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22 December 2011

Papa above!

Papa above!
Regard a Mouse
O'erpowered by the Cat!
Reserve within thy kingdom
A "Mansion" for the Rat!

Snug in seraphic Cupboards
To nibble all the day,
While unsuspecting Cycles
Wheel solemnly away!
                                                        - F 151 (1860) 61

This bit of whimsy addressing the Most High as “Papa” pleads for the lowliest of creatures to find a haven in heaven. Jesus told his followers that his father’s house had many mansions and the poet would like to make sure that there is at least  a “Snug” “seraphic Cupboard” where the little mouse or rat might “nibble all the day.” It is likely that Dickinson is thinking of herself as just a bit of a mouse who wants just a bit of heaven – something safe and cozy. Perhaps she feels overpowered by something, someone, or just life in general. She won’t require much to be content, no processions or crown or halo; just something to nibble on.
The poem bursts out with four accented syllables as if the excited shout of a child. The first two lines are really one, but Dickinson divided them for greater emphasis. The first stanza continues with lots of consonants and this reinforces the strength and playfulness of the request. there are also several “r”s: Regard, Reserve, and Rat. There is urgency here – the poor little Rat is about to need that cupboard as the Cat has him in its paws.

The mood changes in the second stanza, dominated as it is with “s” sounds: Snug, seraphic, Cupboards, unsuspecting, Cycles, solemnly. The sibilance is lulling, like the hoped-for safety.
Overall, the iambic trimeter reinforce the fable quality of the poem. It’s a nice little story. I can imagine it as a children’s picture book. The last two lines, however, save it from saccharine simplicity. At the simplest level they can be read as “forever.” But Dickinson has unexpectedly complicated the world view here. The “Cycles” – years or other calendar-type units – are “unsuspecting.” The solar system, perhaps even the cosmos, is unaware of what happens in the afterlife. They “wheel” along grandly – a nice contrast to a nibbling little mouse. The irony is nice: the world is solemn while heaven is a darling little nook. At least for a mouse or rat – or bashful poet.