A loss or so —
To bend the eye
Best Beauty's way —
But — once aslant
It notes Delight
A Common Bliss
Were had for less —
The price — is
Even as the Grace —
Our lord — thought no
To pay — a Cross —
F538 (1863) J571
This poem comes to a screeching halt for me at the word "Stalactite". Words such as slow, tenacious, subterranean, or accretive are what I think of when describing the thing – none of which add much to the second stanza. Dickinson uses eclipsis (leaving out words) throughout the poem to generally good effect, particularly in the last stanza, but it doesn't help the Stalactite Problem. So, good readers, give me your thoughts. Please tell me it isn't just that it rhymes with "Delight."
Meanwhile I'll start by saying that Dickinson treats the issue of pleasure and gain from pain and vice versa in several poems but none so powerfully (as far as I know so far) as in F772:
Essential Oils—are wrung—The Attar from the RoseBe not expressed by Suns—alone—It is the gift of Screws—
Here, the first and third stanzas are anodyne claims that pain enables the recognition of beauty, but the enjoyment of common happiness requires much less grief. She introduces, however, the idea of "Grace" in the third stanza after suggesting that once woe has enabled the perception of beauty it, perception becomes "aslant" and delight more difficult. The introduction of "Grace" takes the poem to the theme of sacrifice with which she ends the poem.
Once again Dickinson employs a metaphor from the marketplace. The price of bliss – which is pivoted to Grace – reflects the degree of suffering or Woe. The greater the suffering the greater the Bliss/Grace. It's a dollar-for-dollar deal. The thought is carried into the final stanza which might be paraphrased as "Jesus didn't think the price he paid (being crucified) for the salvation of humanity was extravagant."
I think the success of this poem lies in the shorthand Dickinson employs. It makes the poem choppy. It seems simple, even childlike. The Stalactite reference underscores this for me. But all that makes the ending more powerful. We are reading and nodding our heads: yes, pain digs the well that happiness can fill – and of course Kahil Gibran's lovely "On Joy and Sorrow" from The Prophet (written a few years after Dickinson died) elaborates on the same theme. But then in trying to fill in the eclipsis we realize that in Christian theology our salvation requires the torture death of the God/Man Jesus. Again, this is hardly an original idea but Dickinson lends it power through her stripped-bare verbiage. The reader, forced to fill in the blanks, comes to the realization anew.