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14 August 2012

If I'm lost—now—

If I'm lost—now—
That I was found—
Shall still my transport be—
That once—on me—those Jasper Gates
Blazed open—suddenly—

That in my awkward—gazing—face—
The Angels—softly peered—
And touched me with their fleeces,
Almost as if they cared—

I'm banished—now—you know it—
How foreign that can be—
You'll know—Sir—when the Savior's face
Turns so—away from you—
                                                           F 316 (1862)  256

I’ve stared at this poem for a while, read a few other commentaries on it to see if there is anything I’ve missed, and am unimpressed. It’s bitter in the sort of way that one is when lashing out over some hurt.
            Here, the poet begins nicely enough: She may be lost now, but she finds consolation—even joy—in knowing that once in the past the “Jasper Gates” opened to her and Angels touched her. She adds a dig, however, by following that sentiment up with an “Almost as if they cared.” Translating this into the dynamics of a human love relationship—which I think the poem is clearly an analogy of—we have a woman saying, “well, even though you rejected me, I have the happiness that at one time you blazed with love for me … almost as if you cared.” The bitterness overpowers the wonderful memory that the poet says shall be her “transport” or joy.
            The last stanza descends. The gentleman, instead of perhaps gently ending the relationship, has “banished” the poet. But he shouldn’t get complacent about it, she says, for when he goes up to the Pearly Gates, he’ll get a dose of his own medicine when Jesus sends him packing. The poem, I think, is weakened by this patently vindictive ending. 

Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned," as playwright William Congreve wrote in 1697. 


  1. I sense this as purely religious discourse, self-revelation, and sad prediction that the same loss of faith and grace will happen one day to the poem's recipient.

  2. Dickinson's poem reminds me of the self-revelations of Mother Theresa to her Confessor, which were published after she died. Mother Theresa was moved by a personally felt, vivid "call from God" to leave her conventional teaching order of Sisters in India, and to found her order of Sisters ministering to "the dying, the destitute, the poorest of the poor". But soon after founding her Order of Sisters, this personal Voice of God went silent to her. She never heard it again, and was spiritually tormented and unable to guess the reason for this "abandonment by God".
    As I wrote above, she kept her despair a secret, telling it only to her Confessor (as a Catholic Sister should do).
    In this poem, I hear E.D. confessing a similar abandonment to the poem's recipient, but I think that E.D. guessed that something similar would probably happen to this man... And she might very well have been right.
    Who has not felt abandoned by God at times? Even Jesus cried out on the cross, " My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"

    1. Re-reading the poem now, I think you're right. It does read more as religious discourse than relationship recriminations. The relationship inserted at the end of the poem, though, does add an interesting tension and ambiguity.
      Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

    2. Thanks for hearing my thoughts, Susan, and for your reply. I agree about the "tension and ambiguity" due to the human relationship, and the negative prediction about the recipient's relationship with his "Savior", at the poem's end. Where was Hope (the thing with feathers?) then?
      It must have been very hard to be E.D., with her unconventional religious beliefs and moral values, her huge intellect and sensibilities and talent as a poet, her circumscribed education and role as "just a daughter", her convoluted and tense family relationships, and her shyness & illnesses, during the mid- and late 1800s. Yet, she produced her splendid work. I feel so lucky that we are able to read and study and discuss it 150 years later..
      Thank you for this blog. It gives me a guide, and a community, with whom to read and ponder and celebrate E.D.'s poems. :-)

  3. at least we got this beautiful Poem! Do you think she realized that others' apparent antipathy was a rich source of inspiration? I have almost tender feelings for her because of this ancient betrayal. Please explain Jasper Gates, when I google it, an image of a red mineral is produced! Where else does she use the term? I don't mind being a fool in your 'house' because I know I won't stay one for long!

  4. See my reply to your comment on "What is – Paradise –" (where jasper is also mentioned). Basically, Heaven uses Jasper for construction. You can find where Dickinson uses 'jasper' by registering with the ED Lexicon (free) and searching for the word (if you don't register, you only get a definition). You can also use the search bar on my blog -- below the title banner.

  5. I've noticed a repeated theme a in a few of her poems of "almost as if they cared" (e.g. she says later in her Read-Sweet poem 'as if a kingdom - cared'). I think her different way of viewing life was (she knew) backward from the perspective of the mainstream. Coupled with that was a sense that she was out of step with the orthodoxy / cultural legitimizers; a knowledge that the treasure she carried was not seen (although I expect she would be shocked to know how much we treasure it all these years later!). There is a sense of knowing that she carried something of immense value and yet that value was not seen by others. They did not see and therefore did not "care". Living in that tension is part of the beauty and sadness I see in her life.

    1. Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I'm surprised by my explication on rereading it. I see a wholly different poem now. But that's been true for me with Dickinson ever since I first encountered the bird on the walk poem back in grade school.

      I agree, now, that something else is going on the the 'didn't care' expressions other than what I was seeing as bitterness. Perhaps at issue is what the word 'care' might mean. Humans have their sense of what caring is, but Dickinson, in her grasping for cosmic and divine imponderables -- and her frustration at meeting 'blanks' -- realizes that the divine or Universe's 'caring' is quite different from ours; it is even chilling in a way. Yet as depicted in this poem with the angels and in others with both the Father and Jesus, there really is some sort of caring, albeit one that not only can chill but can scalp.

      The 'Sirs' -- preachers, fathers, etc., of the world don't see this great disparity between what they think is divine purpose and love and what is actually fabricked into creation. So, yes, it is likely that the saviour will not be showing his face.

  6. The idea of Angels as curious and ministering beings that are incapable of the volition of caring is a pretty creepy concept and sounds just like something ED would believe.

  7. The beginning of the poem is ironically the opposite of the first verse of the hymn "Amazing Grace" - once found, now lost as opposed to once lost, now found. It seems possible she was familiar with the hymn through her church hymnal or Walker's Southern Harmony. This might add strength to the religious interpretation of the poem, but I agree that Emily's poems often had layers of meaning. To me this makes them so much deeper.

    1. Thank you for this. It does seem to resonate as intentional.

  8. Congreve, and Kornfeld, told it true, Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned. No wonder Wadsworth packed his bags and left New England.

    1. My guide to heaven left me lost. That he first found me and opened Jasper Gates still transports me as it did then, when Heaven’s Gates swung wide, suddenly blazing fire I’d never felt before.

    2. That into my awkward, gazing face angels softly peered, and touched me with their fleeces, made me feel they really cared about me.

    3. But Sir, you know you abandoned me. How foreign you’ll feel when the Savior turns his face away from you, as you did from me.