He strained my faith—
Did he find it supple?
Shook my strong trust—
Did it then—yield?
Hurled my belief—
But—did he shatter—it?
Not a nerve failed!
Wrung me—with Anguish—
But I never doubted him—
'Tho' for what wrong
He did never say—
Stabbed—while I sued
His sweet forgiveness—
Jesus—it's your little "John"!
Don't you know—me?
F366 (1862) 497
This is the lament of the believer. Why does God test our faith? One corollary of belief in an all-powerful, all-knowing God is the awareness that all our trials and tribulations are countenanced if not caused by the Most High.
There is a tone of bitterness in the first stanza. It begins with the claim that “He” tested the poet’s faith. The “He” is significant: it wasn’t an event or tragedy or other occurrence, but God who “strained” her faith. She hopes he found it “supple” and resilient. Likewise, he “Shook” her trust. In the next stanza we see him hurling her belief, putting her on the rack with suspense. The torture continues in the third and fourth stanza he wrings her with anguish and stabs her. Notice the escalation: strained, shook hurled, racked, wrung, and stabbed. The poet, like Job, was tested to the extreme.
|John is leaning lovingly into Jesus. I like all the little haloes
on the apostles while Jesus holds up a little wafer of bread for his
last talk with his disciples.
But the poet is saintly! Her faith is supple, does not yield, doesn’t shatter or fail, never doubts. And at the end, a bit of pathos. While “He” was stabbing her, she was asking for his “sweet forgiveness.” She calls out to him: “Jesus—it’s your little ‘John’!’ / Don’t you know—me?” What could be more pathetic? Little John,
take to mean a diminutive, feminine version of St. John, known as the Beloved
Apostle, author of the Book of John and Revelations. He sat next to Jesus at
the last supper. He was entrusted with the care of Mary, and the revelation was
granted to him.
The question is eternal: Why? Why, God? Why me? Dickinson tries to wring as much emotion as possible out of this question. I think it’s an important question—perhaps the most important question when one contemplates the universe, the state of affairs, and the eternal human quest for fairness; but I also think she goes a bit over the top when she pulls the “little John” card.