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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.


  1. Thanks, your analysis helped me a lot.

  2. Could she mean memories of friends/family that never leave her?

    1. Perhaps, but Dickinson says they have no names, so that argues against that in my mind.

  3. Your comments are very helpful to me and my poetry group.

  4. I've been looking for it. Thanks