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02 May 2012

I think just how my shape will rise –

I think just how my shape will rise –
When I shall be "forgiven" –
Till Hair – and Eyes – and timid Head –
Are out of sight – in Heaven –

I think just how my lips will weigh –
With shapeless – quivering – prayer –
That you – so late – "consider" me
The "sparrow" of your Care –

I mind me that of Anguish – sent –
Some drifts were moved away –
Before my simple bosom – broke –
And why not this – if they?

And so I con that thing – "forgiven" –
Until – delirious – borne –
By my long bright – and longertrust
I drop my Heart – unshriven!
                                                            F252 (1861)  237

This poem continues from the previous one where the lover, as bleeding spaniel, is wanting its beloved master to know it is about to die of grief and wants to be back in his good graces.  She is still waiting here for forgiveness and in facts anticipates that her “shape” will be rising up to heaven by the time that happens. We see the shape rising: first the hair ascends until out of sight, then the eyes, and finally even the poor “timid Head” disappear above the clouds. As she goes her shapeless lips will be still be praying – in a “quivering – prayer” the beloved at last, “so late” might consider her worthy of his care, just as Jesus once said the God the Father cares for every little sparrow.
            She remembers the “Anguish” of her tormented love. Some things must have gotten better, for she says that “Some drifts were moved away”: some portion of her piles of grief, before her heart broke. Her bosom here is “simple” in accordance with her head being “timid.” But some large “drift” must still block her beloved’s forgiveness, for she asks, why could those things be forgiven but not “this”?
            And so she ponders the notion of being “forgiven” until at last she is “borne” away to Heaven by her brighter and more enduring faith in God. Only at this point can she “drop” her heart. In a last wave of pathos she adds that her earthly heart will remain “unshriven!” – meaning still unforgiven by her beloved.
            It’s not a memorable poem, and thankfully Dickinson moves beyond this turmoil in her life – at least to the degree that her later poetry distills grief into a knife edge of expression.


  1. I think you misunderstand this poem. I am a landscaper and a Christian....though a bad one....since you are a gardener I thought this a strange coincedence....Adam and Eve. Perhaps you missed the Biblical allusions and her larger grapple with immortality and original sin. Forgive me if I is my nature ;(

    1. I'd like to hear more about your reading of this poem. I can't see the speaker as Eve and the notions in the poem seem very New Testament. But I'll keep an open mind!

  2. First, thank you. I have relied so heavily upon your interpretations as I’ve made my way through Emily’s works. This is your first installment that gave me a double-take! I had missed the point with that one crucial line, “Why not this, if they?”. I had interpreted Emily’s typical apprehension of facing her judgment, given her back-and-forth relationship with God/religion, and read it in a way the way of: “Why, God, have you shown yourself so late, if I’ve always been in your care?”, but at last resolving herself to His infinite wisdom in every situation, and letting that “longer lasting” faith outweigh her apprehension. I see, on reading your blog, where I missed that finer detail, but still very much cling to my first impression as a dear, raw sentiment of every believer, at some point in his life.

    1. If I understand your reading correctly I do believe it works. Without the perhaps companion poem that precedes it I would written something closer to what you suggest.
      And thank you for your kind words!

  3. This 94-word poem self-references 13 times (‘I’ 6, ‘my’ 5, ‘me’ 2, 14% of words) and other-references twice, in a complaining way, “That YOU – so late – "consider" me – / The "sparrow" of YOUR Care –”. The poem closes with a defiant self-congratulation: “And so I con that thing – "forgiven" – / Until – delirious – borne – / By my long bright – and longer – trust – / I drop my Heart – unshriven!”. Guess we know where ED’s mind was.

    We can dignify this poem by magnanimously equating “you” and “your” with God, but my mind equates “you” with Sue. As the preacher says, we gotta take ED “to love and to cherish, for better, for worse, in sickness or in health”. Everyone gets a sick day now and then.