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27 May 2013

Love — thou art high —

Love — thou art high —
I cannot climb thee —
But, were it Two —
Who knows but we —
Taking turns — at the Chimborazo —
Ducal — at last — stand up by thee —

Love — thou are deep —
I cannot cross thee —
But, were there Two
Instead of One —
Rower, and Yacht — some sovereign Summer —
Who knows — but we'd reach the Sun?

Love — thou are Veiled —
A few — behold thee —
Smile — and alter — and prattle — and die —
Bliss — were an Oddity — without thee —
Nicknamed by God —
Eternity —

                                                            F452  (1862)  J453

Love is an adventure best undertaken by two. The poet depicts love as high, that by herself she might never scale it but with her lover they might take turns and arrive, proud as dukes, at its summit. Further, it is deep. Alone the poet couldn’t cross it, but if there were two together, one a rower and the other a boat, they might be able to cross the depths of the sky to reach the summer sun itself.

            Finally, love is “Veiled” and very few people ever truly see it. Most smile, prattle, and die as they change through life. But to the poet, heavenly “Bliss” would be an “Oddity,” really not bliss at all, if the beloved were not there at all. It would be more like “Eternity” – which is God’s nickname, and one not nearly so tempting as “bliss.”

            I don’t know what to make of the poem. I can’t say I like it or find much to say about it, so I’ll just include Frederick Edwin Church’s study of Mount Chimborazo, dated 1857. Dickinson may have heard of it, and certainly she was aware of such exotic travel locations. If anyone out there has something to add about this poem, please do so!


  1. I would just add that Chimborazo is a volcano and, therefore, evokes a quality of fire and passion beneath glaciers. As you note, Chimborazo was a subject of paintings by Frederic Church, a contemporary of ED. Church also spent summers in East Eden, Maine where he painted some of his Chimborazo paintings and where Samuel Bowles was apparently a neighbor in the 1860s.

    I have to say that I actively dislike this poem. The use of "thee" and "thou" and the metaphors of climbing a mountain or crossing an ocean are cloying and tired. The metaphors are also mixed -- how do you row across a lake and reach the sun?

    The last stanza has some interest -- why do "A few -- behold" love? I interpret "thee" in the last stanza to continue to refer to love -- rather than to the lover. If so, then this stanza drops the conceit of lovers working together to realize love. The line "Smile -- and alter -- and prattle -- and die" is cryptic and interesting. Perhaps this is a comment on love in the human world of impermanence and death -- contrasted in the last two lines with god's love. But in other poems, ED does not depict god's love in the abstract -- she actively rejects the abstraction of religious belief.

    1. Very interesting comment. Thank you!

    2. Mount Chimborazo is the highest mountain in the world. However, it is not the tallest mountain, just the furthest from the center of the earth. It is the closest point to the moon and to outer space. All of this Emily Dickinson probably didn't know. In her day it was a climbing challenge in her time and an Icon as shown by it's presence in the back ground of Frederick Church's the 13th century it was thought to be the tallest mountain in the world.

  2. Hello Susan

    Your webpage is really beautiful. I am working on Emily's poems. Sometimes I come here and read your notes. They are very useful. I hope u can contact me too.

    1. thanks you! I can't get an English translation for your website. Maybe you could include a button? Google translate says: "This page was not retrieved from its original location over a secure connection."

  3. To comment on the idea from anonymous that in the second stanza, ED mixed her metaphors, rowing on a lake, then reaching the sun. I see the rower/yacht team as heading west where the setting sun would be on the horizon.

    I do agree the "thee" and "thou" and the "art high" are a turn off.

  4. I agree with Anonymous 1 that only the last few lines save the poem. I'm not bothered by sea/sky metaphors -- in fact I like them. ED uses them in various sunset poems and in her wonderful Bird came down a Walk poem.

    I'm also not keen on apostrophizing to Love, especially with the thees and thous.

  5. I agree - the pronouns are annoying. Is this maybe a conscious distancing mechanism - a way to alienate the reader and suggest her own attitudes about love? I find ED’s ideas of love to be often disturbing and obsessive and creepy, but she also pokes fun at herself, sometimes, for her own ideas. I need to think about a concrete example of that, but I get that distinct idea sometimes.

    1. Like maybe "I envy Seas, whereon He rides—"

  6. I agree that this might not be ED‘s most outstanding Poem but I still like it.

    As for the Metaphors: I really enjoy them, as I mostly enjoy her use of Nature or efforts within it. („Who never lost are unprepared“ for example)

    And I think everyone is being really hard on her for the thou and thee. It was a form of formality, used when speaking to higher ranks. Also used frequently by Shakespeare, who we know, Emily adored.
    Shakespeare is all over a lot of her poems. I think in this one, the last Verse reminds a litte of his Sonnet 116. Especially on one line of it: „Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.“, which reminds of Verse three, line three.
    Another Poem in which she uses Thou and Thee are for example „Wild nights! Wild nights!“ and the already mentioned „Who never lost are unprepared“ and I feel that they definitel change the tone, as they do here, but certainly not in a bad way. They bring a little bit of drama and maybe even importance to the topic or the person.

    1. I feel it similar to her use of Captions

  7. There was only one person ED promised to join in Heaven, Charles Wadsworth. If he weren’t there, eternity would be strange (“oddity”, ED Lexicon).

    “And so when all the time had failed—
    Without external sound—
    Each—bound the other's Crucifix—
    We gave no other Bond—

    “Sufficient troth—that we shall rise—
    Deposed—at length—the Grave—
    To that new Marriage—
    Justified—through Calvaries of Love!”

    ‘There came a Day—at Summer's full’, F325