every season. that is it’s ‘oath.’ Likewise, the poet says she too will come again. The poet expects a resurrection, a blooming in the better world of Paradise.
            This idea is supported in F54 where she breathes in the fragrance of a blossom and is transported to the ‘fadeless orchards’ where one can hear the lovely song of the bobolink and see the Rose in its ideal entirety.

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