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17 October 2012

They leave us with the Infinite


They leave us with the Infinite,
But He—is not a man—
His fingers are the size of fists—
His fists, the size of men—

And whom he foundeth, with his Arm
As Himmaleh, shall stand—
Gibraltar's Everlasting Shoe
Poised lightly on his Hand,

So trust him, Comrade—
You for you, and I, for you and me
Eternity is ample,
And quick enough, if true.
                                                            F352 (1862)  350

I believe this poem builds on earlier ones where Dickinson speaks of a heavenly marriage to a man with whom she has pledged her love. We most recently saw this in “He touched me, so I live to know” (F349) where the speaker yearns for that eventual “Port” where she can join with her beloved as Rebecca joined Isaac. This poem reads as an attempt to buck up a potentially wavering lover. Perhaps he isn’t as hopeful as the poet about living a lifetime apart, secure in knowing that they’ll be united in Heaven.
            Dickinson begins as if in the middle of this conversation: “They [society and its conventional view of marriage] leave us with the Infinite.” In other words, “We don’t have any other choice but to wait for Eternity where we can at last be joined.” Too bad for Dickinson that she fell in love with married men! No earthly and conventional wedding for her. But the Infinite is not to be despised, for “He”—clearly God—is huge and strong. If he puts his giant arm and hand out to protect you, there is not need for fear. Why he could support the entire Himalayas! The Rock of Gibraltar is but an “Everlasting Shoe / Poised lightly on his Hand.”
Gibraltar does look a bit like a shoe with its heel side up.
            The third stanza is all exhortation: “trust him, Comrade.” And don’t worry if you can’t muster up quite enough faith. Just have faith enough for yourself, and I will have enough trust for both “you and me.” “Eternity is ample,” she reassures him. Plenty of time for us, so no need to fret now. And because in comparison with eternity, our human lives are very very short, she adds a final comforting note: eternity will come “quick enough.”
            But just as she offers the reassurance, she almost snatches it away in the last line: “if true.” What a caveat! What if it’s not true?? Well then, they would have postponed the consummation of their love for nothing. Since Dickinson is nothing if not skeptical about the accepted revealed truths of Christianity, she would probably feel compelled to add that “if true” caveat to the poem, even at the risk of sounding ham-handed. I think she does, but then again I don’t particularly like this poem. The best part, for me, is the image of Gibraltar as a giant shoe.

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