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06 January 2012

I have a King, who does not speak

I have a King, who does not speak –
So – wondering – thro' the hours meek
I trudge the day away—
Half glad when it is night – and sleep –
If, haply, thro' a dream, to peep
In parlors, shut by day.

And if I do – when morning comes –
It is as if a hundred drums
Did round my pillow roll,
And shouts fill all my childish sky,
And Bells keep saying "Victory"
From steeples in my soul!

And if I don't – the little Bird
Within the Orchard, is not heard,
And I omit to pray
"Father, thy will be done" today
For my will goes the other way,
And it were perjury!
                                                                - F157 (1860)  103
This is a very cheerful take about trying to hear God’s voice and often failing. God, the “King,” doesn’t speak. Alas, that is the way of religion today. There is, despite Pat Robertson and others who claim they have a pipeline to the Most High, no voice of God reassuring us and telling us his will. And so the poet must “trudge the day away” “wondering” about what He might say.
            She welcomes night when she might sleep and then, with any grace, hear from her silent King. Sometimes she does and then when she wakes at morning it is a marvelous thing: “Bells” ring in victory from the “steeples” in her soul – her whole body has been sanctified as if it were a church. But sometimes she doesn’t. On those days she doesn’t hear the little voice in her soul, the “little Bird / Within the Orchard,” that might otherwise prompt her to pray. In fact, she has her own agenda, her “will goes the other way,” and it would be “perjury” to ask God for His. She doesn’t mean to find out and fulfill God’s will if he isn’t going to speak to her. She’ll follow her own will. It’s a remarkable and bold statement of independence for a nice young woman from strictly Christian Amherst.
            Dickinson follows a regular meter and rhyme scheme. The rhymes are A A B CC B for each stanza. The iambic lines are two tetrameters followed by a trimeter.
            Perhaps the most interesting thing about the poem is the claim that there are times when Dickinson hears God. Or at least she gets to “peep / In parlors” that are not visible to her during her waking hours. That is surely a glimpse into heaven and goes a ways to explain why so many of her poems talk about the afterlife. She certainly doesn’t seem to feel that there will be any punishment for the days when she hasn’t had her “peep” and goes about her own business. A very satisfactory arrangement altogether. God may well prefer the independent types!


  1. This is a huge achievement commenting on all of Emily Dickinson's poetry and I'm very grateful for it. It explains so many ambiguities and difficult references that I am free to simply enjoy the poems and their myriad intricacies.

  2. Do you think this could also be about writing poetry? Waiting for inspiration and so on—Apparently she liked to write late into the night.

  3. This last comment may have some validity. I am reminded of a quote of Albert Eisenstein's: "When I ask a simple question, and then get a simple answer, it is then that I feel I'm talking to God."
    I wonder in ED'S pushing nouns against verbs, she didn't feel that way at times?

    1. I like the idea from Wes, 2020, that Poetry is at least some part of the subject. That the King is her muse.
      But I wonder if you couldn't elaborate on your comments about 'pushing nouns against verbs'?

  4. If ED dreams and her dreams give a glimpse of Heaven, she wakes joyous, but she knows that’s childish because dreams aren’t real. If she doesn’t dream or her dreams give no glimpse of Heaven, the next morning her soul doesn’t sing and she doesn’t recite the Lord’s Prayer, “Father, thy will be done”. If she did recite the Lord's Prayer, she would be lying because she actually prefers “my will” over “thy will”.

    Grammatically, the “it” in the final line refers to “my will”, but logically “it” refers to “thy will”.

    For some reason this poem, 'I have a King, who does not speak –', brings to mind

    "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference."