As far from pity, as complaint—
As cool to speech—as stone—
As numb to Revelation
As if my Trade were Bone—
As far from time—as History—
As near yourself—Today—
As Children, to the Rainbow's scarf—
Or Sunset's Yellow play
To eyelids in the Sepulchre—
How dumb the Dancer lies—
While Color's Revelations break—
And blaze—the Butterflies!
F364 (1862) 496
|Photo: Edward Byrne, 2012
While this poem reminds me of “Safe in their alabaster chambers,” I think it lacks that poem’s stately mystery. The dead sleep away the centuries under their rafters of satin and roofs of stone, waiting for the Resurrection, while outside “Worlds scoop their Arcs-- / And firmaments—row.” One wonders if the resurrection will happen at all.
In this poem, Dickinson simply contrasts the dead with the living. The dead are far from pity or complaint. They just lie there. They speak no more than a stone does, have no more interest in Revelation—the New Testament book that discusses the Resurrection—than a simple jumble of bones. They have no awareness of time or history, and are as likely to touch you as children are the sunset or a rainbow.
Perhaps the most poignant image is in the last stanza where the dancer in the grave is blind and dumb while all about in the living world “Color’s Revelations break” and butterflies “blaze.” Like Alabaster Chambers, the dead in this poem seem to be dead for good. And also like Alabaster, being alive seems much, much better than being dead.