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:I think I prefer Dickinson’s version.
"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.