Search This Blog

30 April 2012

If He dissolve – then – there is nothing – more –

If He dissolve – then – there is nothingmore
Eclipse – at Midnight
It was darkbefore

Sunset – at Easter
Blindness – on the Dawn
Faint Star of Bethlehem –
Gone down!

Would but some Godinform Him –
Or it be too late!
Say – that the pulse just lisps
The Chariots wait

Say – that a little life – for His –
Is leakingred
His little Spaniel – tell Him!
Will He heed?
                                                            F251 (1861)  236

This cringing poem is reminiscent of F237:

What shall I do – it whimpers so – 

This little Hound within the Heart


The poet uses an excessive amount of italics to emphasize the emotions – as if the exaggerated list of woes is not enough. Things have deteriorated, however, since F237. If the beloved “He” “dissolves” or fades away out of her life, then there will be nothing more left. Life would be as dark as an “Eclipse – at Midnight.” It might have been dark before, but her life will be even blacker. She continues: Instead of the glorious sun rise of Easter, a glorious emblem of the Resurrection when Jesus rose from the dead, it will be sunset. The Dawn, instead, will be black as blindness. The star that blazed in the heavens leading the way to the holy manger where baby Jesus lay would have “gone down” – a more dire image than had it simply faded away. The loss of the beloved would be as if the Christian Saviour, Jesus, had never been born, had never been resurrected – and so all hope of life eternal and forgiveness of sins, etc., would be lost.
This carriage hearse is waiting
for the coffin
            The poem continues in the third stanza with the hope that unless “some God” tell the beloved about all this nasty stuff that will happen to the speaker, it might be “too late!” Her pulse is faint, just lisping along. The chariot of death is waiting at her door. Hey, no pressure. Apparently there isn’t time enough for a letter or human messenger to reach him: it has to be the oddly phrased “some God,” as if Mercury or Venus might help her out.
            The last stanza returns to the whimpering dog image. But this time the dog isn’t just whimpering, it is “leaking – red” with its blood. His “little Spaniel” is dying. He must be told! But, the question is asked, “Will he heed?” Reader, what would you do? Probably, you would run. This poem, however, was probably never sent to the missing beloved. It was tucked away in the same fascicle or booklet as the Little Hound poem and others that scholars have concluded refer to Samuel Bowles.
            Dickinson’s love poetry gets better – and several earlier poems are already better. This one is a private outpouring of heartbreak. I’ve been there and written even worse poetry. I’d hate to think that someone would excavate it after I die!

29 April 2012

The Court is far away –


The Court is far away – 

No Umpire – have I – 

My Sovereign is offended – 

To gain his grace – I’d die!



I’ll seek his royal feet – 

I’ll say – Remember – King – 

Thou shalt – thyself – one day – a Child – 

Implore a larger – thing – 



That Empire – is of Czars – 

As small – they say – as I – 

Grant me – that day – the royalty – 

To intercede – for Thee
                                                            F250 (1861)  235

This little poem tries to wheedle a reconciliation to some “Sovereign” whom the narrator has offended. It is probably a love interest for she would give her life in order to regain his “grace” or esteem. This is probably a bit of high-flung hyperbole and so establishes a light teasing tone to the poem. The central metaphor is of  a humble subject appealing to her king.
            The speaker’s strategy for reinstating herself into her king’s good graces depend on her making a good argument. The king and his court are “far away” so this seeking of “royal feet” will probably  have to wait. Nor does the supplicant have anyone to umpire or intercede for her. But she has the postal service! She could mail her argument to him – or this poem!
Seeking his royal pointy feet
            She plans an argument for leniency rather than offering an apology. Her argument is that one day this king will himself have to present himself as a child to the gates of heaven and ask to be admitted. That’s the “larger – thing” that he must “Implore.” She refers to the saints and heavenly hosts as “Czars” for they are, by lights of this poem and other poems Dickinson wrote, greater than any mere mortal. Just as the king must hope for acceptance, so he should grant the poet’s plea for grace.
            The last part of the argument stipulates that heavenly Czars are “As small – they say – as I.” That is probably a reference to Jesus’ claim in the Beatitudes (Matthew 3-12) that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit and that the meek will inherit the earth. Dickinson, who referred to herself as small and meek, is arguing that these Czars will listen to her intercession. This might help out the King when he needs it most!
            The poet, then, is asking two be granted two things: to be reinstated in the good graces of her offended Sovereign and to be granted the royal privilege of interceding for him when he faces his maker. It’s a clever little argument and I have no doubt that any offence the poet may have caused was smoothed over by this poem.

28 April 2012

You're right – "the way is narrow" –


You're right    "the way is narrow" 
And "difficult the Gate" 
And "few there be"    Correct again 
That "enter in    thereat" 

'Tis Costly    So are purples!
'Tis just the price of Breath 
With but the "Discount" of the Grave 
Termed by the Brokers    "Death"!

And after that    there's Heaven 
The Good Man's    "Dividend" 
And Bad Men    "go to Jail" 
I guess –
                                                            F249 (1861)  234

Dickinson discusses the road to Heaven with either a religious person or perhaps even Jesus himself. Referring to a sermon Jesus reportedly gave,* she agrees that the way to Heaven is narrow and difficult, but seems to stop short of concurring that there is any punishment – Hell – for those who aren’t good enough to stay on the right road. Her tone is breezy and dismissive, even sarcastic. She adopts the language of commerce, as if life is an investment aided by brokers and paying off with dividends. The price of life, or “Breath,” is costly – but, hey, there is this great Death discount! You won’t have to pay forever!
I feel sorry for the people on the wrong narrow path. Maybe
they are heretics. They are cruelly disppointed to end up
in the same nasty place as the great throng of sinners.
            The dismissive sarcastic tone begins with the aside, “Correct again.” Today we might say, “Yep, it’s a tough road and that gate’s a toughie. Check. And you say that hardly anyone makes it in? Bingo.” Why is Dickinson so dismissive here? It seems she is skeptical of the ultimate destination and purpose. Life itself is “Costly,” she implies – like buying the sort of clothes royalty might wear with its expensive purple dyes. Just being born incurs the cost of living, “the price” – again the financial lingo – “of Breath.” The “Brokers”  – those men who claim knowledge and authority – are the clergy who dispense their knowledge.  It is again sarcasm when she notes that another word for their “Discount” on the cost of life’s difficult investment is “Death.”
            The last stanza summarily dismisses the dual destinations of Heaven, a “Dividend” for the good, and Hell, or “Jail” where the “Bad men” go, with a shrug: “I guess.” “Yeah, whatever,” we might say. Sure.
            The poem sounds to me like a response to a sermon where the clergyman made the extended analogy she discusses: life as a costly investment, heaven as a dividend, and a punitive place for the miscreants.
            As far as meter, the poem hums along in iambic trimeter with the third line of each stanza iambic tetrameter. But then to add emphasis, the last line, “I guess – ,” that retrospectively embues the whole poem with such irony,  is separated from the line before. Without this emphatic separation, the line would have been another 3rd line iambic tetrameter. There is a “missing” last line, a purposeful omission that leaves the doubt hanging midair. The poet is unresolved on the issue and so is the poem.


* ‘Enter ye in by the narrow gate: for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that enter in thereby. For narrow is the gate and straitened is the way that leadeth into life, and few be they that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

27 April 2012

The Sun – just touched the Morning –


The Sun – just touched the Morning – 

The Morning – Happy thing – 

Supposed that He had come to dwell – 

And Life would all be Spring!



She felt herself supremer – 

A Raised – Ethereal Thing!

Henceforth – for Her – What Holiday!

Meanwhile – Her wheeling King – 

Trailed – slow – along the Orchards – 

His haughty – spangled Hems – 

Leaving a new necessity!

The want of Diadems!


The Morning – fluttered – staggered – 

Felt feebly – for Her Crown – 

Her unanointed forehead – 

Henceforth – Her only One!
                                                            F246 (1861)  232

“The Daisy follows soft the Sun” (F161) has been considered by some scholars to be a love poem about unrequited but faithful love. In this simple story of an anthropomorphized Morning who is bewildered and “staggered” by the sun’s seeming desertion as the day moves forward,  the unhappy course of a one-sided love affair is portrayed in even more desolate imagery. The conceit of the poem depends on imagining Morning as an independent entity lingering in some undefined state until “touched” (“just touched,” in fact, to make the one-sidedness of the relationship more pronounced) by the Sun on his daily round. Or perhaps every Morning is different and this one, like a new ingénue or debutante, had just emerged. Poor naïve thing: shet felt that this simple touch meant so much more than it actually did. The Sun would live with her forever and then it would be non-stop Spring! Alas, readers will be shaking their heads. It just doesn’t work that way. Hope may spring eternal, but spring itself is ephemeral.
Who needs a crown with hair
like this? (Louis XIV - Sun King)
            But the inexperienced Morning felt uplifted. Her life from now on would not be a banal string of day upon day, but rather hold the delights of a perpetual “Holiday.”
Helios, Sun God, and his Chariot
bringing the sun across the sky
            The sun, the King (and the sun and kings are often equated – think of Hyperion the Sun God, or Louis XIV the Sun King) is portrayed as distant and “haughty” with his fancy “spangled Hems.” He wheels majestically through the day until, lowering in the west, he trails slowly over the orchard leaving poor Morning far behind. For Morning can never follow her lord into the later realms of Day and Night.
            Morning’s response is just what we would expect from an abandoned maiden: she “fluttered” faintly, staggering with the shock. We see her feeling her head “feebly” for the crown she felt must have been granted her, but there is none. Instead, she will have to live with her “unanointed forehead” for the rest of her life.
            This last image implies a seduction. The Sun has deflowered Morning leaving her in the “necessity” of a diadem or crown – or wedding ring. But alas, she realizes that no such pledge or emblem of reciprocal love and faithfulness will be forthcoming. The image recalls an earlier poem (F194):
Title divine,  is mine.
The Wife  without the Sign  –
Acute Degree conferred on me  –
Empress of Calvary  –
Royal, all but the Crown  –
Betrothed, without the Swoon
God gives us Women –
When You hold  Garnet to Garnet  –
Gold  –  to Gold  –
Born  –  Bridalled  –  Shrouded  –
In a Day -
Tri Victory  –
"My Husband"  –  Women say -
Stroking the Melody  –
Is this  –  the way –

In this earlier poem, however, the poet holds on to the faith that although she doesn’t have the Crown she is still “Royal” and “Betrothed.” That confidence is missing from the current poem where the devastated Morning feels betrayed. 

25 April 2012

God permits industrious Angels –


God permits industrious Angels  –
Afternoons  –  to play  –
I met one  –  forgot my schoolmates  –
All  –  for Him  –  straightway  –

God calls home  –  the Angels  –  promptly  –
At the Setting Sun  –
I missed mine  –  how dreary  –  Marbles  –
After playing Crown!
                                                            F245 (1861)  231

Game of marbles from around the time of
this poem, by Christian Schussele
God is very  much a strict father in this poem. If his angels work hard he allows them a bit of play in the afternoon. Interestingly, the angels – or at least one angel – play with human children. Dickinson claims, rather audaciously, that she met an angel herself one day. Naturally she “forgot” her schoolmates for the opportunity of playing with an angel. Nowadays we’d be a bit suspicious if our little girl came home and said an Angel had dropped by the school at recess or after school and she’d played with him. But those were simpler times.
            God doesn’t leave the Angels too much free time, however. At sunset they must go home – “promptly”!
            Playtime just wasn’t the same anymore for the young poet. She missed the angel (whom she claims as “mine”) and, sadly, playing marbles with the other children just wasn’t the same anymore. In fact, it was “dreary.”  What did she play with the angel, if not marbles? Why, “Crown,” of course. Did the angel have a crown in his pocket to entice the little girl to play?  Or perhaps it was the sailor’s gambling dice game, “Crown and Anchor,” and the angel took the little girl’s penny candy money.
            At any rate, Dickinson wrote several poems where in the after life common folks will wear crowns. Perhaps it all started back in her youth…

24 April 2012

One Life of so much Consequence!


One Life of so much Consequence!

Yet I – for it – would pay – 

My Soul's entire income – 

In ceaseless – salary – 



One Pearl – to me – so signal – 

That I would instant dive – 

Although – I knew – to take it – 

Would cost me – just a life!


The Sea is full – I know it!

That – does not blur my Gem!

It burns – distinct from all the row – 

Intact – in Diadem!



The life is thick – I know it!

Yet – not so dense a crowd – 

But Monarchs – are perceptible – 

Far down the dustiest Road!
                                                            F248 (1861)  270

Pearls are prized world wide. Jesus himself said, ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it (Matthew13: 45-6).’ Dickinson expresses a similar sentiment here, expressing her willingness to pay her “Soul’s entire income” for it. And not just a year’s income, but “ceaseless” income. She would pay sell her soul for all eternity for “One Life,” a Pearl of great value.
Princess Eugenie's Pearl Diadem
            She doesn’t say who the pearl represents, but she would risk her life out of love for him or her (scholar Judith Farr argues that the pearl stands for Sue Dickinson, Emily’s beloved girlhood friend and then sister in law; Farr makes her case, in part, by showing how other Pearl poems and letters are linked to Sue). The sea is full of pearls, but that doesn’t “blur” her feelings for this one pearl. It stands out for her among all the others. Her Pearl “burns” in its brilliant white glow in a Diadem (crown, or tiara). Ominously, she knows that to make that dive after the beloved would in some way kill her. The dive is too treacherous, the emotional cost too great. But the poet dismisses that as saying, in keeping with the idea of paying in the first stanza, that it would cost her “just a life” – as if her life were of little value compared to the reward of simply diving for the pearl.
            The poet then broadens her description of love by saying that no matter how thick with crowds the roads and towns may be, true royalty will stand out and be visible. Likewise, no matter how many people, the beloved’s face will be recognizable even “Far down the dustiest Road!”
            The poem is full of confident emphasis. The dangers are clearly spelled out and the poet emphasizes her awareness of them. She knows that diving (and the word implies a plunge to the deepest levels) for the pearl is a mortal quest; she knows the “Sea is full” of other pearls, that life is full of other potential beloveds. But none of that matters because of her intense love and desire. A “Life of so much Consequence” indeed!
            The poem’s emphatic insistence is reinforced by several repetitions and parallel constructions. There is “One Life” and “One Pearl.” She introduces the repetition of “I know it!” by “I knew.” The diver doesn’t want anyone to think she undertakes her quest without knowing full well the risks and the arguments against it. The main argument against it comes in another pair of repetitions: “The sea is full” (of pearls) and “The life is thick” (with people).
            It’s a beautifully constructed and powerful love poem.

23 April 2012

The Lamp burns sure – within –

The Lamp burns sure – within – 

Tho' Serfs – supply the Oil – 

It matters not the busy Wick – 

At her phosphoric toil!



The Slave – forgets – to fill – 

The Lamp – burns golden – on – 

Unconscious that the oil is out – 

As that the Slave – is gone.
                                                            F247 (1861)  233

An inner flame is often said to light the paths of revolutionaries, missionaries, mystics – and poets. The oil lamp here represents that flame. The poet, the “busy Wick,” burns “at her phosphoric toil.” White phosphorus emits a glow when exposed to oxygen, and so the toil of the Poet/Wick is to write poems that glow with some of that inner fire.  
            “Serfs” had been providing the necessary fuel for the lamp, although the Wick never noticed or cared. But the second stanza makes it clear that ordinary market oil isn’t what truly fuels this flame. For although the “Slave” forgets to refill the lamp and all the oil is gone, “The Lamp – burns golden – on.” The Wick, writing in the midst of creative fire, notices neither the absence of the “Slave” nor the oil. Nor does she need to! She still has light.
            The question one asks of this poem is who are these Serfs and Slave? Many poets have had the luxury of a wife or partner or trustfund to see them through. The aristocracy had slaves, serfs, and servants to attend to their needs. As Dickinson wrote this poem, the United States was embarking on a bloody Civil War with slavery at the heart of the hostilities. Is this poem also making the point that slaves aren't needed, that the golden lamplight of the nation will continue to burn without their forced and unpaid labor?
           Perhaps the "Serfs" and "Slave" refer to the body of the poet herself. Her hands and stomach, for example, might be viewed as serfs to her inner poetic flame. One would assume they are necessary to fuel the poet. But no: the creative fire burns even without the oil of food, drink, or or other seeming necessities.

            I have no clear answer, but it seems that the Lamp that “burns sure” will burn despite an earthly and material fuel and despite having attendants.  Interestingly, Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of a sacred lamp that burned for eight days without oil. After the forces of Roman ruler Antiochus IV had been driven from the Jewish Temple in 165 BCE by rebel patriots under the Maccabees, it was discovered that almost all of the ritual olive oil had been profaned. The Temple needed to be rededicated, but there was only enough good oil to light the sacred lamp (the menorah) for one day. They used this, yet it burned for eight days (the time it took to have new oil pressed and made ready). Perhaps the miracle of this holy fire is also part of the rich meanings of this simple poem. 

22 April 2012

We – Bee and I – live by the quaffing –

We – Bee and I – live by the quaffing – 

'Tisn't all Hock – with us – 

Life has its Ale – 

But it's many a lay of the Dim Burgundy – 

We chant – for cheer – when the Wines – fail – 


Do we "get drunk"?

Ask the jolly Clovers!

Do we "beat" our "Wife"?
I – never wed – 

Bee – pledges his – in minute flagons – 

Dainty – as the tress – on her deft Head – 



While runs the Rhine – 

He and I – revel –
First – at the vat – and latest at the Vine – 

Noon – our last Cup –
"Found dead" – "of Nectar" – 

By a humming Coroner – 

In a By-Thyme!
                                                            F244 (1861)  230

Emily has a drinking buddy and he is a Bee. They live to drink and in fact the poet expects that some day they will be “Found dead” of drink by noon! This darling poem, as in “I taste a Liquor never brewed” (F207) where the poet is an “Inebriate of Air” and a “Debauchee of Dew,” celebrates the heady intoxication of being alive and in a lovely outdoors. Make no  mistake, this inebriation for Dickinson wouldn’t take place in city or town with shopkeepers and shoppers. Her inebriation has more to do with imbibing a more pure air and observing the flowers, creatures, and skies. Fortunately for Dickinson, her family could afford a large property with garden and orchard; and as a single woman Dickinson never had to give up her delights to support husband and children. Yes, she was the primary caretaker of her chronically ill and housebound mother, and her father depended on her baking and other tasks, but she was withdrawing from the social world at this time and so her spare time was all her own.
A suitably dainty flagon
            In this poem she gives her version of a drinking poem. She and her Bee buddy may live “by the quaffing” (great word!) but they don’t always get the best stuff. “Hock” is a German wine, usually understood to be from the prized Rhine regions. They don’t get that all the time, for “Life has its Ale,” or more bitter drinks. Often, however, they drink a “Dim” or past-prime Burgundy. And sometimes they don’t get anything – the “Wines – fail” – and in those occasions they boost their morale by chanting poetry.
Tresses on a bee's "deft Head"
            Then a bit of boasting: do they get drunk? You betcha: just ask those “jolly Clovers” we were just guzzling for their sweet nectar. But they are good blokes. They don’t beat their wives! Well, the poet admits, she doesn’t have one (and in this poem the poet takes on the voice of a man – more appropriate at the time for a drinking song). Thankfully, the Bee doesn’t beat his either. In fact he toasts her, raising his tiny glass. In a sudden line of lyricism, Dickinson adds that his “minute flagons” are “Dainty – as the tress – on her deft Head.” An image of  a feminine bee with golden hair comes to mind.
            As long as the Rhine wine flows, the two companions enjoy their revels. By the time noon rolls around they’ve drunk as much as they possibly could. The poet expects they’ll be found lifeless by a “humming Coronor” bee as they lie sprawled out in a bed of fragrant thyme. That last phrase is a cute pun: it implies the phrase, “Death by…,” in this case Death by Thyme nectar for the bee. The pun lies in the homonym “by Time,” for the poet. And doesn't Time eventually take us all?
            It’s a merry poem, full of fun.

21 April 2012

That after Horror – that 'twas us –

That after Horror – that 'twas us – 

That passed the mouldering Pier – 

Just as the Granite Crumb let go – 

Our Savior, by a Hair – 



A second more, had dropped too deep

For Fisherman to plumb – 

The very profile of the Thought

Puts Recollection numb – 



The possibility – to pass

Without a moment's Bell – 

Into Conjecture's presence – 

Is like a Face of Steel – 

That suddenly looks into ours

With a metallic grin – 

The Cordiality of Death – 

Who drills his Welcome in – 
                                                            F243 (1861)  286


It’s interesting that in this poem as well as in F238, “How many times these low feet staggered,” Dickinson uses machine imagery to represent death. In F238 the dead body itself was referred to as a “rivet,” its ribcage “hasps of steel.” In this poem it is Death who has the “Face of Steel” and a “metallic grin” that “drills his Welcome in.” This isn’t surprising as so much of Dickinson’s poetry celebrates earthly beauties such as robins, flowers, bees, sunsets, etc., as paradisical. Paradise itself she has likened to a beautiful May day. Metallic, mechanical objects are obvious opposites. If you transpose the once living form into a machine, that is a horror. If you animate a mechanical thing as Death, that is even a greater horror.

            Modern readers have only to think of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books, and the movies based on those books, to see the ravages and hell many pastoralists saw in the Industrial Age. Imagine Hobbiton tucked into sunny, peaceful hills, a little Eden, against Mount Doom in the corrupt and corrupting realm of Gondor. Here, as in Dickinson, Industrialization represents the forces of death while the natural world means life.


The poem examines a near-death experience. Dickinson complicates the reading by leaving out enough words that it takes some close reading to follow some of what happens. I’ve put some words in to flesh out what she (successfully and poetically) elides; I’ve also paraphrased some of the imagery:
That Horror after death – that was us (my soul and I [see previous poem for Dickinson representing her soul as a person within a person]) that passed the rotting Pier of the flesh just as the granite rock anchoring the pier was about to crumble. But then Our Saviour rescued us by a Hair. A second more and we would have dropped too deep into death – for Fishermen to pull us out. The very outline of the Thought makes the recalling of it numb. The very possibility of dying without a marker such as a tolling Bell into the presence of what can only be conjectured is like a Face of Steel that suddenly looks into our face with a metallic grin. This is the Cordiality of Death who drills his ‘Welcome’.

In the second stanza Dickinson recalls Jesus’ words to his soon-to-be disciples Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew as they were fishing along the shore of  Lake Galilee. “Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men"  (Matthew 4:19). The stanza expresses the narrator’s fear that she might fall too far for rescue even by the church (founded by Jesus’ disciples, particularly fisherman Simon Peter). Her use of the singular “Fisherman” may imply that the greatest Fisherman, Jesus himself, might have been unable to save her had she fallen a bit further.

Dickinson captures something of the terror of such a moment not by saying the dying soul would soon face either God or the Devil without sufficient warning, but “Conjecture.” She doesn’t know, can only form conjectures about what might lie ahead. It is this possibility that – far from offering the comfort of even the light at the end of a tunnel that numerous near-death survivors have described – presents itself to her as a leering figure with drills. Perhaps this horror explains her despair expressed in other poems and in some letters over not being with the dying to offer hope and comfort (see “I should not dare to leave my friend,F234).
            The poem anticipates “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,” written the following year where the consciousness or perhaps soul lingers in the dead body for a while, experiencing excruciating sensations until her “mind was going numb.” Eventually “Space – began to toll, / / As all the Heavens were a Bell,” and then the soul is “wrecked, solitary.” The poem ends as “a Plank in Reason, broke,” and the  narrator plunges “down and down.” There is no salvation “by a hair” in that poem. “Because I could not stop for Death,” written within a year, takes a far more benign look at death. There is no pain, nor horror in that poem. Death is courteous and civil and takes the narrator on a leisurely ride to what seems to be eternal rest. It is certainly a welcome turn for the better in Dickinson’s imagery – and perhaps her life.

20 April 2012

It is easy to work when the soul is at play –

It is easy to work when the soul is at play – 

But when the soul is in pain – 

The hearing him put his playthings up

Makes work difficult – then – 



It is simple, to ache in the Bone, or the Rind – 

But Gimblets – among the nerve – 

Mangle daintier – terribler – 

Like a Panther in the Glove – 
                                                            F242 (1861)  244

The two stanzas of the poem open in parallel fashion: “It is easy…” and “It is simple.” One stanza describes the ability to work in happy versus painful, unhappy times. The second contrasts the suffering of common pains such as broken or bruised bones and surface wounds versus internal pain. The strength and originality of the imagery create two very vivid scenarios.
            In the Work stanza Dickinson uses a child as a metaphor for the soul. When the child is playing the work flows as if partaking in the joy. But when the child is in pain – “play” and “pain” are very successful slant rhymes here – work is “difficult.” Any parent would tell you the same. The question implicit in the stanza is what helps the soul play? More than a diet of holy scripture and good works, the poet implies: the soul wants delights. Delight your soul: whether it be through meditation, music, poetry, or time with loved ones. That, Dickinson implies, will help your work.
Imagine this gimlet drilling
into your nervous system!
            The idea of pain is picked up again in the second stanza. This time, however, it isn’t the parental body trying to cope with the soul’s pain, but a person’s ability to cope with excruciating pain in the nerves – which is to say, brain, heart, skin, everything. Dickinson contrasts this nerve pain with the aches from “Bone” or “Rind”: think of bone breaks versus wounds to the flesh (rind of the body). Those body aches are “simple”: they are confined, predictable, and susceptible to healing. The image Dickinson uses for the nerve pain, a gimlet (“Gimblet”) reminds me exactly of the many hours I’ve spent at the dentist. A gimlet is a tiny drill. Imagine it drilling “among the nerve” much as the dentist drills into the nerves of your teeth. If the anesthetic has been insufficient you will know exactly what Dickinson is talking about when she says that having a gimlet drilling into your nerves mangles them. The mangling is more dainty – and more terrible by a long shot – than one of the “simple” injuries.
            I find the image of a panther in my glove a rather comical one, but then I grew up with a gas company advertising slogan of “Put a tiger in your tank.” But the image should make you vicariously feel what it would be like to have your hand shedded and ripped – mangled – while the nice glove you are wearing seems unscathed.
            Both stanzas speak of hidden pains. No one can see the hurt soul. No one can see the “Panther in the Glove.”