By this — was William Kidd
Persuaded of the Buried Gold —
As One had testified —
Through this — the old Philosopher —
His Talismanic Stone
Discerned — still withholden
To effort undivine —
'Twas this — allured Columbus —
When Genoa — withdrew
Before an Apparition
Baptized America —
The Same — afflicted Thomas —
When Deity assured
'Twas better — the perceiving not —
Provided it believed —
F561 (1863) J555)
Advising us to "Trust in the Unexpected" is a far different thing than to simply expect and be ready for the unexpected. The latter is prudent while trust seems rash – even if one believes in beneficial divine intervention or great favors from fate. If Dickinson is urging the reader to trust in the unexpected, she does not make a strong case for it. In fact, I'm not sure what to make of this poem, even the first line, so I'll take it stanza by stanza, each being a separate example.
First, Captain Kidd is known for burying treasure, not finding it; the treasure he did bury he never got to enjoy. His career was riddled with ill fortune and ended with his neck in a noose. Dickinson would have been familiar with him, as Kidd patrolled the New England Coast on behalf of New York and Massachusetts provinces in the late 1600s. He later buried chests of gold and silver on New York's Gardiners Island before sailing to Boston to be tried for piracy. Consequently, what Dickinson means by his being "persuaded of the Buried Gold" isn't clear to me. Perhaps this was a story current in Dickinson's time. But if he were persuaded that there was buried gold to be had, why would this example count as trusting the unexpected? What is Dickinson getting at?
The Alchymist in Search of the
Philosophers' Stone, Joseph Wright, 1771
The stanza on Columbus is not clear to me. Perhaps it says that Columbus' trust in the unexpected lured him on even after his home city of Genoa declined to support his proposed journey. He ventured forth even before knowing about the "apparition" later named America. If this reflects Dickinson's intent in the stanza, it still isn't strong evidence to support her claim. Columbus believed he could sail to the East Indies. He wasn't trusting the unexpected but banking on his sense of geography. He never did admit (or realize?) that he had reached a new continental area. It seems likely to me that a sailor venturing into new waters would be armed against the unexpected rather than trusting it.
Finally, Thomas is an example of someone who did not trust in the unexpected. Encountering a man who others considered to be Jesus, recently executed and buried, Thomas had to actually feel one of his wounds before offering his trust. In this case, perhaps Thomas should have trusted the unexpected.
Maybe Dickinson is counseling us to trust our inner compass, even if the outcome would be unexpected to the outside world.
Or maybe she is being ironical.
Readers, I hope you have insights to share!