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!