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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 comment:

  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.