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19 June 2012

Why – do they shut Me out of Heaven?


Why – do they shut Me out of Heaven? 
Did I sing – too loud?
But – I can say a little "minor"
Timid as a Bird!

Wouldn't the Angels try me –
Just – once – more –
Just – see – if I troubled them –
But don't – shut the door!

Oh, if I – were the Gentleman
In the "White Robe" –
And they – were the little Hand – that knocked –
Could – I – forbid?
                                                            F268 (1861)  248


Dickinson writes now and again of feeling left out and this poem is a rather blatant example of that. Here, writing as if making a diary entry, the poet refers to herself as a timid bird, a seeker of Heaven, and “the little Hand – that knocked” so patiently and hopefully at the door. Clearly someone has made her feel unwelcome – or at least that is the effect the narrator leaves.
            The feeling isn’t uncommon – or else I’m just a pessimist. I know I’ve occasionally realized that my company wasn’t desired as much as I might have allowed myself to think. Or I realize that I really did offend so and so the other night.
            The narrator writes here as if she has someone in particular is in mind--or a household. “Look, guys,” she begins, "the Angels would give me a second chance to prove I can be a quiet little mouse, and so would that nice Gentleman in the White Robe. Why can’t you?” The "they" in the first line might very well refer to the popular Austin/Sue Dickinson household. Loving both Austin and Sue, she might have had her feelings hurt about something. Sue was cooling to her. Perhaps Dickinson wasn't invited one night when a favorite bigwig was invited. And although it's doubtful that the poet sang too loud and that is why she is shut out of heaven, it has been recorded that in the days when Dickinson did attend parties at her brother's house, she was indeed lively and fun.
            The poem presages one written forty years later by Folger McKinsey (the Bentztown Bard) titled, you guessed it, “A Little Knock.” This poem is a real tear jerker about a father mourning his dead child and wishing he had answered her little knocking at his study door while she was still alive.
Here is the first stanza:
A little hand came knocking on my door:
"Let me turn in: I won't be bad no more!"
A little voice in tearful murmur plead—
Somehow I wish that I had long been dead
Ere from her knocking I could turn away,
Ere to her pleading I could answer nay,
Or yet refuse to ope and let her in,
Who had so little done of guile or sin.
I think I prefer Dickinson’s version.



3 comments:

  1. I read this poem very differently. I think she meant some form of comparison to take place between the way it is interpreted above and my interpretation--but I can't say for sure.

    I read it as saying "why is it so hard to compose poetry (Why - do they shut me out of Heaven?)" I thought this way when you compare this poem to "They shut me up in prose" and "The Bumble of a Bee-" The second poem in particular lends support as the "Bee-" is the artist or source of inspiration. Also, are the angels upset at her composing "He - Doesn't - Weary." Despite her troubles, she'll compose a small poem, a minor one, and this time will be timid (not anger angels with things they might not like).

    The second stanza pleads with the angels to let her in again and compose poetry. If the roles were reversed, and she were the dude in the "White Robe" (her words), could she keep young souls (children-little Hands) that knocked at her door? Could, I, heaven forbid! She'd be taking them away from earth.

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    1. Ruth Miller has an interpretation that is somewhat compatible with yours. She finds the poem to equate Eden with song (or, in this context, poetry). So perhaps the poet is suggesting that God and editors and angels be a bit more sympathetic to poets knocking and singing at the door.

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