I deemed Eternity
A Revelation of Yourself —
'Twas therefore Deity
The Absolute — removed
The Relative away —
That I unto Himself adjust
My slow idolatry —
F488 (1862) J765
For a poet classified as "lyric" by many scholars, Dickinson can be extremely abstract. This poem is full of abstract nouns: Time, Eternity, Revelation, Absolute, Relative, Deity, and idolatry. That's almost one per line! I wonder if part of her fluency with the abstract didn't begin as she grew up with the legal language of a lawyer father and a brother studying to become a lawyer, as well as within a religion characterized by contracts.
The poem is divided into two considerations of worship. The first stanza is nostalgic: the poet looks back at the awe-struck love she once had for someone. "You constituted Time," she writes, and what better way is there to say that someone filled your life, that your days and weeks and even minutes were tolled according to the beloved's actions, that to be with the beloved was to be in a state that transcends time – which Dickinson denotes "Eternity." The beloved was her deity.
The key word of the poem comes in the second stanza where the poet must "adjust" her "idolatry" to the "Absolute." The "Deity" of the first stanza is not the "Himself" of the second. As Absolute, he came to overshadow – he "removed" – the "Relative" deity worshipped in the poet's "slow" and inexperienced youth. The first experience was powerful and consuming, but the beloved was still in the class of mortals and could be compared to others. The poet's love for this mortal, dependent as it must be on external and internal variables, functions as a precursor to what she experiences with the Absolute.
|Georgia O'Keefe, Blue Flower, 1918|
It is also easy to focus on that word "adjust" as a signal that the former love was for Sue – her dear and passionately loved friend, her neighbour, and her sister in law. Such a forbidden love would, by the mores of the day, need adjustment.
In "Just Once! Oh least Request!" (F478), Dickinson writes a droll poem to Samuel Bowles, a man many scholars believe Dickinson deeply loved, addressing him playfully as "Sweet Deity" and asking "Adamant," a "God of Flint," if he wouldn't accept a barrel of apples. Despite its light tone, I use this poem as an example of a human Absolute because it was written in the same period of time (if Franklin's assessment of chronology is correct). That being said, however, the poem just prior to that, "He fumbles at your Soul" (F477) – is a poem which I take to be about the almost brutal power of a male God.
As usual, Dickinson's poetry defies easy explication.
The poem has a simple and regular construction: four-line stanzas in a modified ballad format. Lines A, B, and D are in iambic trimeter; while C is tetrameter. Dickinson uses slant rhymes for B and D lines. I particularly like that three of those rhyming words rhyme with each other – and are abstract nouns: Eternity, Deity, idolatry.