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27 January 2013

Heaven is so far of the Mind

Heaven is so far of the Mind
That were the Mind dissolved—
The Site—of it—by Architect
Could not again be proved—

'Tis vast—as our Capacity—

As fair—as our idea—
To Him of adequate desire
No further 'tis, than Here—
                                                  F413 (1862)  J370

No one knows where heaven is or what it is. No one can honestly say whether or not it exists at all. Those who believe in it do so by faith, not observation. Dickinson makes that point here. All we believe or think we know of heaven is within our mind: that’s where the vision is, that’s where we harbour what we’ve learned and heard; that’s where our imagination is.
      So far this hints at a skeptics’ argument: Prove it! Once the mind is “dissolved” there is no more trace of the heaven it once believed in. Even an architect skilled in reading complicated drawings and plans would be unable to find heaven. It is too much "of the Mind."  So how can it possibly exist?
Everyone has their own sense of heaven
(permission of artist: Paige Bridges)
         The second stanza goes beyond such skepticism. Heaven is as “vast” and “fair” as we are capable of imagining. Ah, there’s the rub. How many of us undertake that imagining — or go beyond some Hallmark vision? But Dickinson ends the poem by saying that heaven need not be a location reserved for the dead. We can be realizing it right now – but only if we have enough desire, if we yearn for it.
          We saw an early formulation of this in F236, “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church,” where the poet celebrates the Sabbath “With a Bobolink for a Chorister – / And an Orchard, for a Dome.” She ends that poem by exclaiming that “instead of getting to Heaven, at last – / I’m going, all along.”
           And I think that makes eminent sense!


  1. This insight is so beautiful and profound. In Buddhist view, which I think ED discovered a simulacrum of by her own inner voyages, there is no independent "I." If we look for it inside of ourselves, we cannot find it. This not finding is how we begin to rest in openness, undefined, but present, here, immediate, alive, awake, alert. I think this is exactly what ED has encountered, her own Heaven that cannot be found.

    1. Thanks. I think you're right about this. Well said.

  2. This seems like Emily’s answer to Emerson’s oversoul - a much more beautiful explication of it, anyway.

    1. Having spent some years now practicing meditation I think Anonymous' comments above capture this poem. And I like your comment on Emerson's Oversoul, too. I don't think I paid enough attention to this poem first time around.

  3. Just found the album by Vesperland - 10 poems of Dickinson’s set to music. This one - She lay as if at play- is very beautiful. Check YouTube.

    1. Thanks PP, that guitar playing is singularly beautiful. (I can't help but think of the Pink Floyd song here too, "See Emily Play".)

  4. ED’s theology of Heaven could not be more different from prevailing Christian theology of her day: Heaven is not high overhead, it is “Here”, on Earth. Her 1862 vision of Heaven’s location scooped progressive 2023 Christian theology by 161 years.

    Where did she get such an idea?

    Revelations 21: KJV

    1 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.
    2 And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
    3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

    10 And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,

    22 And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.
    25 And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there.

    And how important was the Book of Revelations for ED?

    “In his reply to Dickinson's initial letter [of April 1862], Higginson asked what she read. She courteously answered, ∙ ∙ ∙ ∙
    "For Poets-I have Keats - and Mr and Mrs Browning. For Prose - Mr Ruskin - Sir Thomas Browne-and the Revelations.” ” (Capps, JL.1966.Emily Dickinson’s Reading 1836-1886)

    “Of the thirty-eight books of the Bible to which Emily Dickinson referred one or more times in her poems and letters, the Gospels, Revelation, and Genesis are most often cited. The most important New Testament sources, in order of frequency of reference, are Matthew, John, Luke, Revelation, and I Corinthians.” (Capps.1966)