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21 July 2011

Taken from men -- this morning --

Taken from men -- this morning --
Carried by men today --
Met by the Gods with banners --
Who marshalled her away -- 

One little maid -- from playmates --
One little mind from school --
There must be guests in Eden --
All the rooms are full --

Far -- as the East from Even --
Dim -- as the border star --
Courtiers quaint, in Kingdoms
Our departed are.

                                                               - F 34 (1858)
A schoolgirl dies and is buried the same day. The poet holds out a lovely scenario however: the 'little maid' is met by, interestingly, 'the Gods' who hold banners. We envision almost a warlike procession as she is 'marshalled' away.
     Eden, or Paradise is as far from us as east is from west. Dickinson uses "Even" as a short form for "evening" -- and also as an echo of "Eden" two lines earlier. We also think of evening time as closing time: the sun is going down, businesses are closing--and in this case a life is ending. The east, on the other hand, is the place of dawn and rebirth. Is it any wonder our departed souls seem 'quaint' there? Or, less politely, probably like country cousins.
     I haven't done my homework on this, but the poem reads as one meant to console a bereaved family. I do question the plurality of "Gods" however. Was it a bit of mischief?


  1. I was also wondering about her use of "Gods". It makes a strong contrast with "men" in the two lines before it that would have been lost if it were just singular. But this doesn't really seem like a good enough reason.

    Is it a subtle questioning of faith? Only distant Gods that she's unfamiliar with would have "taken" a girl from her future. This doesn't really fit with the tone of the rest of the poem, but maybe like you say it was meant for the grieving family and this was just a quiet renouncing.

  2. The Gods sounds like a callback to the Greeks. Emily seems to do that frequently.

  3. Met by the Gods with banners --
    Who marshalled her away --

    Marshalled often refers to a gathered army. Perhaps ED recalls Song of Solomon, C6-V10: “Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners?”

  4. The dead little girl was met, not by a single Christian God, but by many gods who marshal (march) her away like a military recruit. They’re not taking her to Eden, the Kingdom of God, because all the rooms are full. Rather, the gods are taking her to “kingdoms”, plural, far away from us, where they keep our departed friends and family. Sounds like a pagan place to me.