And spotted it with tears —
Upon his infant face was set
The Cicatrice of years —
All crumpled was the cheek
No other kiss had known
Than flake of snow, divided with
The Redbreast of the Barn —
If Mother — in the Grave —
Or Father — on the Sea —
Or Father in the Firmament —
Or Brethren, had he —
If Commonwealth below,
Or Commonwealth above
Have missed a Barefoot Citizen —
I've ransomed it — alive —
F486 (1862) J763
Just a few poems ago Dickinson wrote being moved by a little bird with a pleading look and giving it some crumbs. Here she writes of helping a homeless boy. She employs quite a bit of pathos in the poem, quite openly tugging at our heartstrings. We see a young boy, crying a bit as he tells his story. Despite his young age, his face was scarred. Perhaps because he was offered kindness and a kiss, his face "crumpled." It was his first kiss – except for the snowflakes that filtered into the barn he shared once with a bird.
The narrator then calls out to anyone who might have a claim on the boy: mother, father, God, brothers, an earthly community, or even a heavenly community. She wants them to know that she has rescued this "Barefoot Citizen."
What's interesting to me is how Dickinson slips in "Father in the Firmament" among the missing parents (dead mother, sailor father out at sea), and Heaven along with earth. Is God no better than a deadbeat Dad or impoverished sailor who may not even know of his wife's death? Is Heaven no better than an earthly community that too easily loses track of its most needy members?
|Steiglitz: Venetian Boy, 1887|
I also wonder if Dickinson hadn't been reading the following passage in the family Bible, or had recently heard a sermon on its topic of helping the unfortunate.
New International Version (NIV)
Parable of the Sheep and the Goats
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’