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20 January 2014

He found my Being — set it up —

He found my Being — set it up —
Adjusted it to place —
Then carved his name — upon it —
And bade it to the East

Be faithful — in his absence —
And he would come again —
With Equipage of Amber —
That time — to take it Home —

                                                        F511 (1863)  J603

One scholar says the "He" in this poem is Jesus. Another says it is Samuel Bowles. Arguments can be made for both. The central image of the poem is the sun, rising from the east in his amber glory, so whether or not that is read as Christ, as a beloved earthly lord, or as the sun itself – symbol of light and life or, as the last line suggests, a carriage to the afterlife that awaits after sunset, depends upon who is reading the poem and the way the poem is read.
       Dickinson has written about a lover as sun god before. In "He touched me, so I live to know" ( F349 ) she has been touched by her lover and "transfigured". She wants to go to his East as Rebecca went to Jerusalem to meet her husband, or as a Mithra worshipper adores "her imperial Sun". Even more specifically, in "The Daisy follows soft the Sun"  (F161 ) the subject is a love-struck daisy who turns her face to follow her beloved sun as he courses through the sky. At night she "Sits shyly at his feet" until he awakens in the morning for the new day. Both poems may well refer to Bowles and so it is not wild speculation to think that this poem refers to him as well.

       Reading the poem this way, I see a woman so in love with a man that other men do not exist for her. Her beloved commands her very essence. He tells her to wait for him, that as surely as the sun rises, he will come in a golden carriage to take her with him. In "There came a Day – at Summer's full" (F325 ), the narrator and her lover exchange a pledge that after they die they will rise "To that new Marriage" possible to them in heaven. If the man dies first, the woman would wait faithfully for his return – from the East, the location of sunrise, rebirth, passion, and paradise. She joyfully expects to see him after she dies, coming in his amber carriage to take her to their eternal "Home."

Yet the poem lends itself to a Christian interpretation as well: Jesus finds the speaker's "Being" and adjusts it so that her entire orientation is toward the East faithfully waiting for his return – the Second Coming. He has "carved his name" upon her as if inscribing his ownership. This is reminiscent of a couple passages of the New Testament book of Revelations. In chapter 14, verses 1-5, the book's author describes a multitude of "blameless" people whose foreheads were inscribed with Jesus' name. Later in that book,   Revelation 20:11-15 , the book of life and the book of
death are described. Anyone whose "name was not found written in the book of life, was thrown into the lake of fire." Since the poem's speaker has Jesus' name "carved" on her being, all she must do is wait patiently until he comes to take her home to paradise in his "Equipage of Amber."

The carriage motif is farmiliar, too. In several poems the speaker is carried off in a carriage after death to meet her fate. In "Dropped into the Ether Acre" ( (F286 ), she is in a "Coach of Silver … "Riding to meet the Earl."  In "Tie the Strings to my Life, My Lord" ( F338 ), the speaker prepares to take that final ride "to the Judgment – / And it's partly, down Hill." The nost famous, of course, is  F479 , "Because I could not stop for Death," where death is a gentleman in a carriage who politely drives the speaker off to Eternity.

The poem is a bit disconcerting because the tone is so neutral. Although the verb "carved" is quite strong – almost shocking – the speaker does not seem overtly violated. It might be that she accepted the Him so strongly that it was as if he had carved his name on her being. Or it might be that the He is so magnetic or so divine that the carving is almost an organic outgrowth. The speaker does not say whether or not she is following the instructions to wait faithfully for his return in the East, but we assume she is. After all, He set her up and adjusted her so that she would. 
       There is no sense of hope or faith, but then neither is there a sense of doubt or despair. There is an almost profound passiveness about the first line: "He found my Being." In fact, as I think about it, perhaps the tone is passive more than anything. The speaker is having things done to her, she must wait for more things to happen to her. In the meantime she reports on the events as in a distant fog.

We don't know if the He will return – and seemingly, neither does she.



  1. I think you mean to refer to the verb "carved" rather than "charged".

    I don't think much of an autobiographical interpretation of this poem.

    The religious approach to interpreting this poem seems right -- although EDs take on religion is unconventional. Instead of a creator god, ED refers to a "He" who "found my Being" and sets it in a limited location and adjusts it "to place". It is as if the writer was omnipresent before being found and the act of god is to create limits.

    Next god "carved his name" -- the image evokes a tree with initials carved in it that then is set to wait for the East -- for dawn, for resurrection. The carving of the name also echoes Calvinist theology -- the mark of the elect who then wait to be reunited with god.

    The arrival of dawn comes with the beautiful phrase "Equipage of Amber" -- the color of the new day and the sense of a carriage or transport.

    For me, "Amber" also evokes the gemstone amber -- derived from the sap of ancient trees. It is as if sap bleeding from the name carved in the tree has hardened. This alternate image is of being as an insect, trapped in amber, unchanging for all eternity.

    1. Thanks - I changed the "charged" to "carved." I love the image in your last paragraph, "trapped in amber, unchanging for all eternity." It would be her own amber, then, that traps her, carved from her own essence. I'm reminded that Dickinson's speakers have been trapped before: in the grave, in despair, or in some existential limbo. Sometimes it's up to the feet to continue on their "leaden way."

  2. Everything in this poem points to Charles Wadsworth as “He”, if only in ED’s poetic imagination.

    • The referent of “it” in all five cases is “my Being”.
    • “Bade” carries the archaic/literary definition: “Order; send; command” (ED Lex).

    • Wadsworth was a legendary Presbyterian minister in Philadelphia in 1855 when ED, age 25, very likely heard him preach. We don’t know if she met him after the service, but it’s clear “He found my Being” with his sermon.
    • During the next five years many letters passed back and forth, followed in 1860 by a personal visit by this famous minister to Amherst to meet ED, an unknown poet upstart.
    • By summer 1861 Charles Wadsworth was considering a “remove” to San Francisco.

    Was it concern for her mental health, curiosity, or something in that beguiling correspondence, that motivated Wadsworth’s March 1860 visit to ED at her home?

    There is circumstantial evidence he returned at “Summer’s full” in 1861 (F325) and that, at least in ED’s imagination, he promised to meet her again in Heaven for a spiritual marriage.


    In ‘He found my Being’, Wadsworth “bade” ED “to the East” (Amherst) and to:

    “Be faithful — in his absence —
    And he would come again —
    With Equipage of Amber —
    That time — to take it Home —”,

    that is, return from San Francisco to take her “Being” “Home” to Heaven where they would marry.