You'll know it – as you know 'tis Noon –
By Glory –
As you do the Sun –
By Glory –
As you will in Heaven –
Know God the Father – and the Son.
By intuition, Mightiest Things
Assert themselves – and not by terms –
"I'm Midnight" – need the Midnight say –
"I'm Sunrise" – Need the Majesty?
Omnipotence – had not a Tongue –
His lisp – is Lightning – and the Sun –
His Conversation – with the Sea –
"How shall you know"?
Consult your Eye!
F429 (1862) J420
Dickinson was not a conventional Christian for her time and place. She didn’t care at all about going to church. She decided not to stand and affirm herself a Christian when revival fever swept Amherst, including her dearest friends and family. At times her poetry challenges the notion of the all-knowing, all-good God. Throughout her poems we see her find holiness and a holy presence in nature. Her orchard is her church, the birds her choristers.
In this poem she affirms that to know God is only to look around, to “Consult your Eye!” There is “Glory” in the fullness of day and in the golden radiance of the sun. You don’t have to be a scientist and know all the names for things. The spectacle of wonders that unfold for us every day is enough. The inky black mystery of midnight does not need to have a name. It is entire of itself.
Dickinson goes a bit further into the mysteries by saying that the “Mightiest Things,” the deepest and most important and powerful things (God, death, rebirth, etc.) are best experienced through intuition. This is a mysticism not sanctioned by the Puritan-influenced church of her day. While that tradition would agree that God speaks in the heart, it would not agree that revelation happens in the intuition. Rather, one should study the Bible and the words of renowned preachers. If revelation is to be made, God will do it himself, as he did to Moses in the burning bush, or to Samuel when he whispered to him at night. Or perhaps he will answer a prayer through a feeling or a sense of internal conversation.
But to Dickinson, the omnipotence of God – or perhaps she is thinking of a more generic un-named Omnipotence as a sort of Divine Presence, as did the Transcendentalists of her era (Emerson, Thoreau, etc.) – doesn’t speak or use language. In a wonderful image she says that the sun is his “Conversation – with the Sea.” I love it. Shakespeare, in Richard II, calls the sun the “eye of heaven, the searching eye of heaven.” I much prefer Dickinson’s version. The sun is what drives the winds, ocean currents, and climate of our planet, mostly by its interaction with the sea. What need does heaven have to spy on us, Dickinson might ask. Better that we observe the glories all around us and that way come to know the majesty and power of the divine.
“Consult your Eye!” she says, as if exasperated that what seems as plain as the noonday sun to her isn’t obvious to everyone.