Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I'm going, all along.
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the Church of Nature
This was one of only seven poems that was published during Dickinson’s lifetime. It was one of a set of four that she sent her “Preceptor” Thomas Wentworth Higginson. He had complained about her “spasmodic gait” since her poems often flouted the formal and controlled poetic conventions of the time. In this poem she keeps the meter and rhyme steady and conventional throughout. It’s a “church of nature” poem that is still widely anthologized. Along with “Because I could not stop for Death,” it is one most people think of when thinking of Emily Dickinson.
By the time this poem was written Dickinson had taken to keeping the Sabbath “at Home” rather than “going to Church.” But here she demonstrates that she has found better substitutes for all the elements of the service: The Bobolink leads the hymns, the branching trees of the family orchard form a domed ceiling, and God Himself (“a noted Clergyman”!) preaches. Unlike the Calvinist preachers of New England, though (and throughout the U.S., in fact), he keeps the sermons short!
The “surplice” that she foregoes in favor of her Wings would be the broad, open-sleeved, half-length tunic that clergy and choir members still wear today. The poet must feel a rung above as she has graduated to wearing angelic, or at least Cherubic, Wings. Bells aren’t needed for this church when there are robins and Bobolinks and other songbirds to call the poet to worship.