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08 February 2019

Smiling back from Coronation

Smiling back from Coronation
May be Luxury —
On the Heads that started with us —
Being's Peasantry —

Recognizing in Procession
Ones We former knew —
When Ourselves were also dusty —
Centuries ago —

Had the Triumph no Conviction
Of how many be —
Stimulated — by the Contrast —
Unto Misery —

                                                            J385,  Fr651 (1863)

This poem might be grouped with others where either Dickinson claims and celebrates her calling as a Poet or else among those where she recounts a transcendent experience. But while both of those poem groups reflect an almost ecstatic confidence, the current poem seems quite breezy, even condescending, by comparison. The speaker would like to smile after her Coronation, but decides it would be a luxury – and tacky, really –  because in the Procession she would see folks she knew from the distant past, people who "started" with her, and many others – all of whom would be "Stimulated … Unto Misery" by contrasting themselves to her. At least some of those in the Procession, those who began with the speaker, are dismissed as "Being's Peasantry".  Ouch.
St. John sees the crowned saints

Some scholars have suggested that passages in the biblical book of Revelations are the basis of the poem. Cristanne Miller, for example, writes that the poem "probably refers to passages in Revelation such as 2:10, 'be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life,' and 20:4, 'And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them … and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years'" (Emily Dickinson's Poems As She Preserved Them, n. 276, p. 763). Sadly, those people who did not make that first cut must wait in the grave until the second Resurrection where they stand before God for judgment (Revelation 20:12-13). In this reading, the speaker would be figuratively counting herself among the crowned martyrs.
        This may be a sort of triumph fantasy where the person considered by others to be a spiritual risk has found her way to salvation or at least experiencing the mixed emotions when after experiencing an epiphany or transcendent spiritual experience one rejoins quotidean human existence.

It is likely, however, that Dickinson is using biblical language to celebrate the internal coronation she has come to feel as a poet. In “For this—accepted Breath” (J195, Fr230), for example, Dickinson claims an immortal crown because of her calling as a Poet – and a great one – and calls on the archangel Gabriel and the Saints to proclaim it.
        But it is her paean to poets, "This was a Poet" (J448, Fr446), two hundred poems ago, that seems most like the current poem. The notion of immortality is front and center there. The Poet, she asserts, is "Exterior – to Time." The Poet "Entitles Us – by Contrast – to ceaseless Poverty –". Likewise in the current poem, the poet, still bedazzled by that mixture of epiphany and confidence whereby she experienced a personal "Coronation" crowning her poetic calling, looks at those around her, those who are dusty, just as she was "Centuries ago." The dustiness is that of the earth, for without the divine spark, we are but flesh and blood. These are "Being's Peasantry" – those tied to life's appetites, achievements and failures, just as a peasant is tied to a parcel of land.

Poetically, nothing tingles or surprises. But I do appreciate the rhyming pair of "Luxury" and Peasantry.

I would be very interested in readers' opinions. What have I missed?