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31 July 2012

What if I say I shall not wait!

What if I say I shall not wait!
What if I burst the fleshly Gate—
And pass Escaped—to thee!

What if I file this Mortal—off—
See where it hurt me—That's enough—
And wade in Liberty!

They cannot take me—any more!
Dungeons can call—and Guns implore
Unmeaning—now—to me—

As laughter—was—an hour ago—
Or Laces—or a Travelling Show—
Or who died—yesterday!
                                                           F 305 (1862)  277

Dickinson does a tip of the hat here to Hamlet who was considering suicide. Hamlet was torn between dying and living but ultimately persuaded himself to live rather than explore the “undiscover’d country from whose bourn / No traveler returns.” Dickinson’s reference to Hamlet’s famous soliloquy is a bit of shorthand: “What if I file this Mortal—off,” which should remind us of Hamlet’s “mortal coil.”  Shakespeare’s pertinent passage reads as follows:
Hamlet was a bit more fearful of what
lay after death than the speaker of this poem

To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause… (Hamlet 3:1)

The poem’s speaker, however, takes no pause to think it over. She is excited to “burst the fleshly Gate” and escape. Mortal life is painful—“See where it hurt me,” she asks. “That’s enough.” But unlike Hamlet who fears “what dreams may come,” the speaker is confident that she will “wade in Liberty!”
            The third stanza is full of rhetorical excess: once she is dead, she cannot be put in “Dungeons” or hurt by guns. Dickinson was probably the last person in the U.S.—Union or Confederacy—to worry about guns and dungeons. It’s possible that this is a reference to the Civil War tearing the country apart as she wrote, and that the stanza reflects the point of view of a conscripted soldier who didn’t want to fight. The last stanza, however, with its references to “Laces,” is surely from a woman’s point of view.
            The thrust of the poem is the idea of gate-crashing heaven. The speaker gleefully imagines bursting through without waiting for her appointed time. She’ll take her own life, filing off her mortality. The central question of the poem, though, is who the “thee” is that she so much wants to escape to. It might be God or Jesus, or it might be some beloved person who died. After the first stanza the “thee” disappears. The primary attraction of death is that the freedom from the pains of life and even such mundane interests as laughter, clothes, circuses, or the daily obituaries.

The sense of unthinking enthusiasm that permeates the poem is accomplished by rhyme and meter as well as from by the words themselves. The dactylic phrases “What if I say/burst/file” are followed by iambs, as is the line beginning “Dungeons can call.” The dactyls give a rather headlong gallop which is further emphasized by the rhyme scheme: AAB CCB DDB EEB. The poem itself feels ready to gallop off the page.

30 July 2012

The nearest Dream recedes—unrealized—

The nearest Dream recedes—unrealized—
The Heaven we chase,
Like the June Bee—before the School Boy,
Invites the Race—
Stoops—to an easy Clover—
Then—to the Royal Clouds
Lifts his light Pinnace—
Heedless of the Boy—
Staring—bewildered—at the mocking sky –

Homesick for steadfast Honey—
Ah, the Bee flies not
That brews that rare variety!
                                                            F304 (1862)  319

Dickinson is not primarily religious in her poetic searchings although she explores themes of death and metaphysics. She occasionally, as noted in some previous poems, skewers the Calvinist doctrines of her time—sometimes bitterly and sometimes almost playfully. In this poem, one of my favourites, Heaven teases us like a bee that we think we might catch. It evades us and then mocks our futile efforts.
         The poem begins by declaring that our most important “Dream,” the one “nearest” our heart, is always receding, just out of our reach. The second line clarifies that this dream is heaven. We “chase” heaven through our religious practices: going to church, praying, reading sacred texts, and imagining we were there.
         Dickinson makes the analogy of heaven as a bee (we have seen her use the bee as a symbol for God before) and heaven-seekers as school boys trying to capture it.

Our dream—that heaven is “steadfast” like the honey that remains amber and sweet in its jar—will forever torment us by being unobtainable. That bee does not make that honey. Or if there is honey, it cannot be relied upon.
         As Dickinson sees it, heaven intends this frustration. It “Invites the Race” then “evades—teases” and disappears in its pinnace (light, seaworthy sailboat) into the clouds (recall some other recent poems where Dickinson reverses the sea and sky: here, here, and here, for example)  Lest there be any doubt of intentionality, the sky mocks our failure to catch the bee. It mocks as we stare “bewildered” up at the heavens.
         It’s not a very flattering picture of heaven. Surely it should be doing everything it can to help us find our way there. But that’s not the wisdom Dickinson is sharing with us. If we are looking to capture an alluring bee, if we are wanting a constant—“steadfast”—source of sweet goodness, we will be disappointed. If we chase it, the Dream will always recede. Sounds a bit Zen-ish, no?
         It’s possible that Dickinson isn’t limiting the Dream to heaven in the Christian sense. “Heaven” may just be standing in for our hearts’ desires. That makes the poem a bit more negative. There is no steadfast joy. There is no chasing after and catching our dreams. We must instead be content to watch them dart and swoop about always teasing us.

The poem begins in a stately iambic pentameter lengthened by the long “e” sounds: nearest, Dream, recedes, unrealized. Subsequent lines fall into whatever meter suits the poet. The third line emphasizes the opponents by long-vowel spondees: “June Bee” and “School Boy.” The pace picks up to mimic the darting bee with the dancing verbs: Stoops, dips, evades, teases, deploys.                               
            Dickinson uses only one perfect rhyme, “chase” with “Race.” Throughout the rest of the poem she experiments with sounds that link to each other more than rhyme:
            Boy / deploys / Boy / sky
            chase / Race / Pinnace
            Clover / Clouds
            Boy / sky / Honey / variety
The whole poem reads fluidly and reflects the thought units: slow when reflective and dancing when motion is described 

28 July 2012

Alone, I cannot be —

Alone, I cannot be —

For Hosts — do visit me —

Recordless Company —

Who baffle Key —

They have no Robes, nor Names —

No Almanacs — nor Climes —

But general Homes

Like Gnomes —

Their Coming, may be known

By Couriers within —

Their going — is not —

For they've never gone —
                                                            F303 (1862)  298

This poem builds on the inner life and sensibilities of the previous poem (“It’s like the Light”) and the ones mentioned in its discussion. This time Dickinson describes an inner life filled with mysterious visitors—many mysterious visitors for there are “Hosts” of them. “Hosts” is used here in the old-fashioned sense of throngs or “hosts of angels.” They leave no record and baffle understanding: there is no “Key” to explain them.
            These hosts of folks residing within her are not like ghosts or spirits. They are not from a specific local and they are not identified by individual names. When Dickinson writes that they are “Like Gnomes,” she is doing more than looking for a good rhyme for “Homes.”  In her day gnomes were considered to be a sort of anti-fairy: not lovely and light and charming, but rather earth dwellers and mythically able to move through solid earth as easily as we move through air.  Thus, Dickinson’s spirits can reside rather magically anywhere.
            In the third stanza we see that she is attuned to their presence. When one comes and joins the rest her interior “Couriers” let her know. Perhaps this is her keen sensitivity that lends her poetry such power. Interestingly, these spirits never leave. It must be crowded inside Emily Dickinson. This may also explain why she felt no need to leave her house even to visit friends. Her interior life was alive with interactions with other beings.

The poem is written in iambic trimeter. In the first two stanzas she rhymes AABB, while the last is ABCA. The second and third stanza are linked by the slant rhyme of “Gnomes” and “known.

26 July 2012

It's like the Light --

It's like the Light—
A fashionless Delight—
It's like the Bee—
A dateless—Melody—

It's like the Woods—
Private—Like the Breeze—
Phraseless—yet it stirs
The proudest Trees—

It's like the Morning—
Best—when it's done—
And the Everlasting Clocks—
                                                            F302 (1862)  297

This riddle poem is quite a puzzle. Dickinson describes nothing so tangible as a snake or a bird, neither anything elemental such as the wind or Spring. We know it is pervasive, eternal, delightful, private—and that it also somehow “stirs / The proudest Trees” and is “Best—when it’s done.”
            Although I’m not certain about what the poem is describing, I can’t help but think about an earlier poem, “The Love a Life can show Below.” In that work, Dickinson describes a “diviner thing” that “invites” and “enchants” us. It provides music’s “hints and sways.” It is the glory of the sun’s rising and setting, the quality that “enamours” in the morning and harrows us with the beauty of sunset in the evening.
            Like that diviner thing, the subject of this poem seems to be some spiritual or divine essence that is manifest in nature. Notice that Dickinson does not use images of babies or houses or anything else that comes from human beings. Instead, this and other poems show her spiritual connection with the natural world (for a playful example, see “Some keep the Sabboth going to church” where God delivers the sermon among the trees with “a Bobolink for a chorister”). Like many mystics (and Transcendentalists such as Emerson whom she was reading), Dickinson senses something very alive in the world. Her poetry often yearns to capture it.
            In “Musicians wrestle everywhere,” Dickinson describes a “silver strife”—a sort of music-like essence that she hears everywhere. She speculates that it might be the music of the spheres or else, perhaps, “service in the place / Where we—with late—celestial face-- / Please God—shall ascertain!” This would be the heavenly version of her orchard Bobolink service.
            In the last stanza, though, Dickinson implies that this diviner thing culminates at noon. Since we can read “noon” as completion or as a peak, we can look at “Morning” as our soul’s life. Its earthly union with that divine essence she seems to be describing is but a prelude to that more perfect, “Everlasting” noon.

Throughout the poem Dickinson borrows Jesus’ formulation as he tried again and again to describe “the kingdom of Heaven” through parable. It’s like this or like that, he said (book of Matthew, chapter 13), just as Dickinson repeats, “It’s like ...” Parables, and their more concise brethren similes, are how writers and teachers—and mystics—help the rest of us to understand the visions and truths they are willing to share.

25 July 2012

One Year ago—jots what?

One Year ago—jots what?
God—spell the word!  I—can't—
Was't Grace?  Not that—
Was't Glory?  That—will do—                                                [Glory] ''Twas just you –
Spell slower—Glory—

Such Anniversary shall be—
Sometimes—not often—in Eternity—
When farther Parted, than the Common Woe—                       [When] sharper
Look—feed upon each other’s faces—so—
In doubtful meal, if it be possible
Their Banquet’s true—                                                    

I tasted—careless—then—
I did not know the Wine
Came once a World—Did you?
Oh, had you told me so—
This Thirst would blister—easier—now—
You said it hurt you—most—
Mine—was an Acorn’s Breast—
And could not know how fondness grew
In Shaggier Vest—
Perhaps—I couldn’t—
But, had you looked in—
A Giant—eye to eye with you, had been—
No Acorn—then—

So—Twelve months ago—
We breathed—
Then dropped the Air—                                                        [Then] lost
Which bore it best?
Was this—the patientest—
Because it was a Child, you know—
And could not value—Air?

If to be “Elder”—mean most pain—
I’m old enough, today, I’m certain—then—
As old as thee—how soon?
One—Birthday more—or Ten?
Let me—choose!
Ah, Sir, None!
                                                            F301 (1862)  296    

Italicized notes on left are alternatives Dickinson indicated
on her manuscript. I use Cristanne Miller's Emily Dickinson's 
Poems As She Preserved Them for these side notes.

The intimate, head-long, confessional tone of this poem is way ahead of Dickinson’s time. So is Dickinson’s use of meter for emphasis and tone. The first stanza plunges the reader into a tempestuous reminiscence. Something happened a year ago—something that preceded a break-up with a lover or perhaps was the love affair itself. The lines are short, the punctuation strong, and the mood erratic. The first four lines end with spondees as the poet grasps at words: "jots what?,” “I—can’t,” “Not that,” “will do.” These starts and stops mirror the sense of rupture. The last line of the stanza slows the pace to a crawl. Dickenson wants the reader to focus: “Spell slower—Glory.” The first word of that line, “Spell,” benefits from both its meanings of “enchantment” and “speak it out” or “recite it slowly.” This, then, is an anniversary of something glorious. Dickinson milks the word for all it’s worth.
            The second stanza maintains a stately pace; the lines lengthen, and the meter evens into iambs—all of which support the poet’s reflection on the event and its meaning. She thinks that she and the man may get to celebrate this anniversary “Sometimes—not often” in an afterlife. They may be able to look at each other, “feed upon each other’s faces” if the notion of a heavenly “Banquet” is “true.” The stanza implies that they will not see each other in this life, at least not in the privacy where they might share such looks and love.
            Dickinson continues with feast imagery in the first line of the next stanza, but this time looking back in time instead of ahead: she tasted the “Wine” of a once-in-a-lifetime love, but was “careless—then.” She didn’t realize how rare it was. “Did you?” she asks the lover. She thinks he did but wishes he had somehow made her recognize it. Her pain would heal faster if she had appreciated the love (or experience) at the time. Dickinson phrases this as “Thirst” blistering, as if thirst were a a patch of skin rubbed raw and needing a blister to heal. “Thirst” and “blister” make an unusual metaphor—but one that works.  
            The next metaphor is Shakespearean in its fresh, compact visuality. The “Acorn’s Breast” conjures up an image of the acorn. It is breastlike and smooth. It shelters the oak seed. The image is that of the poet: her own breasts are young and firm; in her the poet and mature woman is just beginning to swell against its shell.
            Unlike the smooth acorn, though, her lover’s chest is hairy. Since she has no way to gage the “fondness” in his “Shaggier Vest,” she was not convinced by his claim that the affair hurt him more than it hurt her. If you had “looked in,” past the shell, she says, you would have seen “A Giant,” not just an acorn. We would have been “eye to eye.” This stanza is a subtle admission of guilt as well as expression of love and regret: the poet was careless, unappreciative of the rare love she was offered. She didn’t understand him, couldn’t understand how a man loves. And yet she wishes he would have seen past the acorn shell.
            The poem moves on with the wonderfully concise transition, “So—.” Dickinson doesn’t say anything more specific than that a year ago they “breathed— / Then dropped the Air.” The dropping of the affair is not like the dropping of a heavy weight through the air. It is the dropping of the air itself.  Dickinson voices another regret in this, the fourth, stanza—one more pointed: Maybe I was able to bear the loss better, or at least you think so, because I was just a “Child… / And could not value—Air?” That is why, perhaps, I seem to be “patientest.”
            The last stanza returns to the short questions and lines of the first. The poet attempts to equalize the relationship: She has aged in the last year and is “old enough” to be an “Elder” and feel an elder’s pain. She wonders when she’ll be as old emotionally as her lover: “One—Birthday more—or Ten?” Let me choose, she begs, for I want that now.
            There is an immediacy to the poem that still speaks. The variety of line length, sentence length, and meter; the reflection alternating with expostulation all keep the poem moving as if it were pouring out of the pen, the author torn by conflicting emotions. It reads in a natural if anguished voice, the poet confident in rendering both the specific sensuality of the acorn and in philosophizing over time and love.

24 July 2012

Unto like Story—Trouble has enticed me—

Unto like Story—Trouble 
has enticed me—
How Kinsmen fell—
Brothers and Sister—who 
preferred the Glory—
And their young will
Bent to the Scaffold, or in 
Till God's full time—
When they let go the ignominy—
And Shame went still—

Unto guessed Crests, my moaning 
fancy, leads me,
Worn fair
By Heads rejected—in the lower 
Of honors there—
Such spirit makes her perpetual 
That I—grown bold—
Step martial—at my Crucifixion—
As Trumpets—rolled—

Feet, small as mine—have 
marched in Revolution
Firm to the Drum—
Hands—not so stout—hoisted 
them—in witness—
When Speech went numb—
Let me not shame their 
sublime deportments—
Drilled bright—
Beckoning—Etruscan invitation—
Toward Light—
                                                            J295,  Fr300 (1862)

Don’t we all have secret fantasies about being a singer, poet, heroic nurse or pilot, or brave explorer? In this (and other) poems Emily Dickinson imagines herself as a noble sufferer. Fox’s Book of Martyrs, the stories of Christian saints killed for their beliefs, was part of the Dickinson library and one that the poet was reputed to have read frequently.
            She begins the poem as if she were about to recount her own tale of woe, something like the stories in the book. But then she sidetracks: “Trouble has enticed me,” she confesses. She is drawn to the tales of suffering and shining faith. In one such tale brothers and sister were executed at the scaffold or sent to die in dungeons. But they “preferred the Glory,” so despite their persecution they chanted their faith and died “smiling,” silencing any “Shame.”

Brave martyrs
            In the second stanza, Dickinson imagines that the martyrs have been granted “Crests”, which may be crowns or other emblems of nobility, despite their having been “rejected” here on earth (“the lower country”). Dickinson knows she is bordering on bathos: “my moaning fancy, leads me,” she says, to imagine their “honors.” But the proud spirit in the stories embolden her until she, too, feels ready to march to the drum all the way to her own “Crucifixion.”
            Dickinson has written of her own crucifixion before, perhaps most notably in “Title divine, is mine” where she is “Empress of Calvary.” In that poem she may have been intimating she had become in some mystic way the bride of Christ. She may well, however, have meant that she has endured much more suffering than most people (and the two interpretations are not mutually exclusive). In another poem, “I should have been too glad, I see,” she scathingly suggest that she be crucified since all joy is denied her.
Brightly painted Etruscan tomb
            But this poem has a prouder tone. The poet reflects that the young kinsmen were no bigger than she and yet they marched bravely and held up their little hands in witness. Taking inspiration from them, the poet vows not to “shame their sublime deportments” that brightly beckon towards a more heavenly light. Dickinson calls this an “Etruscan invitation.” The Etruscan civilization preceded and continued through much of the early Roman era. Beautiful Tuscany was their heartland. Things Swiss and Italian appealed to Dickinson, and this plus the romance of their long-departed culture, beckons to her in time of trouble.

23 July 2012

Did we disobey Him?

Did we disobey Him?
Just one time!
Charged us to forget Him—
But we couldn't learn!

Were Himself—such a Dunce—
What would we—do?
Love the dull lad—best—
Oh, wouldn't you?
                                                            F299 (1862)  267

The poet seems to have been asked to forget a man or boy she loves. We don’t know if it is a lover, a good friend, or a nephew. She takes on the persona of a slow student who couldn’t do what was asked  because she “couldn’t learn!” She goes on to say that were the tables turned she wouldn’t reject the slow learner but rather “Love the dull lad” even more. The final line, “Oh, wouldn’t you?” seems to me to be saying, “Oh, can’t you love this dull girl more, too?”
            The tone and diction are playful rather than sad or self pitying. The writer does not seem to expect to get in serious trouble for disobeying the other party. The first two lines establishes the teasing tone. “Did we disobey Him?” Come on, just this once!
            The key word in the poem is “Dunce” and I think she’s cheekily suggesting that’s what the “Him” is. The “d” sound is scattered throughout the poem: disobey, charged, couldn’t Dunce, would, do, dull, lad, wouldn’t.

21 July 2012

The Doomed—regard the Sunrise

The Doomed—regard the Sunrise
With different Delight—
Because—when next it burns abroad
They doubt to witness it—

The Man—to die—tomorrow—
Harks for the Meadow Bird—
Because its Music stirs the Axe
That clamors for his head—

Joyful—to whom the Sunrise
Precedes Enamored—Day—
Joyful—for whom the Meadow Bird
Has ought but Elegy!
                                                            J294,  Fr298 (1862)  294

After a couple of sunset poems we now have one on sunrise. It begins with a philosophical statement about how those who are about to live their last day experience sunrise—which is a traditional symbol of hope and new beginnings. These “Doomed” souls delight in sunrise as do the “Joyful” of the second stanza, but theirs is a “different Delight.” It may be that “delight” is not the most appropriate word here: the doomed may have a new-found appreciation or even wonder, but it seems more likely they would experience great sadness or regret. But the point is clear enough: The doomed may well have a greater focus on the marvel and beauty that is the sun seemingly rising from behind the world to flood the sky with color and signal the end of night. 
Sunrise wasn't so cheery for the Earl of Somerset

            A doomed man also listens to morning birdsong in a new way. Birds and executioners get an early start. When the prisoner hears the bird he knows his time on earth is soon to end. In a rather savage touch, the lovely song of the “Meadow Bird”  “stirs” the executioner’s axe into bloodlust. No longer an inert tool of justice, the axe “clamors” for the beheading. It wants to sever head from neck.

            Both pairings are ironic: sunrise with doom and bird with executioner’s axe.
            The last stanza seems to welcome death ecstatically. For those whom the bird “has ought but Elegy,” or nothing but a beautiful lament, sunrise is a joyful experience. Sunrise for these lucky souls ushers in the “Enamored” day. “Enamored” means “inflamed with love,” and so the day itself takes on a sense of joyful preparation akin to that of a wedding day. The soul prepares for the ultimate mystery, a journey to discover what lies beyond life’s shores. Dickinson has introduced this idea of journey in numerous poems so far. The poem promises life beyond death and celebrates the last sunrise.

This—is the land—the Sunset washes—

This—is the land—the Sunset washes—
These—are the Banks of the Yellow Sea—
Where it rose—or whither it rushes—
These—are the Western Mystery!

Night after Night
Her purple traffic
Strews the landing with Opal Bales—
Merchantmen—poise upon Horizons—
Dip—and vanish like Orioles!
                                                            F297 (1862)  266

This sunset poem seems to build upon the last, F296. In that short poem the clouds are ships that toss on a daffodil-colored sea. In this one the poet is looking at the golden light cast be sunset that seems to wash the land. The horizon bounds the sky and so becomes the “Banks of the Yellow Sea.” Sometimes sunsets are like that—radiant gold.
            Colorful clouds, “purple traffic,” sail across this sea. Some of them pile up along the one horizon line, their purple fading to an opalescence. Some of the smaller clouds move out of sight, and these, the “Merchantmen” Dickinson compares to orioles. These lovely birds to have a dipping flight and, in addition, a lovely sunset gold to go with the Yellow Sea.
            Dickinson wonders where sunset comes from and “whither it rushes.” She has touched on this question in earlier poems. In this one, where she calls sunset’s destination the “Western Mystery,” she alludes to death. The East, where the sun rises, is traditionally associated with new birth and life. The setting sun, in the West, is likened to the sunset of life. Like autumn, the image is of the fading of light and life.
            With this in mind, the busy merchantmen loading the “Opal Bales” can be seen just before they, too, fall below life’s horizon.
            Dickinson achieves some nice effects in this poem. The first stanza with its “This—is,” “These—are,” and “These—are” lulls us as if we are about to be told a story. We are taken straight away into a fantasy landscape: “the land—the Sunset washes.” She ends the stanza with a mystery.
            The second stanza is filled with strong and specific words that contribute to the vividness of the poem: purple, Strews, Opal Bales, Merchantmen, poise, Dip, vanish, Orioles.
            The meter has a rocking quality that mimics the sea.  The first stanza uses a blurred trochaic/anapestic/iambic structure: THESE—are the BANKS of the YELlow SEA. They gently slosh off the tongue. The second stanza interrupts this smoothness. The first two lines would follow the pattern, but Dickinson breaks them up for emphasis. “Night after Night” becomes much stronger when on a line by itself, suggesting the unchanging rhythm of time and sky—and life and death. Night always comes. The other lines echo the metric pattern of the first stanza but with slight interruptions—much like the dipping flight of the Orioles.
            The subtle slant rhymes work well, too. “Washes” is paired with “rushes,” the words suggesting both gentleness and urgency. The sky is washed before the light/life leaves it. “Sea” and “Mystery” perfectly summarize Dickinson’s point: where do we go once we reach the end of our sea? No one knows. My favorite, though, is the rhyme of “Opal Bales” with “Orioles.” I doubt if any other poet has used that!

19 July 2012

Where Ships of Purple—gently toss --

Where Ships of Purple—gently toss --
On Seas of Daffodil—
Fantastic Sailors—mingle—
And then—the Wharf is still!
                                                            F296 (1862)  265

No one does sunsets better than Dickinson. I wonder if Amherst sunsets are still so colorful. Where I’ve lived sunsets are primarily red, pink, and gold, but the ones she describes often have purple. This one does, too. Here she sees great ships, large purple clouds, gently tossing in their moorings. The sea beneath them is tinted golden, "Daffodil," from the setting sun. The mingling and fantastic sailors are no doubt smaller clouds that move among the larger ship-like ones, their shapes constantly changing. When the sun sets the sky turns dark and "the Wharf is still!"
            The poem contains just the single image, the sky mirroring a harbor but in gorgeous sunset colors. 

17 July 2012

Father—I bring thee not myself—

Father—I bring thee not myself—       
That were the little load—
I bring thee the imperial Heart       
I had not strength to hold—

The heart I cherished in my own       
Till mine—too heavy grew—
Yet—strangest—heavier—since it went—       
Is it too large for you?
                                                            F295 (1862)   217 [Savior! I’ve no one else to tell]

This is the heartache of a failed love affair. Here the poet turns to God asking him to take “the imperial Heart” that has grown too big. Dickinson writes of this heart as if it were a tumor, something that grew in her own healthy heart until it became “too heavy” and she didn’t have enough strength to bear it any longer.

            She is not offering her life to God, though. Only this tumorous growth. The tumor heart is “imperial”—it has come to rule her life. David Preest notices that she “described this heart in her second letter (L233) to her Master by saying, ‘God built the heart in me—Bye and bye it outgrew me—and like the little mother—with the big child—I got tired holding him.’”
            Her love for “Master” has become a swollen burden. She cannot keep it up. When she asks to surrender it to God she is either trying to give up the relationship that is draining her of strength or else Master has ended the relationship and she is hoping God can relieve her of the swollen heart’s weight.
            In the last two lines we see an assumption that God has indeed taken the burden from her. The imperial Heart has gone, but strangely, her own remaining heart is even heavier without it. And isn’t that the way with such heartache? We live with it and even nurse it until it becomes a part of our lives. When it is finally gone the absence is almost harder to bear. We’ve forgotten how to live without the pain.
            The final question, “Is it too large for you?” is another way of emphasizing the great weight of her grief. Perhaps it is even too heavy for God to bear.

Dickinson wrote another version of this poem that is directed not to God the Father but to his son the Savior. In this version she confesses that she has strayed so far from Christianity as to have forgotten him. “Dost thou remember me?” she asks hopefully.

This version follows:

Savior! I've no one else to tell—
And so I trouble thee.
I am the one forgot thee so—
Dost thou remember me?
Nor, for myself, I came so far—
That were the little load—
I brought thee the imperial Heart
I had not strength to hold—
The Heart I carried in my own—
Till mine too heavy grew—
Yet—strangest—heavier since it went—
Is it too large for you?