And walk steady, away,
Requires Energy—possibly Agony—
'Tis the Scarlet way
Trodden with straight renunciation
By the Son of God—
Later, his faint Confederates
Justify the Road—
Flavors of that old Crucifixion—
Filaments of Bloom, Pontius Pilate sowed—
Strong Clusters, from Barabbas' Tomb—
Sacrament, Saints partook before us—
Patent, every drop,
With the Brand of the Gentile Drinker
Who indorsed the Cup—
F404 (1862) J527
Dickinson writes here of renunciation and the suffering that follows when one utterly rejects the world.
She begins by picturing life in this world—family, profession, woods, conventional religion, and beaches—as a "Bundle" that one might put down and walk away from. To do so, however, requires a huge effort, "possibly Agony," and even bloodshed, for this is "the Scarlet way." The world doesn't understand or treat with much charity those who reject it.
The second stanza makes this point more clearly. Jesus renounced the world when he rejected fame and fortune and the wisdom of the elders. His bloody death did indeed put him on the scarlet way. His disciples, those "faint Confederates", wrote about their experiences in pieces that became books of the New Testament. This was also their attempt to "Justify the Road".
|The communion cup|
Paul was the apostle to the gentiles, though, and "Gentile Drinker" might have a double meaning here. His ministry changed Christianity from a jewish religion to a gentile one as he metaphorically drank them in. Or Dickinson might be conflating Paul with his gentile ministry for poetic purposes. That Paul also put his brand, or stamp, on all aspects of Christianity is beyond doubt.
If Paul is the Drinker whose teachings are "patent" in the communion cup, then the stanza becomes ironic. It introduces an interpreter into the communion sacrament and that introduces an element of doubt. Have the "Flavors" of the crucifixion been altered somehow by the stamp of Paul? Have christians been unwittingly following Paul rather than Jesus in some subtle but profound way that is bound up in the sacrament of communion?
I don't think Dickinson is distancing herself from the "Scarlet way", though. Her admiration of Jesus' "straight renunciation" seems real. If anything, she is making a veiled warning about letting a sacrament take the place of deeply felt personal renunciation, about accepting something with someone else's brand on it for the real thing.