There can no Outer Wine
So royally intoxicate
As that diviner Brand
The Soul achieves — Herself —
To drink — or set away
For Visitor — Or Sacrament —
'Tis not of Holiday
To stimulate a Man
Who hath the Ample Rhine
Within his Closet — Best you can
Exhale in offering.
J383 (1863) Fr645
Oh to have a bit of that intoxicating joy that Dickinson writes about from time to time! It punctuates some of her most popular poems and is the polar opposite of her Gothic horror poems.
In the gay and charming 'I taste a liquor never brewed', for example, she is an 'Inebriate of air', a 'little Tippler / Leaning against the – Sun!' (F207). That same year, 1861, Dickinson describes an irrepressible inner ecstasy as 'A Diagram – of Rapture!' (F212). In perhaps my favorite of these poems, she claims that 'Exultation is the going / Of an inland soul to sea', a 'divine intoxication' (F143). In other poems she depicts piercing joys, cosmic highs, and often transcendental experiences of Nature.
|I find that Georgia O'Keefe's paintings often |
reflecta deep and mystical ecstasy.
The current poem promises to give us a little more insight into inner ecstasies, but ends up cloaked as all mysteries are. It begins with a claim: it is possible to experience, even possess, something 'royally intoxicate', something that doesn't come from any 'Outer Wine'. It is 'diviner' than any happiness the finest liquers, riches, bonanzas, or foreign travels might offer.
Some joys invite us to enter the sacred – or perhaps the inverse: a special place, a piece of music, meditation, dancing – poetry. We might at times want to invite a guest into our sacred realm. We might choose to experience the exhiliration sacramentally as a holy ritual. In this poem Dickinson describes not only exhiliration and perhaps enlightenment, but also empowerment. The Soul can achieve; the Soul can dispense.
The third and last stanza is difficult. A man with 'Ample Rhine' in his wine cabinet might be a good and worldly man, the Rhine wine standing for vitality and robust goodness; a man who might be stimulated to begin achieving his own diviner intoxication. Or, and I think this more likely, it might refer to a man whose Soul has already achieved an ample supply of the 'diviner Brand'.
Why should the poet consider how to stimulate such a man – and for what purpose? The Emily Dickinson Lexicon's first definition of 'stimulate' is 'To excite, rouse, or animate to action by means of a motive. Perhaps the desired 'action' and the underlying motive would be the realization of a soul mate, a worthy Guest to share her inner wine – and someone who could reciprocate.
In any case, Dickinson's prescribed stimulant is to 'Exhale in offering'. When we are full of wine, our breath reflects it. An exhalation of divine intoxicant would have not just odor, but power. The key word is 'offering'. I am reminded of Old Testament offerings – blood sacrifices with savoury smoke to please the Lord while carrying prayers. I wonder if Dickinsons exhalations – her gnomic poems, letters, and conversation – might not be such an offering.