Oh punish — pray —
The Real one died for Thee —
Just Him — not me —
Such Guilt — to love Thee — most!
Doom it beyond the Rest —
Forgive it — last —
'Twas base as Jesus' — most!
Let Justice not mistake —
We Two — looked so alike —
Which was the Guilty Sake —
'Twas Love's — Now Strike!
F562 (1863) J394
In this ironical poem, Dickinson lashes out at a lover who seems to have blamed her for loving him too much. In a neat rhetorical twist, she separates herself from the quality of Love. It's a courtroom drama, appropriate for a poet in a lawyerly family. The poet plaintiff begins by naming Love as the culprit, the one who "died for Thee". He, Love, is the "Real one". The poet, then, is the seemingly rational one who would never give over her life to someone.
Perhaps the argument has a parallel to cases where the defendant blames the passion of the moment – rage, jealousy, fear – in seeking to avoid the severest penalty. Part of the poem's irony is that unlike those negative emotions, the speaker is trying to throw Love under the bus.
The irony sharpens to heavy sarcasm in the second stanza: " Oh, and it was such guilt, wasn't it, to love you more than anything. Yes, that dooms it beyond anything else; love should be the last thing forgiven. Why, my Love was almost as base as Jesus'!"
The poem concludes with a direct address to the Judge. The speaker and Love may seem like the same person, but which one is guilty? Which one had the most at stake? Why, it was love. Dickinson ends the poem with a farcical urging for "Justice" to "Strike" the guilty love right away. Since Dickinson introduced Jesus into the poem, it is hard not to remember that he, like poor love, suffered capital punishment.
It's a difficult, highly compressed poem. I may be reading it all wrong. David Preest shares this reading, but I read a first-page snippet from scholar Bernhard Frank in Explicator who said that the "thee" (addressee) and the "He" (referent) are God and Christ. That's all the snippet showed, so I am unable to follow the argument. I assume that in the first stanza Jesus is dying for his father, God.
I'm sticking with Preest here. The speaker at the end is almost daring the judge/lover to strike down love. There's an impudent tone to it that seems fitting in a poem to a lover not wanting such intensity, perhaps, from the woman.