I never felt at Home – Below –
And in the Handsome Skies
I shall not feel at Home – I know –
I don't like Paradise –
Because it's Sunday – all the time –
And Recess – never comes –
And Eden'll be so lonesome
Bright Wednesday Afternoons –
If God could make a visit –
Or ever took a Nap –
So not to see us – but they say
Himself – a Telescope
Perennial beholds us –
Myself would run away
From Him – and Holy Ghost – and All –
But there's the "Judgement Day"!
F437 (1862) J413
I particularly like this poem if only for the poet’s hope that if she ends up in Paradise, with its endless Sundays, that God would at least take a nap from time to time. But she figures that this would be a vain hope for God can’t lie down and shut his eyes. He is a giant eye – a telescope that “Perennial beholds us.” And like a naughty child, the speaker would just as soon run away from God, the Holy Ghost – and the whole heavenly gang. Except, she adds, there’s “‘Judgement Day.”’ Wouldn’t want things to go wrong there …
|The Panopticon "is the diagram of a mechanism of power |
reduced to its ideal form (Michel Foucault, 1977)
Dickinson’s poems cover a wide range of responses to God and the divine. I sense that though she might fawn or rage or question or scorn or tease, she is always engaged with the Almighty, always teasing out the thought that there is something out there, something beyond this life, even if it may only be a long sleep as “Worlds scoop their Arcs – / And firmaments – row” (F124).
The first stanza of this poem makes it clear that while she “shall not feel at Home” in Paradise, neither does she feel at home on earth. Despite the childish and wry humor Dickinson employs, there is the existential question of where “home” is, of where we can run when we run away from God. I think of Jonah who tried to escape God only to end up in a whale’s belly. I think of all the authority figures, especially the patriarchal ones, from whom there is no running away. Just as Dickinson could not escape her austere, Calvinistic father (“His Heart was pure and terrible…” [letter to Higginson 1874]), she knows there is no running away from the final Judgment where souls will be sifted into heaven or hell.
The “Handsome Skies” that sounds so winsome at first ends up seeming a terrible and eternal trap, a sort of Panopticon as designed by Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century where all the prisoners can be observed at all times by a central observer – whom the prisoners can never see.