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24 June 2013

I dwell in Possibility —

I dwell in Possibility —
A fairer House than Prose —
More numerous of Windows —
Superior — for Doors —

Of Chambers as the Cedars —
Impregnable of Eye —
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky —

Of Visitors — the fairest —
For Occupation — This —
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise —

                                                                        F466 (1862)  J657

In F445 Dickinson complained that “they” had tried to “shut me up in Prose” as if she were a little girl and could be put in the closet and made to be quiet.  At the end of that poem she dismisses the effort as vain: they might as well try to put a bird in jail for treason as keep her brain from going round. That was Dickinson’s negative framing of her freedom-within-confinement.
         This poem has none of the negativity and all of the freedom. Here, the poet dwells in “Possibility” and that, almost by definition, is freedom limited only by imagination. The White Queen boasted she “believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast” – surely a feat requiring prodigious imagination. I imagine Dickinson could keep up with the Queen.
         What is possible is, again by definition, more vast and varied than the Prose world of observation and logic. It is the world of imagination and of poetry. Little wonder Dickinson finds her imaginative world – her true dwelling – “fairer” than the cramped quarters of the prosaic, that is to say, her actual, physical house and home. Possibility has more doors and windows – the better to let in light and to look out of!
Tinturn Abbey, now open to the sky
Yet there is a wonderful privacy, too. Those "superior" doors have a dual purpose. And despite the numerous windows, there are private “Chambers” as “Impregnable” to the eye as a cedar tree. The poet can be as reclusive as she wishes in this marvelous house. The only visitors allowed are the very “fairest.” I must admit I think of tiny fairies or the bees and robins that Dickinson seems at times to converse with. There are also the mysterious “Hosts” that visit her (F303). No doubt they are among “the fairest.”
        The most charming part of this poem, I think, are the last two lines. The poet’s narrow hands spread wide enough to “gather Paradise.” That is her “Occupation.” “My business is Circumference,” she wrote Higginson (L268). I picture her spreading her hands as if to indicate that even Paradise falls within their span.


  1. I love "Gambrels of the Sky".

  2. For someone who read and admired George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, surely ED plays devil’s advocate calling poetry, “A fairer House than Prose”.

    Otherwise, the comparison suggests insecurity more than self-confidence:

    “Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
    Who in this land is fairest of all?

    To this the mirror answered:

    You, my queen, are fairest of all.”

    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, 1812, ‘Little Snow-White’