My Noon had Come – to dine –
I trembling drew the Table near –
And touched the Curious Wine --
'Twas this on Tables I had seen –
When turning, hungry, Home
I looked in Windows, for the Wealth
I could not hope – for Mine --
I did not know the ample Bread –
'Twas so unlike the Crumb
The Birds and I, had often shared
In Nature's – Dining Room --
The Plenty hurt me – 'twas so new –
Myself felt ill – and odd –
As Berry – of a Mountain Bush –
Transplanted – to a Road --
Nor was I hungry – so I found
That Hunger – was a way
Of Persons outside Windows –
The Entering – takes away –
F439 (1862) J579
This allegorical poem has a sadder-but-wiser feel compared to “Victory comes late” (F195) where the speaker bitterly complains about dining on crumbs. There the table of plenty is Victory and it is God who keeps it out of reach. That table is “spread too high,” and so those yearning for its bounty must “dine on tiptoe.” Even then it is unclear if they ever obtain more than crumbs. “How sweet [Victory / success] would have tasted,” Dickinson writes. Even if “Just a Drop.”
Here, about 240 poems later, when her “Noon had Come” and she can finally sit at the table, she discovers that the “Curious Wine” and “ample Bread” are so foreign to her that they make her ill. “The Plenty hurt me,” she writes. She felt “odd.” Part of the displacement, I think, is that a loaf is very “unlike the Crumb” in a deeper sense than that it has more bread in it. It represents a different world, one organized by different priorities. The loaf would be as startling to a person accustomed to crumbs as a waterfall would be to a person who knew only the slightest trickling rivulet. The plenitude of something regarded as precious, as desirable, would almost be painful. The realization of a dream would reveal it for something less interesting than the dream itself.
Dickinson uses images of nature versus human society and human sustenance. The poet has been dining with birds, eating in “Nature’s – Dining Room.” This is consistent with her church of nature where the Bee stands in for God or the pastor, and the Sabbath is spent in the Orchard rather than in church. She herself is a “Berry – of a Mountain Bush.” To partake of the allegorical meal is to be “Transplanted – to a Road.” Talk about a disappointment! The hard-packed dirt of the road would offer little nourishment to the bush’s roots. The dust of the road would coat the leaves and keep out the sun. There would be a constant parade of passersby. The poet realizes that she doesn’t belong in that world of loaves and wine. That might be the common way, but it won’t nourish the little berry. She needs her mountain.
Dickinson wisely doesn’t tell us what the allegorical meal refers to, but she doesn’t need to. It might be fame, marriage, freedom from household duties, wealth – or maybe even heaven. It’s a universal lesson and what she’s saying applies to any sort of hunger. The last stanza, the lesson, bears a bit of thought. Hunger is something those on the outside experience. Hunger is for something on the other side of the window. Enter through the door, however, sit at the table, and that hunger disappears. It is not the eating that dispels the hunger, but the lack of barrier, the seeing things clearly for what they are. It is the longing that makes the desired object desirable; it is the heaven out of reach that we yearn for. Dickinson said as much in “Heaven – is what I cannot reach” (F310):
"Heaven"—is what I cannot reach!
The Apple on the Tree—
Provided it do hopeless—hang—
That—"Heaven" is—to Me!