Doth seldom go abroad —
Diviner Crowd at Home —
Obliterate the need —
And Courtesy forbids
The Host's departure – when
Upon Himself – be visiting
The Emperor of Men —
F592 (1863) J674
This poem was addressed to Dickinson's sister-in-law "Sue" and signed "Emily". With that in mind, it seems Dickinson is providing a rationale for not visiting or going out. How could she "go abroad", afterall, while hosting "The Emperor of Men"? It wouldn't be courteous at all. Dickinson makes two justifications for staying home: In the first stanza she explains there is no need to go out because better company is at hand. In the second, she says it wouldn't be courteous to do so.
The reader must speculate about just who "Himself", the "Emperor of Men" might be. I've read several commentaries, each with a different answer. One says the Diviner guest is her own divine soul. I would take that to mean that she is, on a deep level, wanting that company and concerned about driving it away. Our daily persona, our workaday interior life can certainly be on hold while we go out and about. We probably just take it along with us wherever we go. But Dickinson has in earlier poems described an inner sanctum, a forge where the soul burns at a white heat To be in the presence of that Soul requires all one's attention. If blessed with its accessible presence, how could you leave it?
Another commenter suggested Dickinson was so caught up in Shakespeare or one of her other favorite authors, that she couldn't be torn away. Shakespeare, in this case, would be the Emperor of Men. I like this reading because it matches the wry tone of the poem, especially the second stanza.
The third reading is a more literal one: the poet feels she is in the presence of a divine visitor such as the spirit of God or even Jesus. To me, this interpretation seems too ponderous for the poem. I would suggest that Emily is simply referring ironically to her stern and august father – a deeply religious man, he would provide a "Diviner Crowd" – except that he wouldn't be a visiting Guest.
But then I can imagine various scenarios. Perhaps Sue, her sister-in-law, and her brother Austen (the couple lived next door) were hosting Samuel Bowles or some other fine "Emperor of Men" – and Dickinson was wryly acknowledging that they couldn't come to call with such a divine guest.
That masculine "Himself" in reference to the soul might mean a man is the Soul in question – or it might just be Dickinson being grandly and generically human.
Readers? What think you?