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27 August 2012

Of Tribulation—these are They

Of Tribulation—these are They,
Denoted by the White.
The Spangled Gowns, a lesser Rank
Of Victors, designate—

All these—did conquer—
But the Ones who overcame most times—
Wear nothing commoner than Snow—
No Ornament, but Palms—

“Surrender”—is a sort unknown—
On this superior soil—
“Defeat,” an Outgrown Anguish—
Remembered, as the Mile

Our panting Ankle barely passed,
When Night devoured the Road—
But we – stood—whispering in the House—
And all we said—was Saved!
                                                            F328 (1862)  325
Dickinson refers here to the Book of Revelations in the Bible’s New Testament. In this book the earth and the damned are dealt with harshly and the saved are rewarded handsomely. Among the saved clustering around the throne of God where Jesus, “The Lamb,” is sitting are a large contingent dressed in white robes and holding palm leaves in their hands. When Revelations’ author, John, asks who the white robed people are, an elder explains:
These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.   [Revelations 7: 14-17]
        The poem describes the scene: the white-robed believers who overcame their tribulations because of their faith stand with “a lesser Rank” of saved people who wear “Spangled Gowns.” The spangles make me think of rulers or decorated soldiers, but it might just signify ordinary folk who were saved and dressed up for the occasion.
            Dickinson then praises the white-robed ones because of their steadfast courage. They don’t even know what it is to surrender. Their defeats while alive have been “Outgrown.” Dickinson likens this as to how we have only limited memory of terrible moments in our own lives. In her example, she was walking as deep night fell, devouring the road. She was so relieved to arrive home safely, that all she could say was “Saved!”
            I’m not overly fond of this poem as it brings little that is fresh and rehashes a biblical passage without adding anything new to its contemplation. I am very tickled with her image, though, of her “panting Ankle.” My feet have felt like that, too!


  1. So great of you to provide the complete context, please don't think that someone else can finish this for you! In this poem, does ED suggest that spiritual purity is unornamented and the purest souls wear...what do u think?

  2. although the poem borrows from Rev., I don't think of it as a rehash. Rather, ED is celebrating those who suffer (including herself) and are consequently garbed in white (as was she).


  3. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the first poem since F1 in which ED intentionally splits a sentence into two stanzas? How many poets before her had done this?:

    “Remembered, as the Mile / Our panting Ankle barely passed / When Night devoured the Road - ”

    This continued carry-over sentence sounds like a 20th century stanza structure to me.

  4. Something else puzzles me about this poem. Stanzas 1 and 2 mostly restate Revelation 6: 9-14, then, abruptly, Stanzas 3 and 4 transition to ED’s personal experience walking hurriedly home in disappearing evening light, followed by a whispered word, “Saved!”, in the hallway.

    The poem is unclear about whether the “our” / “we” are two people, or one person using the royal singular pronoun “we”. My inference is two people whispered “Saved” to each other in the hallway, but, in that case, who are they and why do they have only one “Ankle”? Is there a subtle hint of an unrevealed story here or does ED simply have a high opinion of herself?