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26 October 2011

Where bells no more affright the morn—

Where bells no more affright the morn—
Where scrabble never comes—
Where very nimble Gentlemen
Are forced to keep their rooms—

Where tired Children placid sleep
Thro' Centuries of noon
This place is Bliss—this town is Heaven—
Please, Pater, pretty soon!

"Oh could we climb where Moses stood,
And view the Landscape o'er"
Not Father's bells—nor Factories,
Could scare us any more!
                                                         - F 114 (1859)  112

This would certainly "affright":
14 bells in cathedral
Dickinson must have had a bad day before writing this. No doubt her father was ringing his accursed bell way before dawn (see F 35), church bells were clanging all day for one event or another, “Gentlemen” were dashing all over, children were screaming and playing right outside the garden, and factories were grinding gears and belching smoke. I say this because why else would one say that being in a grave is “Bliss” and the graveyard “Heaven”? For the place where “very nimble Gentlemen / Are forced to keep their rooms” is surely nothing more than graves.
            Once in your cozy little grave you won’t have to listen to church bells or children. And children can finally have their nap … and last, but probably not least, Dickinson’s father would let her sleep in.
The poem’s tone is playful. I can imagine her tugging at the draperies of great Jehovah saying, “Please, can I go now? Pretty please?? Get me out of here! Beam me up, Scotty!"

7 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh. I cannot even do this for 1 poem!!!

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  3. From ED’s lexicon, maintained at Brigham Young University (https://edl.byu.edu/webster.php)

    Affright: terrorize; alarm; startle.
    Scrabble: [metaphor] noise; racket of a factory.
    Pater: Father in heaven.
    Moses: [fig.] visionary leader; one who has a broad view of the world

    Physical death and what, if anything, came after death terrorized ED from an early age. She was 13 when her very close friend and second cousin, Sophia Holland, died of “brain fever” (typhus). For weeks, ED visited Sophia almost every day. During her final days, the doctor ordered no visitors, but afterward ED pleaded for one last visit to say goodbye. The experience of watching Sophia dying and then viewing her body plunged ED into “fixed melancholy” (deep depression). Her parents tried diversions to rouse her but finally, in desperation, arranged a month-long visit with her aunt, Lavinia Norcross Norcross [sic.], in Boston. Her visit relieved the depression, but Sophia’s death left scars that haunted ED until her own death.

    Throughout ED’s youth the family attended church together, but whenever the minister served communion, her father would stand up and lead her and her siblings outside while her mother remained seated and participated. Until 1850 when ED was 20, her father did not accept Christ as his savior, profess belief in resurrection, or take communion. ED never did.

    The identity of “Pater” in F113 seems clear, ED is speaking to God, but who is “Father” in Line 11, Edward Dickinson or God? Every morning before dawn, Edward would wake the children with a knock on their door, but a quick search finds no evidence that he rang a literal bell, nor is there evidence that he scared the children. Maybe ED intended the ambiguity of "Father".

    Given ED’s sense of loss in 1859 (F112) and, unlike Moses on Mt. Sinai, her clouded vision of the future, this poem borders on suicidal.

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    1. I don't see this poem as reflecting any fear of death or afterlife -- nor a suicidal tone. Perhaps some somberness as Amit mentions below.

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  4. To me the tone of the poem seems somber rather than playful or suicidal. It does start with irritation and then move to a desire for quiet and perhaps bleak solitude.
    I am not sure how the first two lines of the last stanza fit. Moses on the mountain gets commandments from God while the poem seems to be about not having conforming daily routines and sounds. How does “viewing the landscape” help?

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    1. I'm thinking she means get a glimpse of the Promised Land. God didn't allow Moses into the promised land, but he allowed him to look at it.

      I can see the somberness in the poem but for me the last half of the second stanza is rather playful.

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    2. Numbers 27:12 is where in the Bible God tells Moses to "Go up this mountain in the Abarim Range and see the land I have given the Israelites."

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