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26 December 2012

The face I carry with me—last—

The face I carry with melast—
When I go out of Time—
To take my Rank
byin the West—
That face
will just be thine—

I'll hand it to the Angel—
That
Sir—was my Degree—
In Kingdoms
you have heard the Raised 
Refer topossibly.

He'll take it
scan itstep aside—
Return
with such a crown
As Gabriel—never capered at—
And beg me put it on—

And then—he'll turn me round and round—
To an admiring sky—
As One that bore her Master's name—
Sufficent Royalty!

                                                                        F395 (1862)  J336


Perhaps the ultimate girly dress-up fantasy: take your beloved's face up to heaven, show it to the Angel at the golden gate, and be welcomed with a glorious crown. Then the angel will twirl you around for the delight of angels and an "admiring sky." 
          This love poem is part of the Master's sequence of poems and letters. Scholars debate about who Master was, for Dickinson was passionate about several people—men and women—and it is looking as if we will never know for sure. Clever Dickinson to maintain such a mystery!
          The poem begins with self effacement. Rather than go to heaven ("the West" here) as herself, when the poet goes "out of Time" she will use the face of her beloved Master. She expects a better "Rank" that way. Dickinson has, in earlier poems, referred to the ranks of the Saints and of angels, and to how the saints (dead Christians) will become royalty in heaven. 
          Her effacement, however, isn't abject humility but rather a happy playfulness about how wonderful her master is. In actuality, any of the potential Masters have long since been eclipsed by Dickinson. I wonder if she ever suspected that in future generations it would be her name and life and works that are celebrated.
          The second stanza is a bit of playful dialog the newly arrived poet will have with the angel: "This face, sir, was my claim to nobility back where I came from—and no doubt you've heard other folks here talk about those "Kingdoms." And of course once the receiving angel looks closely at the face he hustles off to get a more beautiful crown than even the famous Arc Angel Gabriel had ever seen. 
http://www.shafe.co.uk/art/Muybridge-_Woman_Pirouetting-_from_Animal_Locomotion-_1887.asp          In the last stanza, the poet is pirouetting and being admired by all and not just for the beautiful crown but because the poet came bearing "her Master's name" —and that is "Sufficient Royalty." This is an arch turn around of the Christian notion that Christians should efface themselves in Jesus and do everything in his name and with his spirit guiding them. But in this playful poem, the poet puts on the face of her beloved and is very much admired for it.
          Another thing Dickinson scholars don't know: Did Master ever read these poems or the Master letters? If he did, one wonders what he would have made of them.

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