Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —
Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —
I've known her — from an ample nation—
Then — close the Valves of her attention—
Like Stone —
F409 (1862) J303
Some folks are extremely discriminating. I've known a few. But I've never known anyone quite as discriminating as the generalized Soul of this poem, one of Dickinson's most anthologized.
Dickinson conceives the soul as a stately and majestic entity. Her "Majority" is herself and what few other souls she chooses for her society; what's more, it is a "divine" majority. There is no temptation to admit others, no matter who they may be — even emperors kneeling at the door begging for entrance. Nope. She "notes" them and is completely "Unmoved" by their interest.
In the last stanza, Dickinson refers to a soul in the particular, as if there is a universal soul that somehow acts individually within each of us. At times, she says, this soul might just choose one friend. That's pretty discriminating, although it's clear that the poet is not talking about one's public face or persona. It's easy enough to chat and hang out with casual acquaintances but still keep them at arm's length from the depths of your soul. That place is sacrosanct.
|Victorian water valve
One must wonder if Dickinson is reflecting on her own soul. After all, it was about this time that she was withdrawing from society and staying home. Within a few years she would not venture out of her property at all. It was about this time that she would send down her regrets to even her most beloved friends who came to call. One must also wonder if she is reflecting on a beloved other who has shut her out.
I think, though, that she is meditating on the sovereignty of the soul. We sometimes talk about soul mates, or love at first sight, or having chemistry with some one. This may be the Soul making her choices. That is all well and good. But Dickinson writes with the outsider's knowledge of what it means to not be the soul mate. It is as if the valve of communion turned to stone.