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30 August 2020

The sweetest Heresy received

 The sweetest Heresy received
That Man and Woman know –
Each Other's Convert –
Though the Faith accommodate but Two –

The Churches are so frequent –
The Ritual – so small –
The Grace so unavoidable –
To fail – is Infidel –
                                                            Fr671 (1863)  J387

I've read a few takes on this poem and really there are but two. The first is that Dickinson is playfully portraying a good marriage. Two people convert to each other and are so in love that nothing seems left for Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Heresy, maybe, but sweet.
        Their services and rituals together are so simple and easy that Grace between them in unavoidable. It would be a real act of denial to fail in the simple gestures of marriage. With 'Infidel', Dickinson cleverly implies that failing in such accommodations is not only another bit of heresy but one akin to infidelity.
Probably an illustration form an Austen book

Ah, but reading number two is much more fun. We're talking about marital bliss. The poem becomes clever rather than anodyne. The frequent 'Churches' suggest an alternative form of worship; the 'Ritual' is 'small' – nothing difficult or disagreeable here. Best of all, the resulting 'Grace' is 'unavoidable'. Marital bliss indeed. Only an 'infidel', a denier, would fail to achieve this Grace when the churches are so frequent and the ritual so small.

The poem is generally unremarkable. There is an odd line break in the first stanza: the third line is truncated, meter-wise, in favor of giving the last line a couple of extra feet. It makes poetic sense, however, delivering a sort of punch line.

I have to admit to enjoying "The Churches are so frequent" – as a bit of delicious naughtiness. And I like the way "To fail– is Infidel –" sounds.

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