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12 January 2015

I went to Heaven –

I went to Heaven –
'Twas a small Town –
Lit – with a Ruby –
Lathed – with Down –

Stiller – than the fields
At the full Dew –
Beautiful – as Pictures –
No Man drew –
People – like the Moth –
Of Mechlin – frames –
Duties – of Gossamer –
And Eider – names –
Almost – contented –
I – could be –
'Mong such unique
Society –
              F577 (1863)  J374

Dickinson seems to be describing a saccharine Christmas card in this light poem. Picture the classic little Christmas-card town, blanketed with snow, lit by a great star or perhaps the moon. There is usually a snowy meadow and charming hamlet. If there are people they are sedate and peaceful, or if children, innocent and wide-eyed. No one appears to be working unless it is a man pausing from cutting firewood to admire the sky. I like to gaze at such pretty scenes and would be "Almost – contented" to live there.

     Dickinson, of course, adds her great poetic dexterity to limning this sketch that differs in only one important way from the card I described: she is describing Heaven. She would find a kindred spirit in G.B. Shaw who wrote, "heaven is the most angelically dull place in all creation" The Statue, Man and Superman, Act III [Don Juan in Hell]. Of course, Shaw was being quite tongue in cheek – but so is Dickinson who I think is lampooning popular conceptions.
Elizabeth M. Kurella

She creates a very static heaven. It is "Stiller – than the fields / At the full Dew" and its people no more dynamic than the lace moths from Flanders. Their duties are feather light, and even their names are soft and downy: Celestine, maybe, or Alma for the feminine; Aurelius or Sebastian for the masculine. 
She is tactfully droll at the end. She could be "Almost" content among "such unique" people. Yes, and Tom Sawyer enjoyed the Sunday School picnic.

For your enjoyment: a Youtube  of Carla Bruni singing the poem accompanied by lots of stills of winged and gossamer maidens.


  1. Saccharine is right -- and with exact rhymes that reflect this anodyne vision of heaven: Town / Down; Dew / drew; frames / names; be / Society.

    I have a visceral negative reaction to this poem.

  2. This kind of "slight" poem gains weight by being mysterious and evocative. You want to puzzle the riddle, and suddenly the slippery signifiers start working on you. And then you hear the Carla Bruni treatment, and somehow the poem becomes even more lovely and wistful. Of all the poems, why this one, Carla? What is it that drew you into it? And suddenly you realize, you are into the "little heaven" of it too. In Emily's hands the scene becomes...sacred. Stiller than fields at full dew. Fields at full dew, first thing in the morning are hushed with the holy. Stiller than this? Is that lesser or greater? And mechlin moth people with gossamer duties. Tell me more! But more would spoil the imagination. Suffice that it is unique and more beautiful than anything drawn by man (I think of nature being better than a Van Dyke drawing a few poems back.)

    What in the world are eider names? Names of ducks? A reference back to down? But why "names"?

    Lit by a ruby. I don't know what that is, but I would guess red gaslight in a street or window lamp.

    Is she looking at a little barely lit snow scene in the dark? From her room?

    Not getting saccharine here, myself.

    As for "almost contented", it reminds me of the heft of those cathedral tunes, and that slant of sunlight. There is something strangely oppressive in this scene, for all the unique loveliness, a longing for a sunny noon, perhaps.

    1. Okay, I'm in. I'd like to get a taste of this place. But I'd much prefer to be in that slant of sunlight...

  3. “Almost – contented –
    I – could be –
    'Mong such unique
    Society –”

    Once upon a time I hosted a conference workshop on plant demography and there, front and center, sat Harvard Professor Edward O. Wilson, founder of the field of Sociobiology and father of Island Biogeography. My paper, a mundane thing on sunflower population modeling, was last. Afterward Wilson came forward, kindly shook my hand, and said, “If I lived 1000 years, I’d spend my last 10 on that research.” In my confusion I mumbled “thank you”.

    An hour or two later what he said sank in. Like ED, he had politely told me, “No Thank You!”.

    1. What a story!! Have to admit it made me laugh a lot -- but not until, as you said about yourself -- until it sunk in. I wonder if he'd prepared that line and wielded it regularly.