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18 September 2012

Of nearness to her sundered Things

Of nearness to her sundered Things
The Soul has special times—
When Dimness—looks the Oddity—

The Shapes we buried, dwell about,
Familiar, in the Rooms—
Untarnished by the Sepulchre,
The Mouldering Playmate comes—

In just the Jacket that he wore—
Long buttoned in the Mold
Since we—old mornings, Children—played—
Divided—by a world—

The Grave yields back her Robberies—
The Years, our pilfered Things—
Bright Knots of Apparitions
Salute us, with their wings—

As we—it were—that perished—
Themself—had just remained till we rejoin them—
And 'twas they, and not ourself
That mourned—
                                                            F337 (1862) 607

This poem has a dreamy quality appropriate to its topic. There are misty moments when the dead seem very close: rather than the dimness with which we usually recall them, we see them distinct. There is the childhood playmate in the same little jacket we remember, and all the dear departed come like apparitions and “Salute us, with their wings.”
            The last stanza suggests that it is the dead who have a sort of eternal life—it is we who are aging and dying; consequently it is the dead who mourn the living. It’s a nostalgic poem rather than one of horror. I’m a bit surprised at its contrast to “The only Ghost I ever saw,” a poem written within the same year, where Dickinson finds her encounter with a shy and harmless ghost to be “appalling.” But I think she wasn’t serious in that poem. The current one seems much closer to her true feelings.
            The poem is written in hymn form—you could sing it to “Amazing Grace.” 


  1. Again one of her mystic and poetic instructions: the eternal details in memory are always fresh if we are not afraid of stepping into our own deaths; beautiful guidance for most of us who shy away from our own shadows so sadly never receive the what the Grave yields back.

    1. Well said. I don't think I grasped the poem this clearly – with the insight you describe – when I wrote the commentary.

  2. I wonder what the "Knots" look like in "Bright Knots of Apparitions". I wonder why ED chose the word "Knots" here.

    Anyway, this is a lovely poem, with a fairy-like, lifting air that is matched well by the illustration you paired with it.

    1. It's interesting, particularly since she uses "sundered" in the first line. It's as if at death the dead are sundered from the living -- but not from other dead. There's an organic web of them whose existence seems to intersect with the living and entwine with each other.

      I checked with the ED Lexicon that provides the dictionary meanings of the time:

      A) Association; unifying bond; interrelationship of events; merging of experiences; [fig.] end; finish; closure.
      Fr416/J423 the Months have ends – the Years – a knot – / No Power can untie

      B) Cluster; clump; mass of entwined elements; bundle of organic material; [fig.] form; intricate pattern.
      Fr337/J607 Bright Knots of Apparitions / Salute us, with their wings

    2. Thank you so much for this explication, Susan! I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. ThIs information helps me enormously to grasp this poem. AND it makes me realize that I need to be more diligent about turning to the ED Lexicon for help with these puzzles.

  3. I think ED would have loved “Lincoln in the Bardo!”
    What (if anything) do you make of the line breaks in the last stanza? The meter is perfect only if you impose your own imagined line breaks - after “remained” and “they”. Is this a purposeful distancing/confusing device? To what purpose?

    1. Good question! That extra long second line in that stanza really stretches out the time that must be waited, so the extra feet parallel the meaning. I think that if the lines were footed in the hymn meter the third line would be awkward. Certainly 'remained' and 'mourned' are the slant rhymes and it is just, as you bring to my attention, the line breaks that are non-standard.

      So I don't have an answer except for thinking about all those pronouns in the last stanza and how that might have complicated line breaks -- as well as the happy lengthening of the wait line.

      Thanks for pointing this out!

  4. In the previous poem, F336, ED told us from now on she would watch life from her writing room, not outside “Where other creatures put their eyes— / Incautious—of the Sun —” because it’s “So safer—guess—with just my soul / Upon the window pane”.

    Apparently her plan is working: “The Shapes we buried, dwell about, / Familiar, in the Rooms —”, “Bright Knots of Apparitions / Salute us, with their wings —”.