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03 September 2012

Doubt Me! My Dim Companion!


Doubt Me! My Dim Companion!
Why, God, would be content
With but a fraction of the Life—
Poured thee, without a stint—
The whole of me—forever—
What more the Woman can,
Say quick, that I may dower thee
With last Delight I own!

It cannot be my Spirit—
For that was thine, before—
I ceded all of Dust I knew—
What Opulence the more
Had I—a freckled Maiden,
Whose farthest of Degree,
Was—that she might—
Some distant Heaven,
Dwell timidly, with thee!

Sift her, from Brow to Barefoot!
Strain till your last Surmise—
Drop, like a Tapestry, away,
Before the Fire's Eyes—
Winnow her finest fondness—
But hallow just the snow
Intact, in Everlasting flake—
Oh, Caviler, for you!
                                                            F332 (1862)  275

This love poem is a spirited response to a lover (or at least a man the poet loves) who has questioned her devotion. The poem is a naked declaration of complete, unstinting love.
            The first two lines establish the tone: two exclamation marks punctuate the first line, while the fervent interjection, “God,” intensifies the emotion. The “Companion” must indeed be “Dim” if he doubts her. The rest of the poem elaborates on why.
U.S. public domain
A gallant cavalier--who hopefully hasn't
caviled about his lady's devotion!
            “God” serves double duty here. On first glance it is the aforementioned interjection—after all, it is set apart by commas and follows “Why” naturally enough. But then we notice that “God” must be the subject of “would be content” and we see the second and more significant meaning. God would be content if she only dedicated to him a fraction of what she gives the lover. She pours herself into her Companion “forever” “without a stint.” I don’t think you can claim a greater degree of love than that!
            Dickinson makes another clever doubling of meaning with “Caviler.” By itself it would mean someone who is objecting to something unimportant or nonexistent. That would be the Companion who seems to be doubting her. But when we read “Caviler,” a made-up word, we tend to see “Cavalier”—a knightly and gallant gentleman. Such a man would surely never cavil over something so precious as a woman’s love! Clever little dig, indeed!
            But she does defend her self. The implied cavil number one, that she hasn’t given enough of herself, she proves false. Cavil number two in the second stanza involves her “Spirit”—and by this I think she means her heart and soul (and the Emily Dickinson Lexicon agrees with me). She gave her spirit before she gave all of her body—“all of Dust I knew.” Some readers might see this as a suggestion that she and he were actual lovers, but the last few lines make it clear she “merely” means that she belongs to him now, body and soul. She doesn’t have any other “Opulence” to give, since she (so modestly) is only “a freckled Maiden” whose wildest hopes were only that she might join him (“timidly”!) in some “distant Heaven.” The “freckled,” “timidly,” and “distant” all suggest humility but the overall teasing-yet-passionate tone of the poem belie that. This is a bold and confident woman talking.
            My favorite line: “Sift her, from Brow to Barefoot!” She here gives permission for the Companion to examine her devotion at the most granular level—like sifting flour, or winnowing the wheat. If he strains to find a lack in her love, he will only find his doubts burning away like a tapestry in a fire.
            The poet only makes one reservation: respect “the snow” as if it were holy; keep it “Intact, in Everlasting flake.” And why? So that the Caviler / Cavilier might have it himself! Her “snow” suggests both  virginity as well creativity (“snow” implying in this case both the creative spirit and the pages of poetry that result). She’ll yield to him her body and her Muse.

6 comments:

  1. Interesting. I wonder however who her lover is for she lived singly in a room.

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    1. A lover in Dickinson's day might mean one in courtship or one whom one loves in a romantic or passionate way. Dickinson seems to have loved two or three men in that way; whether or not she ever made love with them physically is open to much doubt. I suspect the man in question here is Samuel Bowles to whom she wrote letters about both love and the "snow" of her creativity.

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  2. Thanks. I like your commentaries.
    I really like your blogging all ED's poems. Gives me a similar idea however with different poems.

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  3. Thanks for the explanation. I originally thought, after reading the second stanza, that the woman was saying she was foolish to think it would work out. Your explanation of the language cleared it up a lot.

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  4. Love of language and reading remains the "uncouth theme" in interpreting Emily Dickinson's poetry. Feel welcome to my post

    https://sites.google.com/site/emilydickinsonintranslation/the-uncouth-love-theme-in-emily-dickinson-s-poe

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    1. Thank you -- I love your site and your project. I don't agree about your specific interpretation of this poem (to me it is a human "Caviler" she is inviting to "sift" her from top to bottom), but I found all of your points very interesting.

      Do you use the Dickinson Lexicon as a reference? It uses the dictionary of her day and is the result of lots of scholarly work.
      http://edl.byu.edu/lexicon

      If you register (free) the site shows you all the poems in which the search word is found.

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