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10 July 2012

While it is alive

While it is alive
Until Death touches it
While it and I lap one Air
Dwell in one Blood
Under one Sacrament
Show me Division can split or pare –

Love is like Life – merely longer
Love is like Death, during the Grave
Love is the Fellow of the Resurrection
Scooping up the Dust and chanting "Live"!
                                                                        F276 (1862)  491

We know the “it” of the first stanza is a great love, for the poet makes that clear in the second stanza. As long as this love is “alive,” there is nothing that can come between the narrator and her beloved. Love laps the same air, shares the same sacrament and even the same blood – it is the warp and woof of the narrator’s existence.
            It is “like Life,” Dickinson writes – except not so subject to death. It will endure (and her poetry ensures that). It is, however, also “like Death” – a line that is not entirely clear to me. Not clear at all, really. I suspect, though, that Dickinson is getting at the notion that Love isn’t just life but also the vast stillness and eternality outside of life. The dead await resurrection within the grave. That timeless disembodied wait must be part of the still heart of Love.
William Blake's Creation of Adam.
            Best in the poem are the last two lines. Dickinson sketches a seeker of higher knowledge, a “Fellow of the Resurrection” – akin to a Fellow of the Royal Acadamy – who with great confidence chants over handfuls of dust as if that might bring them back to life. Love is that Fellow, too, always always “chanting ‘Live’!” As crazy as the Fellow sounds, however, the passage echoes the creation of Adam: God “formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7). What has happened once, the poet implies, could happen again through Love. It is the ultimate Life Force.


  1. I think by "Love is like Death, during the Grave", Emily wanna emphasize on the length of love. She says that "Love is like Life – merely longer." A natural human usually ages 70-80 years. Emily thinks that 70-80 years is a short period for Love. But this man or woman remains dead in his/her grave for thousands or millions of years until his/her resurrection.

  2. The Fellow of the Resurrection, and that which follows, may be an allusion to the account of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus when, out of vast grief and love, he bid that Lazarus rise from his tomb and return to life.