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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.