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31 December 2012

Departed—to the judgment

Departed—to the Judgment 
A Mighty—Afternoon
Great clouds—like Ushersleaning
Creationlooking on

The Flesh—Surrendered—Cancelled
The Bodiless—begun—
Two Worlds
—like Audiencesdisperse—
And leave the Soul

                                                                                  F399 (1862)  J524

In this solemn and intimidating vision of death, the soul is left to find its lonely way to "Judgment" unaided by either flesh or "Creation."  This differs from some of Dickinson's earlier poems where Jesus or some other familiar face is there to help the soul's passage. It also differs from her earlier poems where the consciousness of the dead lingers for long, long times in the coffin or elsewhere waiting for Resurrection—or just waiting.

Interested clouds watch on
I like the death day. It was a "Mighty—Afternoon" and the clouds overhead were piled high and leaning in as if they were ushers for a trip down the church aisle or perhaps at a theatre. But it turns out they are not functional ushers. Like the rest of "Creation," they are simply "looking on." 
          The second stanza contains a bit of a mystery (appropriately). The body, the "Flesh," has died and some "Bodiless" existence has begun. This would be the life of the Soul, I believe. Then "Two Worlds...disperse" to leave the soul alone. I take it to mean that not only the body has been shed, but that the soul is also no longer part of the natural world. The great clouds watched the soul in its new body-less incarnation, but can no longer interact with it. The soul is truly on its own.
        Dickinson has reflected on death in many ways—the horror, the grief, the loss or victory, and the mystery. Here she hints a bit at the simple awesome moment where the soul is left in solitude—with no hint of what it must do.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. What image this leaves me with is merely the naked line of the horizon.

  3. Insightful commentary there.
    Do you think that the 'Two Worlds' or onlookers which disperse could perhaps refer to Heaven and Earth? This would reflect the dichotomy and the fight between the corporeal (which is ultimately surrendered) and the spiritual.

    I am drawn to the grand imagery that casts death as some momentous celestial occasion, as if the deceased being/spirit is the sole focus of a dramatic theatre or stadium performance.

    The isolation of the soul in death is emphasised by the adjective 'alone', which stands by itself. Perhaps this suggests peace at last, or lonliness forevermore...

    1. Ah, but there is the frightening first line. The soul must go alone to judgment. I get shivers just thinking of those mighty clouds -- Creation -- looking on as the flesh is sundered and both earth and creation disperse.

  4. The bardo again! The soul’s momentary limbo.

  5. Occam’s Razor recommends trying the simplest solution first, then, if that doesn’t work, move on to more complicated solutions. Stanza 2 is clear, somebody died. Traditional Protestant Christian dogma and Jimmy (6/8/20, above) posit death transitions the soul from earthly body-mind existence to purely spiritual existence. Occam would approve. (Jimmy limits the spiritual side to only Heaven; traditional Christian dogma would add Hell).

    In this poem, ED disagrees, suggesting instead that both Earth and Heaven/Hell, simply disperse like audiences after a play, leaving the soul - alone, or, as Shakespeare (As You Like It) inimitably puts it, in “mere oblivion”:

    “All the world’s a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players;
    They have their exits and their entrances;
    ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙
    Last scene of all,
    That ends this strange eventful history,
    Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
    Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

    ED knew her Shakespeare intimately.