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26 January 2012

At last – to be identified!

At last – to be identified!
At last – the Lamps upon your side –
The rest of Life – to see –

Past Midnight –  Past the Morning Star –
Past Sunrise – Ah, What leagues there were –
Between Our Feet – and Day!
                                                            - F172 (1860)  174 

As if to be alive on earth were to be in the darkness, Dickinson writes here of the “Day” of heaven. In heaven our true selves will be known – we will be “identified.” We will see more clearly too, for the “Lamps” to shine upon the eternal world and truth will be available. We can see “The rest of Life” as opposed to just the day-to-day life here on our little planet.
            But to get there one must travel past Midnight, the Morning Star, and even Sunrise. All of those images are of night, but she is writing of Day. She is meaning death, of course. In the time between death and some sort of awakening (she is not a consistent believer in bodily resurrection) lies an incredible distance. Another way of looking at the distance is to think of the physical feet that are an important part of our earthly bodies and of a spiritual Day. Quite a space separate them!
            The poem is written in a sort of breathless haste as though the poet has had a vision. It also seems as if she is tired of the limited truth we can know while still in our bodies. And so the idea of death is the idea of discovery.


  1. Genesis 1:5
    “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night."

    Perhaps the word "day" also connects back to light and truth.

    1. Yes, as in an awakening. Thanks for the comment -- it helps make sense out of the "The rest of Life – to see –" line.

  2. Light was always truth to Plato.
    I wonder if the “lamps” she envisions are the stage footlights that blind the actors but illuminate the stage, being on the side of the audience and trained on the actors.

    1. That first stanza does make me feel, now that you mention it, as if the lights went up and the stage action wee illuminated.

  3. Plato believed in a world of philosophical light and shadows; his student, Aristotle, preferred palpable evidence of the physical world for his reality. David Preest reported that Farr (1968) sides with Plato, the poem is the imagined words of ED’s risen soul as it reaches the day of eternal life, and Miller (1968) sides with Aristotle, ‘At last, to be identified!’ is a cry of triumph as ED imagines her verse accepted and recognized by all the world. A toss up or did ED intend both?

    Commenter David and blogmeister Susan K go for the spiritual interpretation, while Commenter Pp leans to the “fame in this world” view. To me, Line 1, “At last, to be identified!” sure sounds like self-reference, so I side with Pp. ED would never admit it, but many of her poems imply certainty of eventual membership in the Poetry Hall of Fame.

    Ruth Miller. 1968. The Poetry of Emily Dickinson. Wesleyan University Press. 480 pp.

    Judith Farr. 1992. The Passion of Emily Dickinson. Harvard University Press. 390 pp.