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Emily Dickinson

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Title:
Emily Dickinson mystic and skeptic
Creator:
Flick, Robert Gene, 1930-
Publication Date:
Copyright Date:
1967
Language:
English
Physical Description:
iii, 379 leaves : ; 28 cm.

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Death ( jstor )
Heaven ( jstor )
Love poetry ( jstor )
Mysticism ( jstor )
Mystics ( jstor )
Poetry ( jstor )
Renunciation ( jstor )
Seas ( jstor )
Soul ( jstor )
Stanzas ( jstor )
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF
English thesis Ph. D
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Thesis:
Thesis - University of Florida.
Bibliography:
Bibliography: leaves 376-378.
Additional Physical Form:
Also available on World Wide Web
General Note:
Manuscript copy.
General Note:
Vita.

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University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Copyright [name of dissertation author]. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.
Resource Identifier:
022135422 ( AlephBibNum )
13551311 ( OCLC )
ACY7558 ( NOTIS )

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EMILY DICKINSON: MYSTIC AND SKEPTIC













By

ROBERT GENE FLICK


A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY


UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


April, 1967











ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


To the administration and trustees of Jacksonville University I

wish to express sincere thanks for the paid leave of absence that allowed

me to complete this dissertation. For their interest and support of my

efforts to obtain such a grant, I am especially grateful to Dr. Dan A.

Thomas, Dean of the Faculty, Dr. John E. Tilford, Chairman of the Divi-

sion of Humanities, and Dr. George W. Hallam, Professor of English and a

long-time friend.

I want to thank those members of the English Department at the Uni-

versity of Florida who have shown interest in my progress and have offered

advice and encouragement over a period of several years. I should like to

mention particularly Professors T. Walter Herbert, Edwin C. Kirkland, Peter

Lisca, and Alton C. Morris.

My principal debt of gratitude, for his kindness, patience, and wise

counsel, must go to the chairman of my committee, Dr. John T. Fain, who has

given generously of his time in going over my writing and guiding me in the

various stages of this study. I am indebted also to Dr. William Ruff, a

considerate and helpful member of my committee for several years, and to

the people who at various times have represented my minor in humanities:

Dr. John H. Groth, an inspiring former teacher, and Dr. Eugene A. Hammond,

who generously consented to replace the late Dr. Arthur W. Thompson.

Finally, I wish to thank my wife and family for their sacrifices

and understanding during the progress of my work.














TABLE OF CONTENTS



ACINTOWLEDGMENTS ....... . ... ...... ...... ii

CHAPTER


I


INTRODUCTION: BACKGROUND, DEFINITIONS, THE CRITICAL
CONTEXT. . . . . . . . . . . . ..


II UNCERTAINTY: THE CLEANSING PERIL OF SKEPTICISM

III ECSTASY: THE AWAKENING OF THE SOUL. . . .

IV DESOLATION: THE PARADOX OF LOSS AND GAIN . .

V ILLIJMI TION: t~IANSCENDENT CONCEPTS OF REALITY.

VI PURGATION: THE WAY OF DEATH . . . . .

VII RAVISH4ENT: THE CONSUMMATION OF UNITY . . .

CONCLUSIONS . . . . . . . . . . .

A SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . .

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . . . . .. . . . .


. 1

.34

.110

.153

.183

.225

.292

.374

.376

.379


iii


AND DOUBT.

e
. .



e
. . .

. . .

. . .

. . .

* . .

. . .

. . .











CHAPTER I

INTRODUCTION: BACKGROUND, DEFINITIONS, THE CRITICAL CONTEXT


Background and purpose.--During the summer of 1962 I had occasion

to re-read a considerable body of the poetry of Emily Dickinson in view

of an illuminating introduction by Northrop Frye. It was partly a result

of Frye's criticism that I began to see what appeared to be a fusion of

religious skepticism and mystical awareness in her poetry. The concep-

tion of Emily Dickinson as mystic and skeptic grew steadily from that

time, culminating in the present study.

This study represents an attempt to select a significant number of

poems that reveal mystical or skeptical tendencies, to organize them into

meaningful phases of thought and feeling, and to explicate them emphasiz-

ing their mystical and skeptical qualities. Her mysticism, though it has

been discerned, has apparently never been fully documented; the poems

that illustrate it have not been brought together and analyzed to deter-

mine the distinctive character of her mysticism. Moreover, the unusual

role of skepticism as a stimulant to her mystical temperament has not

previously been described. These are some of the tasks undertaken here.

In an attempt to avoid being unduly influenced by the opinions of

other critics, I postponed the reading of several of the standard works

on the poet until the study was essentially complete. Though I was fully

aware that her mystical tendencies had been noted by various writers, I


1
Major Writers of America, ed. Perry Miller (New York, 1962), II,
3-17.











had never encountered a statement describing her spiritual conscious-

ness specifically as a combination of mysticism and skepticism. It was

astonishing, therefore, after the study was finished, to run on to the

following passage in George Whicher's early biography, This Was a Poet.2

After noting the "close parallel between her work and that of Donne,

Herbert, and Vaughan," Whicher says that nevertheless she was evidently

"not well acquainted" with these seventeenth century poets.

She had, however, found one harbor in the seventeenth
century. The writer of that period whom she most cherished,
according to her statement to Higginson, was Sir Thomas
Browne. This is the first and last that we hear of him
from her, but the hint is not to be neglected. Browne, who
wrote the Religio Medici as a "private exercise" not in-
tended for publication, who lived much apart from the world
to speculate on the mysteries of time and death, who combined
the mental attitudes of skeptic and mystic, and who loved to
draw hermetic meanings out of scientific and mathematical
figures, was obviously her spiritual kinsman. (p. 211)

Whicher goes on to credit Margery McKay with the discovery that the poet's

use of "circumference is very similar to "Browne's use of the same word."

Moreover, Whicher's recognition of contradictory tendencies in

Emily Dickinson is not limited to his observation of her affinity with

Browne. He says elsewhere that "like Emerson's Brahma, she was able to

be both doubter and devotee in a fashion that puzzles more single-minded

readers" (p. 292). Specifically concerning her work, he says, "In con-

trast to her poems of affirmation, therefore, we find a number conceived

in a purely skeptical mood" (p. 300). His most penetrating comment on

her ambivalence is probably the following:


2George Frisbie Whicher, This Was a Poet (New York, 1939).











At any moment she was ready to acknowledge in herself the
claims of rationalist and mystic, Pyrrhonist and Transcen-
dentalist. A mood of faith that possessed her in the
morning might become matter of delicate mockery in the
afternoon, a piercing grief could be sublimated overnight
into a rapture of spiritual purgation. (p. 305)

It would seem then that Whicher observed in Emily Dickinson the

same "mental attitudes of skeptic and mystic" that I have tried to docu-

ment in the pages that follow. Though these statements come closest to

expressing the synthesis aimed at in this study, there are quite a number

of references that may be cited in support of mystical or skeptical ten-

dencies alone. It might be appropriate to look at some of these, from

both short and long works, before proceeding.

Critical comments on mysticism or skepticism.--Various short

critical analyses of Emily Dickinson's achievement have been assembled
3
in the collection of essays edited by Richard B. Sewall. In most of

these essays some statement may be found to suggest the poet's inclina-

tion toward mysticism or skepticism. In his introduction, Sewall himself

says, "She is variously a mystical poet, a romantic poet, a Metaphysical,

a Transcendentalist, and, most recently, a Meditative poet" (p. 5).

Conrad Aiken says that her inability to find intellectual compan-

ionship made her an easy "prey to the then current Emersonian doctrine of

mystical individualism." He also remarks on her skeptical tendencies,

particularly her irreverence toward the "Puritan conception of God."

Commenting on her use of the expression, "Burglar, banker, father" and


3Emily Dickinson: a Collection of Critical Essays (Englewood
Cliffs, N. J., 1963). References to these essays will be cited here-
after by page only.












on her apology to God for his own "duplicity," he concludes as follows:

This, it must be repeated, is Emily Dickinson's opinion of
the traditional and anthropomorphic "God," who was still, in
her day, a portentous Victorian gentleman. Her real rever-
ence, the reverence that made her a mystic poet of the finest
sort, was reserved for Nature, which seemed to her a more
manifest and more beautiful evidence of Divine Will than
creeds and churches. (pp. 12-13)

Allen Tate's essay, though it is one of the most illuminating,

contains no specific reference to mysticism, but it does contain three

or four statements that help to support my own conception of the poet and

her work. Though the present study is based almost entirely on the poet-

ry, I have nevertheless, in the title, implied a designation for the poet

herself. A comment of Tate's tends to justify the identification of the

poet with her work: "There is none of whom it is truer to say that the

poet is the poetry" (p. 19).

Tate has also put his finger on the peculiar ability that made it

possible for Emily Dickinson to be a mystic poet: ". . like Donne, she

perceives abstraction and thinks sensation." Such perception may be con-

sidered a mystical faculty, and the ability to translate the perception

into concrete sensory images is obviously a poetic faculty. He notes

other "remarkable ties" between Dickinson and Donne, but the one that

most clearly suggests her distinct position between mystic and skeptic

is the following:

In Miss Dickinson, as in Donne, we may detect a singularly
morbid concern, not for religious truth, but for personal
revelation. The modern word is self-exploitation. It is ego-
ism grown irresponsible in religion and decadent in morals.
In religion it is blasphemy; in society it means usually
that culture is not self-contained and sufficient, that the
spiritual community is breaking up. This is, along with
some other features that do not concern hs here, the per-
fect literary situation. (pp. 21-23)











To clarify the point Tate alludes to the situation that gave rise to

Shakespeare. When the "world order is assimilated . as medievalism

was in Shakespeare, to the poetic vision," it may be clearly seen for

the fiction that it is.

And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve.

In thus carrying Tate's point a bit farther and introducing Wallace

Stevens' use of "fiction," I am able to suggest an idea developed in

my final chapter. Though the Puritan fiction was a part of Emily Dick-

inson, she was never a part of it: hence her skepticism. Through her

rejection of orthodox religion, as of the world in general, she was able

to insist on personal illumination, however presumptuous it may seem.

Thus the dissolution of the Puritan fiction does not carry her with it.

Disintegration of a spiritual order is "the perfect literary situation"

because it prepares for the building of a more enduring structure through

the selecting and transforming power of art, and this was the process in

which she was engaged. The spiritual quest was, for her, identical with

the poetic process. Both were facets of the pursuit of immortality.

In his essay called "Emily Dickinson and the Limits of Judgment"

Yvor Winters mentions mysticism and mystical experience several times.

He even calls it a major subdivision of her poetry: "mystical experience,

or the definition of the experience of 'immortality,' to use a favorite

word, or of beatitude." In commenting on poem 1159, "Great streets of

silence led away,' he reveals the difficulty of actually calling her a

mystic, notwithstanding the mysticism in her poetry:











This is technically a mystical poem: that is, it
endeavors to render an experience--the rapt contempla-
tion, eternal and immovable, which Aquinas describes as
the condition of beatitude--which is by definition
foreign to all human experience, yet to render it in
terms of a modified human experience. Yet there is no
particular reason to believe that Emily Dickinson was a
mystic, or thought she was a mystic. (pp. 30-32)

The tone of Winters' essay as a whole is not one of admiration or

sympathy for Emily Dickinson, but he does pay her a backhanded compli-

ment when he says, "Her inability to take Christian mysticism seriously

did not, however, drive her to the opposite extreme of the pantheistic

mysticism which was seducing her contemporaries" (p. 35). Whatever may

have been her attitude toward Christian mysticism, which is largely

Catholic, Winters later notes that she was inclined to reinterpret cer-

tain aspects of Calvinist theology "in the direction of a more clearly

Catholic Christianity" (p. 39).

Henry U. Wells, in his essay on "Romantic Sensibility," attributes

Emily Dickinson's mysticism to--well of course, to romantic sensibility:

The contrasted seeds of mysticism and Stoicism took root
in Emily's mind not only because of her own personality,
but through a congenial ground prepared for them by roman-
tic sensibility. . In view of her total accomplishments
she is neither a mystic nor a stoic poet, though she undeni-
ably is both mystical and stoical. . Her mind was inte-
grated at least to the extent that such qualities as her
peculiar mysticism and Stoicism are themselves properly
explained in the light of her romantic environment and soul.
(p. 45)

I wonder how mystical one must be to be a mystic. I have no particular

quarrel with those, like Wells and Chase, who place a great deal of em-

phasis on the poet's romantic temperament; this does not necessarily,

in my opinion, devaluate the genuineness of mystical perceptions. But











it should be remembered that Emily Dickinson's romanticism was balanced

by an almost severe realism and skepticism.

In "Communication of the Word' Donald E. Thackrey says that Emily

Dickinson's reverence for "the power of the individual word . helps

explain her use of poetic composition to discipline the mystical intui-

tions which involved her in both ecstasy and suffering of extreme inten-

sity" (p. 51). He believes, however, that she ultimately came to the

conclusion "that words, powerful as they are, cannot encompass what is

truly significant." What course of action must follow from such a con-

clusion?

The apparently logical thing to do would be to withdraw
from all attempts at language communication and devote her-
self to a mystical experiencing of truth. Such a course of
action would not have been foreign to her nature or inclina-
tion. Few persons have so completely withdrawn from human
society as she did. However, Emily Dickinson was apparently
not the type of person who could attain a completely mystical
approach to life. She seemed to feel a desperate need for
language communication, or at least the need to organize her
experience to such a degree that it could be expressed on
paper if only for herself to read. Thus, fully aware that
she was attempting the exact thing which she considered im-
possible, she tried to find phrases for her thoughts. (p. 66)

This is a valuable comment, it seems to me, for explaining in another way

the intimate relationship between Emily Dickinson's art and her spiritual

life. As already noted, the spiritual quest was, for her, identical with

the poetic process. Poetry was a way of giving form to that which she

knew was formless and finally inexpressible, but human sensibility re-

quires form.

Though he does not specifically mention mysticism, R. P. Blackmur

calls her, along with Herrick and Rilke, a "nuptial poet." "All three












celebrate the kind of intimacy we celebrate and sometimes find as nup-

tial. . Each marriage is an effort towards identity" (p. 81). He

also speaks of her protestantt self-excruciation in life's name" (p. 85).

Self-excruciation is an aspect of the mystic way of death described in

the sixth chapter of this study; marriage and identity are aspects of

mystic unity discussed in the last chapter.

John Crowe Ransom also avoids the word "mysticism," but something

very much like it is implied when he speaks of the "magnificent image of

her Soul which she has created in the poems. It may have been imaginary

in the first instance, but it becomes more and more actual as she finds

the courage to live by it." He observes further that she chose as an

artist to claim a heroic history which exhibited first a great passion,

then renunciation and honor, and a passage into the high experiences of

a purified Soul" (pp. 96-98). These steps clearly suggest a pattern

that can often be discerned in the Mystic Way: a movement from ecstasy

to renunciation and purification, and finally to the achievement of unity.

A similar pattern has been followed in organizing this study.

Austin Warren, like Whicher, remarks on the influence of Sir

Thomas Browne. It is not only her style that recalls Browne but the

"difficulties which beset the acceptance of the Bible and orthodox the-

ology." He mentions some of the incongruities that troubled Browne,

then notes Emily Dickinson's comparable skepticism:

Emily's most characteristic difficulties are with the
morals of the Bible, especially of the Old Testament,--which
in her time and place had not been subjected to the "Higher
Criticism." She "knew her Bible" well, the total Bible: it
was her prime mythology. She neither rejects nor accepts it
without question and reservation. (p. 107)











Warren later makes a point that I feel helps greatly to build the case

for her mysticism: "It seems archetypally true of Emily to say that God

was her lover" (p. 111). Much has been said in speculation about her

lover that seems to me totally irrelevant to our understanding of her

poetry, but if God--or "Awe," as she preferred--was the lover, it is not

only relevant but fundamental to the mystical consciousness that is per-

haps the source of her poetic power.

Along with others, James Reeves says, "Her wit has been compared

to the metaphysical style of Donne; it may also be compared with the

gnomic style of Blake." Both English poets have been described as mys-

tical, but of the two, Blake is more distinctly the visionary. Reeves

suggests that Emily Dickinson shared this quality:

Emily's arrival at the truth in this sibylline fashion
is not so much irrational as super-rational. She was in-
terested, not so much in a truth for its own sake--she was
not a philosopher or a moralist--as in a direct vision of
the truth. One might rationalize the vision or intuition
after it had occurred, but that was not her business as a
poet. In seeking to understand her poems, which are often
highly cryptic, we require intuition rather than reason.
(p. 121)

Adding to what has been said before about the identification of her life

and her art, Reeves says, "She lived her poems, and never simply thought

them; they were paid for in sensibility or in suffering or in ecstasy"

(p. 124). If so, they are the fruits of mystical experience.

One of the finest short descriptions of Emily Dickinson's dis-

tinct sensibility is the essay by Richard Wilbur called "Sumptuous Des-

titution." I am glad I did not read it until my own study was completed,

for I doubt if I could have written the chapter on the paradox of loss












and gain without feeling deeply indebted to Wilbur. As it is, I only

wish I had written the essay too, for it so perfectly and eloquently

expresses my own understanding of Emily Dickinson's faculty for convert-

ing privation into abundance, loss into gain, pain into bliss. Wilbur

may himself be indebted to Whicher, who covers much the same ground in

the final chapter of This Was a Poet, but the following lines could

hardly be surpassed as an expression of the paradoxical nature of mys-

tical awareness:

The creature of appetite (whether insect or human) pur-
sues satisfaction, and strives to possess the object in
itself; it cannot imagine the vaster economy of desire, in
which the pain of abstinence is justified by moments of
infinite joy, and the object is spiritually possessed, not
merely for itself, but more truly as an index of the All.
That is how one comprehends a nectar. Miss Dickinson's
bee does not comprehend the rose which it plunders, because
the truer sweetness of the rose lies beyond the rose, in
its relationship to the whole of being. . Emily Dickin-
son elected the economy of desire, and called her privation
good, rendering it positive by renunciation. And so she
came to live in a huge world of delectable distances. (p. 133)

Wilbur is not the first to notice that at times in her poetry "the

life to come is described in an ambiguous present tense, so that we half-

suppose the speaker to be already in Heaven." This possession of eternity

in the ever-present now I take to be a distinctly mystical aptitude. In

the last few paragraphs of his essay Uilbur comments on the logic of her

claims to beatitude." He concludes that

. poetry must have been the chief source of her sense
of blessedness. The poetic impulses which visited her
seemed "bulletins from Immortality," and by their means
she converted all her losses into gains, and all the pains
of her life to that clarity and repose which were to her
the qualities of Heaven. So superior did she feel, as a
poet, to earthly circumstance, and so strong was her faith












in words, that she more than once presumed to view this
life from the vantage of the grave.
In a manner of speaking, she was dead. And yet her
poetry, with its articulate faithfulness to inner and
outer truth, its insistence on maximum consciousness, is
not an avoidance of life but an eccentric mastery of it.
(pp. 135-36)

It is easy enough to see the manner in which "she was dead" when we con-

sider the mystical meaning of death. She was dead to the outer life in

order that she might be inwardly alive. She had gone through the way of

death in order to achieve unity through transformation. This is the

final paradox, and it is treated in the last two chapters of the present

study.

"A Mystical Poet" by Louise Bogan is obviously devoted in its en-

tirety to Emily Dickinson's tendencies toward mysticism. Published in

1960, the essay alludes to an article written in 1945 by the same author

in which she said "that the time had come 'to assess Emily Dickinson's

powers on the highest level of mystical poetry, where they should be

assessed'" (p. 137). That task, which had not yet been undertaken in

1960, is at least attempted in this study. Though there have been vari-

ous articles and longer works on her religious views, her renunciation,

and her concept of death and immortality, there has been no exhaustive

attempt to set forth the actual evidence of mysticism in her poetry, so

far as I have been able to determine.

Recognizing the importance of defining "mystic" and "mysticism,"

Louise Bogan notes that "when, in the West, we speak of true mysticism,

we have in mind the example of the Christian saints." She cites Evelyn

Underhill's statement that mysticism "came to itself" in Christianity











and became aware of its true object in the personality of God. "True

mystics," she believes, "do not indulge in diffuse pantheism. ." (p.

137). I do not wish to view mysticism so narrowly. As Bertrand Rus-

sell has pointed out, it is almost impossible for the mystic to escape

the consideration of pantheism; Christianity, moreover, because of its

roots in Platonic dualism, presents difficulties for the mystic that are

not found in Buddhism and other Eastern religions. Thus I do not limit

my consideration of Emily Dickinson's mysticism to the tradition of the

Christian saints. There are points of similarity, as noted in the last

chapter, between her conception of unity and that of Oriental mysticism.

There are times when her mystical insight seems to range outside the

bounds of any particular religion. In spite of Evelyn Underhill's claim

that the great mystics are generally "faithful sons of the great reli-

gions," I believe mysticism often denotes a level of understanding, a

dimension of experience, and an expansion of consciousness that simply

cannot be embraced by any religious system. The considerations of or-

thodox theology may be utterly irrelevant to it. Underhill comes close

to acknowledging this when she says that the true mystic does not need

the map of orthodoxy but is "willing to use the map of the community in

which he finds himself" (p. 104). She admits that mystics are often re-

garded as madmen or heretics by the orthodox.

Mysticism, as I see it, may be described as a faculty that is dis-


4Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, Meridian Book edition (Cleveland,
1955), p. 96. All references to Underhill are to this edition. See bib-
liography for original publisher and copyright date.











ciplined by an effort involving both mind and body--the whole being--

and that has, as its aim and potentiality, the fulfillment of the whole

being. It is partly an effort to negate and override death, foolish as

that may seem to the realist (which Emily Dickinson sometimes was), and

to achieve a sense of the eternal now that renders time meaningless. Yet

it has no use for considerations of sin, reward, punishment, heaven, or

hell. Eternity is no future time calling for hope of reward or fear of

damnation; it is a state of consciousness, an elect status and stasis,

wherein the attempt to grasp the rapidly fading pageant of the world is

happily abandoned.

Louise Bogan perceives that "the progress of the mystic toward

illumination, and of the poet toward the full depth and richness of his

insight--are much alike" (p. 138), and with this I can readily agree,

particularly when it is applied to Emily Dickinson. But she goes on to

say that Emily Dickinson belongs "in the company" of the English Roman-

tic poets--Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats--who identi-

fied the imagination with God. I am not fully sympathetic with this as-

sumption; it again tends to overlook her realism, and it ignores her

hesitation to say anything about God. I have the distinct impression

that Emily Dickinson regarded the term "God" as too ambiguous and anthro-

pomorphic to be meaningful. She preferred a term like "Awe" that could

not be addressed or visualized.

What was the basis of Emily Dickinson's mystical awareness9 Ac-

cording to Bogan, "Balance, delicacy and force--fed by her exquisite

sensesand her infinitely lively and inquisitive mind--these are the












qualities which reinforce her vision into the heart and spirit of nature,

and into her own heart." She adds later that the "power to say the un-

sayable--to hint of the unknowable--is the power of the seer, in this

woman equipped with an ironic intelligence and great courage of spirit."

Her aphorisms correspond to "mystical writing from Plotinus to Blake"

(pp. 141-43). Thus it is pointed out once more that the poetic faculty

is united with the mystical faculty, as it is in the ancient conception

of the poet as prophet. This is a point that cannot be stressed too

often as one tries to understand the distinctive power of Emily Dickin-

son.

Two comments from Archibald MacLeish's examination of the poet's

"private world" permit further insight into the value of renunciation in

cultivating mystical consciousness:

The poet of the private world is not observer only but actor
in the scene that he observes. 'nd the voice that speaks in
his poems is the voice of himself as actor--as sufferer of
those sufferings, delighter in those delights--as well as his
voice as poet.
. it is not true that her withdrawal into her father's
house and into her own room in that house was a retreat from
life. On the contrary it was an adventure into life--a pene-
tration of the life she had elected to discover and explore--
the vast and dangerous and often painful but always real--
poignantly real--realer than any other--life of herself. (pp.
154-55)

Here again it is stressed that the poet lived the poems, that the poet

and the poems are one. Added to that is the suggestion of a point that

is developed later in this study: that she came to regard this private

adventure of discovery and exploration as a poem in itself. Thus her im-

mortal poem was not made merely of the words she wrote but of the mystic

quest she lived.











Since Northrop Frye's introduction was mentioned as a major influ-

ence on the original conception that led to this study, it seems appropri-

ate to conclude this summary of comments from essays by citing a few of

his most pertinent remarks. On her skepticism he says,

. Emily Dickinson had a great respect for orthodox re-
ligion and morality, did not question the sincerity of those
who practiced it, and even turned to it for help. But she
never felt that the path of social conformity and assent to
doctrine was her path. (Frye, p. 11)

Frye points out her apparent belief that "there is another kind of re-

ligious experience that counterbalances, but does not necessarily contra-

dict, the legal and doctrinal Christianity which she had been taught."

He defines it more clearly as follows:

This other kind of religious experience is a state of
heightened consciousness often called "Transport" and
associated with the word "Circumference," when the poet
feels directly in communion with nature and in a state
of "identity"--another frequent term--with it. Nature
is then surrounded by the circumference of human con-
sciousness, and such a world is Paradise, the Biblical
Eden, a nature with a human shape and meaning, a garden
for man. (Ibid., p. 12)

Such a "heightened consciousness" of nature suggests an Oriental rather

than a Christian aspect of mysticism. Nature, in the Christian view, is

Eden after the fall; it is hard for the Christian to escape the vague

feeling that nature is condemned, that its sensuous temptations must be

resisted. For Emily Dickinson, however, nature can still be paradise,

as Frye says. The conclusion of his argument may be summarized with a

few excerpts:

The first fact of Emily Dickinson's experience, then, was
that whatever the Bible may mean by Paradise or Eden .
it is something that is already given in experience. It is











attainable; the poet has attained it; it is not, therefore,
a "superhuman site," nor could it survive the extinction of
the human mind. . If so, then the experience of Paradise
in life is identical with the experience of eternity.
The people we ordinarily call mystics are the people for
whom this is true. Eternity to them is not endless time, but
a real present, a "now" which absorbs all possible hereafters.
Emily Dickinson also often speaks with the mystics of death
as a rejoining of heaven, of "Forever" as "composed of Nows,"
of an eternal state of consciousness symbolized by a continu-
ous summer and noon, of a coming "Aurora," a dawn that will
have no night. But in her background there were two power-
ful antimystical tendencies at work. One was the rationalism
of her generation; the other was the Puritanism in which she
had been reared. . For Emily Dickinson, therefore, the
identity between the experience of circumference she had had
and the post-mortal eternity taught in the Bible remained a
matter of "inference." (Ibid., p. 13)

If Frye is right in assuming that she believed heaven could not "survive

the extinction of the human mind" (and there is poetic evidence to sup-

port this assumption), then she obviously realized, as Wallace Stevens

did, that heaven is a fiction woven by the imagination. This point too

will be taken up later in detail.

Frye mentions rationalism as one of the two "antimystical tenden-

cies" in her background. Skepticism is a product of rationalism, and I

have chosen to express the delicate balance in her nature by using the

see-saw designation, mystic and skeptic. The point is not that she was

first one and then the other but that she was and remained both at once,

that she kept the two in a delicate state of tension. Though it may have

been painful, she is far more fascinating because of the combination.

In his full-length study of Emily Dickinson,5 Richard Chase devotes


5Richard Chase, Emily Dickinson, Delta Book edition (New York,
1965). All references to Chase's criticism are to this book. See bib-
liography for original publisher and copyright date.












considerable space to her religious attitudes and her spiritual under-

standing. He describes the "crisis of the Poet's religious life" at

Mount Holyoke, and he remarks that in spite of her inability to accept

Christian salvation, "she surely had more potential capacity for re-

ligious experience than any of her young friends." Of her growing skep-

ticism he says, "Like Melville, Emily Dickinson was finding Christian

belief impossible to accept in the nineteenth century. . She voices

her conviction that Christianity has come to represent passivity, spiri-

tual surrender, and mediocrity." A slightly different reason for her

rejection of orthodoxy is evident when he says that "she was a poet who

found that the poetic content of Christianity was, for her, incompatible

with a formal commitment to Christian dogma and the Christian church"

(pp. 55-60). Following T te's lead, he prefers to attribute her spiri-

tual effort to a requirement for the dramatic that was lacking in her

time and place:

. our poet's theme of renunciation finds one of its
sources in the historical situation which forces her to
give up the dramatically significant life she believes she
would have had as a birthright in more Christian times and
forces her, furthermore, to take up the arduous task of
constructing a privately dramatic life through imagination
and poetry. (p. 63)

Scattered throughout Chase's book are various brief comments that

point toward the poet's mysticism:

"Experience" in Emily Dickinson's best poetry is narrow
and profound. Typically it takes the form of a sudden
illumination, an appalling pause in the motion of things,
a seizure of an unspeakable power, an ecstatic influx. (p. 122)

She had certain visionary qualities in common with Blake, and
she invented a poetically imagined eschatology. (p. 124)











Reality and truth have for Emily Dickinson and H wthorne
so much the quality of something finally given to the
clairvoyant mind once and for all that they do not easily
take to ideas of evolution and unfolding. (p. 127)

. she presents the precarious possibility that the soul
can acquire its royal diadem through the reception of in-
effable experience. . (p. 130)

. Emily Dickinson can sometimes strike us as an embodi-
ment of purely magic power and an unprincipled but endlessly
searching and ingenious imagination mysteriously in touch
with the forces of the universe. (p. 136)

She was a realist and a seer. No moralist can delve such
abysses in the universe. (p. 147)

In her moments of what she called "rapt attention" Emily
Dickinson . was capable of the ecstatic experience of
grace. (p. 148)

To Emily Dickinson, then, the idea of grace entailed the
rare moment of exalted, intuitive experience which conferred
a redemptive status upon her personal and domestic life. (p. 150)

The pain of life as well as the preliminary "estates" one
has achieved are "guarantees" or "certificates" of immortal-
ity. Emily Dickinson's poetry is a contract or covenant with
God. (p. 180)

In view of the mystical connotations of these statements, it is

rather surprising to read the following:

Though Emily Dickinson's religion of immortality may be loosely
described as "mystical," she was surely not a mystic in any
closely defined sense of the word. . Our poet understood
the mystic experience, the totally engaged contemplation of
the eternal, beatific light, and she sometimes wrote about it
as an idea--as when she speaks of the "rapt attention" to im-
mortality. But she never tries directly to render the experi-
ence itself. She is no St. Catherine, no John of the Cross.
(pp. 184-85)

I devote this much space to Chase because the various comments point up

the problem of terminology. I can neither agree nor disagree with his

contention that "she was surely not a mystic in any closely defined sense












of the word." It is of course the "sense of the word" that is most

crucial to a basis of agreement. I would not try to contend that she

was the kind of mystic that John of the Cross was--or St. Catherine

or St. Teresa or any of the Christian saints. The difficulties she ex-

perienced in trying to accept Christianity have been adequately shown.

The question is, does this difference from the saints make her any the

less a mystic? I cannot fully agree that "she never tries directly to

render the experience itself." Either Chase has overlooked some poems

(he wrote before the variorum appeared), or else we see them different-

ly. I have included several examples of such direct and intense poems

in Chapters III and VII. It seems to me that she comes as close to

describing the unutterable as most other mystics. But she knew, as they

did, that mystical experience cannot finally be expressed.

One final aspect of Chase's criticism is interesting. He finds

it meaningful to account for her attitude toward immortality by relating

it to Gnosticism:

This extraordinary generalization of immortality,, outside
of history, church, and dogma, clearly has the quality of
Gnosticism. For, like the Gnostic believer of all ages,
Emily Dickinson makes of immortality an almost omni-present
magic power. . Also in the Gnostic manner is her occa-
sionally indulged habit of obscuring the fact of death by
speaking as if through suffering or receiving revealed
truth the fortunate individual may already possess immortality
in this life. (p. 183)

Just as he finds it meaningful to note her correspondence to Gnosticism,

by the same token many have found it meaningful to speak of her corres-

pondence to mysticism--based on some of the same evidence. The impor-

tant thing is not what Chase believed or what I believe but what the poet











herself believed about her experience, and as Chase himself notes,

"Emily Dickinson believed that the poet was indeed possessed at the

moment of utterance by that 'spectral power in thought that walks alone'"

(pp. 190-91). There can be little doubt that she also believed she had

received some kind of mystical illumination.

References to mysticism are few in Thomas Johnson's biography.

After stating that her ideas about poetry and poetics "are in the main

stream from Plato to Emerson," he describes her conception in words that

echo Chase:

The poet is a seer; his inspiration comes as a grace, over-
leaping regular channels; he is thus a man possessed, who
reveals truth out of the agony of his travail; and the
anguish of such possession enables the receiver to partake
of reality and reveal at least a fragment of the mysteries
that the heart perceives.6

Johnson also recalls a letter in which she gives "a hint that Vaughan was

a poet she greatly admired," and he speaks of "her admiration for that

seventeenth-century mystic, whose imagination stirred her own, and whose

feeling for nature and the homely terms of everyday usage in which he

dared to express it, she shared." On the following page he says, "On

occasion her poems are in the tradition that records a mystical or philo-

sophical sense of nature" (pp. 196-97). The only other comment relative

to mysticism is the following:

A poem can convey the nuances of exultation, agony, com-
passion, or any mystical mood. But no one can success-
fully define mysticism because the logic of language has
no place for it. (p. 222)


Thomas H. Johnson, Emily Dickinson: an Interpretive Biography
(Cambridge, 1955), p. 148.












This, of course, is one of the difficulties that must be faced in a

study such as the present one. I have already attempted a partial

definition, unsuccessful though it may be, and the efforts of others

to define it will be mentioned later.

Johnson makes two brief statements that may help to specify her

skepticism. He says that "from the first she quested for certainties

which from beginning to end she rejected" (p. 239). This is very apt.

Little needs to be added except to observe that the comment involves

both sides of her nature, religious and skeptical. Near the end of his

book he examines a poem (number 766) that he says "throws clear light

upon the nature of her skepticism. To have less faith in the upward

striving creature than in the outstretched arm of the Creator, she says

here and often elsewhere, is to expect a less than perfect union be-

tween God and man" (p. 255). Thus Johnson suggests that her skepticism

is based partly on faith in man.

The most recent and probably the most thorough treatment of Emily

Dickinson's intellectual and spiritual life is Albert Gelpi's book, The

Mind of the Poet.7 It contains many comments relative to this study--

too many in fact to include them all here. I have tried to select a

few, however, that offer some new light. Gelpi recalls, for example,

the early and important influence of Ben Newton:

From Benjamin Newton's superior mind and spirit she drew
not the orthodox faith, but a different kind of faith in


7Albert J. Gelpi, Emily Dickinson: the Mind of the Poet (Cam-
bridge, 1965).












things unseen. . He introduced her to Emerson and gave
her a cherished copy of the Poems. Visionary faith in
Nature was, she realized through Newton, the vocation of
the poet. . (p. 16)

In connection with her skepticism he says that she was aware of

"the questions raised by Darwinism and the Higher Criticism," and as

he sees it, "The consistent implication is that the Bible must be con-

sidered as a humanly, not a divinely, inspired document, as a 'romance'

or 'myth.'" He cites several passages from her letters to show that for

her, as for Emerson, Jesus was not God but rather "the representative

man." He comments extensively on Emily's irreverent use of Biblical

passages for humorous or literary effect, again contending that it shows

her to have regarded the Bible as the literary expression of human situ-

ations and human truths. . ." He seems unwilling to dismiss her ir-

reverence as lightly as certain others: "In the attempt to make Emily

a Good Christian despite her eccentricities, some biographers berate

the humorless critic who would take her little jokes at face value as

intentional irreverence." Judge Lord was probably another influence on

her skepticism according to Gelpi. He feels that she must have at times

admired the Judge's stoicism "which neither feared extinction nor prized

redemption." Still another influence, he suggests, was Theodore Parker's

book The Two Christmas Celebrations that Mrs. Bowles gave her for

Christmas in 1859. "Parker moved his narrative from the humble simpli-

city of Jesus' birth through His preaching of individual piety and good


8Compare Austin Warren's comment on the Higher Criticism quoted on
p. 8.











will to the corruption of Jesus' example into Christianity, with all its

paraphernalia of redemption, resurrection, miracles, devils, heaven, and

hell." One further comment about her skepticism should be emphasized:

'She understood skepticism all too well and she could not take the easy

escape of merely dismissing the problems" (pp. 48-53).

Gelpi is inclined to emphasize the influence of Emerson on her

mystical tendencies as well as on her skepticism. Emerson's "metaphysic

found German idealism and Oriental mysticism more congenial than Chris-

tian dualism" (p. 57). Though Gelpi does not say so, it is altogether

possible that the appeal of Oriental mysticism, which seems evident in

the poems of unity, reached her through Emerson. He does say that she

had "absorbed, as early as 1850, the essential features of Transcenden-

talism" with its "metaphysical and mystical speculations" (p. 63).

Emily Dickinson's moments of illumination, according to Gelpi,

are part of a broad literary context:

In the whole span of the New England tradition, from
Bradford and Winthrop and Edwards to Emerson and Dickin-
son and later to Eliot and Frost, individual experience
finally focused and rested upon the pivotal moments of
revelation and insight--the moments of divine manifesta-
tion and human vision. This union--however insecure--in
which the individual lost himself in totality is the sole
end of that Augustinian strain of piety which Perry Miller
saw as the bright heart of Puritanism. . But while
Christians see regeneration as the moment of grace, "other
people have found other names for the experience: to
lovers it is love, to mystics it is ecstasy, to poets
inspiration." (p. 76)

Gelpi is here quoting Miller as background for his own conclusion:

For a poet she was; and, in some senses of the words, a
lover and a mystic as well. What remains, therefore, is
to see what she made of and with her fitful vision. (Ibid.)












He later notes that the "transforming experience was the momentous

interview" presumably with the divine. In the moments between such

interviews "she could only relive earlier bliss in memory or anticipate

bliss to come" (p. 87).

As I have done in this study, Gelpi places a great deal of em-

phasis on consciousness, which "defined the inner world in terms of the

outer and the outer world in terms of the inner, its arc sweeping vari-

ously around the central self" (p. 102). He declares that Emily Dickin-

son "made the cultivation of consciousness her religion" (p. 108). I

have noted earlier my own view that the mystic quest involves an expan-

sion of consciousness that cannot be satisfied or contained by any re-

ligious system. Such an expansion gives rise to the faculty whereby the

limits of time and physical form may be transcended. Gelpi adds that

In a body of poetry devoted to the main concerns of
consciousness the principal themes are, predictably,
love, death, and immortality: fulfillment, dissolution,
and transcendence inextricably entwined. The need for
love--that is, for external union which would complete and
express the self--is the force that pervades all of Emily
Dickinson's writing. (p. 109)

This she certainly has in common with the mystic. Gelpi maintains, how-

ever, that "on all levels--human, sexual, religious, and mystical--Emily

Dickinson's love was doomed, by its very nature and demands, to retire to

itself in unrequited frustration." Only in the "Eden-Heaven" would she

find "fulfillment in and absorption by the 'lover.'" Then, reverting

to her skepticism, he adds, "But what could the prospect of fulfillment

in the afterlife mean to one who was alternately skeptical or fearful of

immortality? She found herself trapped in the coils of her own doubts."











Immortality, for her, meant something quite different from the conven-

tional afterlife; it "had its deepest meaning for her, as did love and

death, as an existential state of mind and feeling" (pp. 111-15).

Once more Gelpi chooses to relate these concepts to the Transcen-

dentalists. He insists that "in Dickinson, as in Emerson and Thoreau,

eternity and infinity and God Himself can best be taken as the encircling

infinity into which the individual may expand in accordance with his in-

ner capacity." Commenting on the meaning of Circumference, he says that

it "signifies ecstasy in its expansiveness, in its self-contained whole-

ness, in its self-ordered coherence, in its definition of the individu-

al's capacity for being (and for Being)" (pp. 122-23).

Near the end of his book Gelpi acknowledges that Emily Dickin-

son "felt the impulse to find outside herself something which answered

her and which she could answer," but he believes that she "cringed" and

"retreated from that faceless presence . ." (pp. 160-61). I am con-

vinced, on the contrary, that she retreated from an external existence

precisely for the purpose of facing and cultivating that presence. The

search for the unknown center of being, he suggests, poses the question

of its location:

Is the goal within our individuality? This would compel
us to absorb externals into the fullest cultivation of
consciousness. Or is the goal without? This would compel
us to seek ourselves in a transcendent reality. Edwards,
Emerson, and Eliot would have told her that loss of self
and fullness of self were finally the same. (p. 173)

Again I am inclined to take issue, at least with her need for instruction

concerning the loss of self. In the last chapter I have tried to show

that she reached an awareness even of that highest stage of mystical











development, the annihilation of self. I would not maintain that she

achieved such fulfillment--How can one ever know?--but there is poetic

evidence to show that she understood it.

This summary of the criticism touching upon Emily Dickinson's

mysticism and skepticism is certainly not definitive, but it should con-

vey a fair idea of the range of opinion. Though there are exceptions, I

find in these comments considerable support for what is said in this

study. There is no attempt here, however, merely to repeat the conclu-

sions of others. The intention is to seek poetic evidence and to draw

the conclusions from that alone.

Definitions.--Anyone who writes about mysticism must be concerned

about the problem of ambiguity and the consequent need for clear defini-

tion. Yet an area so far from the ordinary realm of human experience

does not easily submit to definition. Language itself--a system of

sounds deriving meaning from shared human experience--is perhaps the

crux of the problem. Mystical experience is shared by very few. Evelyn

Underhill devotes an entire chapter of her well-known work on mysticism

to the symbols mystics have used in an effort to convey their unique ex-

perience to those less gifted.

How is it possible to impart the essence and exhilaration of a

wholly non-sensory experience to those familiar only with the sights and

sounds of the physical world? Obviously it is possible only by stimulat-

ing the imagination through metaphor. The poet has a distinct advantage

in that his use of language is special and extra-logical. I have already

cited Johnson's observation that "no one can successfully define











mysticism because the logic of language has no place for it," but I

would contend that the language of poetry is not strictly logical.

Though it may be impossible for the critic to formulate an adequate

definition, the mystical poet in a sense defines the experience in his

verses. The critic may therefore be well advised to build his defini-

tion by commenting on the poems themselves.

In "Mysticism and Logic" Bertrand Russell says, "Mysticism is, in

essence, little more than a certain intensity and depth of feeling in re-

gard to what is believed about the universe. . He goes on to

elaborate four characteristics of mysticism:

a. belief in the possibility of a way of knowledge which
may be called revelation or insight or intuition, as
contrasted with sense, reason, and analysis . .
b. belief in unity, and its refusal to admit opposition
or division anywhere.
c. denial of the reality of Time.
d. belief that all evil is mere appearance and illusion
produced by the divisions and opposition of the ana-
lytic intellect. (pp. 9-11)

I have no quarrel with any of these, and I would be quite content to ac-

cept them as characteristic of Emily Dickinson's mysticism. It should be

noted that in each case Russell speaks of belief or a state of mind

rather than a claim of experience. By the same token, I do not wish to

indulge in claims relative to supernatural visitation, visions, or voices

in regard to Emily Dickinson. I am concerned here primarily with the ex-

tent of her ability to conceive and write about the range of mystical

experiences.


9Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (London,
1917), p. 3. All references to Russell's essays are to this collection.












William James sets forth what he calls "four marks which, when

an experience has them, may justify us in calling it mystical."10 These

are ineffability, noetic quality, transiency, and passivity. The first

suggests, as noted above, that such an experience cannot be expressed

and stresses that it is a state of feeling. The second stresses that

it is also a state of knowledge or of the intellect, a kind of illumi-

nation. The third obviously implies that "mystical states cannot be sus-

tained for long." And the fourth indicates that such states are involun-

tary, cannot be clearly induced or controlled; "the mystic feels as if

his own will were in abeyance. . ." Each of these marks is suggested,

at one time or another, in Emily Dickinson's poetry. The chapters on

ecstasy and ravishment both include poems that try to describe inexpres-

sible feelings. Chapter V deals specifically with intellectual transcen-

dence or illumination, which James calls noetic quality. And Chapter IV

deals not only with the desolation resulting from the transiency of ec-

stasy, but also with the poet's inability to bring about a repetition of

the experience--an indication of passivity.

In setting up a definition of mysticism it is necessary to recog-

nize that there is not only a difference between genuine and spurious,

but more importantly a difference in the degrees or levels of mystical

experience. Evelyn Underhill states that "No one mystic can be discovered

in whom all the observed characteristics of the transcendental conscious-

ness are resumed . ." (p. 167). Thus it is impossible to establish an


10William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Modern
Library Edition (New York, 1902), pp. 371-72.











inflexible set of criteria and then try to determine whether a person

measures up to it as a means of proving his mysticism. In addition to

the partial definition attempted on pages 12 and 13, it might be said

that the whole merit of this study is definition, in which the connota-

tions of description, distinction, and delimitation are subsumed. It is

not so much an effort to prove her mysticism--if such were possible--as

to qualify, describe, and define it.

Limitations.--The Emily Dickinson this study is concerned with is

the poet, the persona of the poems, and not necessarily the spinster re-

cluse of Amherst who is the subject of biographers. There are several

reasons for confining the study to the poetry. In writing about mysti-

cism there is a positive value in focusing on the deliberate work of a

writer rather than on the fortuitous circumstances of his life and soci-

ety. One does not often live as deliberately as Thoreau did on Walden

Pond, even though a life of semi-isolation such as Emily Dickinson's may

well represent an attempt to do so. Our lives are not usually quite what

we intend, even for the most severe individualists. In some respects the

events of one's life comprise what might be called an accidental catalog

of facts. For this reason I have, for the most part, ignored biographi-

cal material in attempting to assess and define mystical tendencies in

the poetry.

For the same reason I have generally excluded consideration of the

letters. They too, it seems, represent a self that is less than fully

revealed. Even as frank and startling a personality as Emily Dickinson

was inclined to adopt a persona to suit the occasion or the reader to











whom a letter was directed. We know, for example, that she led Higginson

to believe that she had the highest regard for his literary judgment even

though she "rejected--politely and gratefully but adamantly--every piece
11
of practical literary advice that 'Preceptor' Higginson offered." She

occasionally liked to strike a dramatic pose in a letter, and one senses

that the real Emily was smiling all the while at the reaction she knew it

would produce. This is not to say that she is not sometimes playful and

ironic in the poems as well, but the poet's awareness of a more general

audience ordinarily gives the irony some fairly obvious significance in

the context of the poem. In letters, as in personal relations, we tend

to become the persons we want others to sec. In short we assume a mask

or persona.

Can we not say, then, that biography tends to represent the acci-

dental self, and letters the assumed self, whereas the poetry can be

taken as an intentional and ideal statement of one's deepest self?

There is yet another reason for limiting our consideration of

mysticism to the poems, and it is to some extent reflected in this matter

of the deepest, intentional self. Biography is generally a record of

events that transpire in the physical realm of existence, but mysticism

is concerned with a level of ultra-sensory being. External events may

have little bearing on the interior life of mystical consciousness.

Thus ordinary biography may be largely irrelevant to a study of this

kind.


11
Gelpi, p. 144.












Considered as an expression of intentional being, poetry itself

becomes a kind of biography, not of external events but of the interior

life. In the Ion Plato says that the poet "is an airy thing . and

he cannot make poetry until he becomes inspired and goes out of his

senses and no mind is left in him."12 The poet, like the mystic, must

escape the senses and the self-conscious mind. Thus poetry seems to be

the most appropriate medium for recording life on the mystical level,

and in exploring that life it is actually better to shun the distractions

of external biography and to concentrate on the life recorded in the poems.

Organization.--Since the poems range from early to late in every

conceivable grouping, it is not feasible to order the categories so as

to show that Emily Dickinson experienced a consistent mystical develop-

ment. Some kind of development undoubtedly took place, but because of

uncertainties in chronology, such a development would be difficult to

trace on the evidence of the poems alone. I took a cue for the arrange-

ment used here from Evelyn Underhill, who says that "the typical mystic

seems to move toward his goal through a series of strongly marked oscil-

lations between 'states of pleasure' and 'states of pain.'" She proceeds

to offer her own classification for studying the "phases of the mystical

life." Though her exposition of the phases is quite detailed, they may

be summarized or listed as awakening, purgation, illumination, the mystic

death or spiritual crucifixion, and union. She admits "that Oriental

Mysticism insists upon a further stage beyond that of union" which she


12
W. H. D. Rouse, trans. Great Dialogues of Plato (New York,
1956), p. 18.












calls "annihilation or reabsorption of the individual soul in the In-

finite" (pp. 168-70).

I have tried to retain the structure of oscillation between

pleasure and pain in the arrangement of the last five chapters, those

concerned specifically with mysticism. Except for the fourth chapter,

the titles obviously bear a resemblance to Underhill's classification

of phases, but I have tried to word them so as to reflect states of

mind and feeling implied specifically in the poems. Emily Dickinson

uses the word "ecstasy" frequently, and since this is generally an early

and momentary state, I have placed it first. The feeling that seems to

follow most closely after ecstasy in her experience is the emptiness oc-

casioned by the withdrawal or loss of ecstasy; this state of pain I have

called desolation. Then follows a significant group of poems that re-

veal the poet's illumination, her intellectual and imaginative concep-

tions of transcendent reality. The state of pain that has been described

after this is clearly a more mature experience than that called desola-

tion; the poet often compares it to crucifixion and is aware of its pur-

gative value. In the final chapter I have included the many poems of

divine love and ravishment that reveal the poet's longing for unity.

This longing is sometimes expressed as a desire for wholeness, and

though the illustrations are not as numerous, it even appears in terms

of the Oriental conception of annihilation and absorption. While this

arrangement cannot be proven by chronology, it is a meaningful order for

analysis, and it reveals the extent to which Emily Dickinson's mystical

awareness corresponds to Evelyn Underhill's standard and widely respected

classification.











Text.--The text of Emily Dickinson's poems used in this study is

derived from the 1955 variorum edition of her complete poetry by Thomas

H. Johnson. Following his own example in the later one-volume edition,

I have corrected misplaced apostrophes in such words as "it's" and

"was'nt," but I have preserved her curious spelling (e.g., visitor,

withheld, exhilirate, sovreign, wo, extasy) whereas Johnson corrects

these words and many others in the one-volume edition. It is my belief

that the intruding or misplaced apostrophe is distracting in a study of

this kind, although it might be significant in a prosodical or textual

study. The unconventional spelling, however (and spelling is nothing

more than convention), is a quirk that contributes to the poet's dis-

tinctive personality. It may be generally unintentional, but this is not

certain, and in any event it is an idiosyncrasy that should not be lost.

The same may be said of her unconventional use of capital letters and

dashes, which I have also retained. Johnson saw fit to preserve these

in the one-volume edition even though he corrected her spelling.

Throughout the study I have referred to the poems by Johnson's

numbering. The letters likewise, though not often quoted, are desig-

nated by their number in the Johnson-Ward text. It seems unnecessary

to give volume and page numbers since the poems and letters are in se-

quence. The bibliography provides complete data on the collected works

as well as on other sources used.











CHAPTER II

UNCERTAINTY: THE CLEANSING PERIL OF SKEPTICISM AND DOUBT


Before the new can be constructed, the old often must be swept

away. This observation is no less true of intellectual than of physi-

cal achievement. When one attempts to raise an edifice of spiritual

consciousness, the rubble of lost meaning must first be cleared from

the mind. Such a clearing process requires disinterested inquiry and

skepticism. It requires that one refuse to clutter the spaces of the

mind with furniture designed primarily for comfort. To doubt is often

unpopular and never comfortable.

If conventional religion, as Wallace Stevens suggests, is a fic-

tion that has now lost most of its meaning, earlier stages in the gradual

loss are observable in the nineteenth century and before. Calvinists had

long since installed lightning rods, a sign of declining belief in God's

direct intervention, his responsibility for natural phenomena. Science

was having a telling effect on religion in the United States as well as

in Europe, and intellectuals were searching for compromise and adjustment.

The time was ripe for the poet, as prophet, to point the way toward a

new fiction. Emerson seemed a likely candidate for the role of prophet,

and he did indeed help build a fiction called Transcendentalism. Whit-

man went so far as to declare himself prophet of the new democracy, and

his ever-expanding, iconoclastic book was being debated in public. Emily

Dickinson, working in privacy and silence, was also clearing away crumb-

ling beliefs that could no longer stand, but more important, she was










building a new and more spacious spiritual temple, founded on the bed-

rock of skepticism and dedicated to the exaltation of consciousness.

This study attempts to describe the spiritual edifice that Emily

Dickinson erected and to show wherein that structure resembles mysticism.

If mysticism is the shape of the edifice, the steel frame that supports

it is skepticism. Mysticism and skepticism are so intertwined in her

poetry that it is impossible to separate them so as to speak of develop-

ment from one to the other, probably because their coexistence had been

established before she began seriously to write. She wrote very few

poems before she was twenty-eight, and there is every reason to believe

that her spiritual crisis had passed some time before that, in the years

immediately following her brief but disturbing psychological experience

at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary ten years earlier. After being exposed

to extreme emotional pressure to be "saved," and almost submitting, she

finally withdrew--from commitment, from the school, and eventually from

the world. The result of that withdrawal was her remarkable poetic

achievement, which at the same time represented an unsuspected spiritual

achievement.

To account for the poet's achievement, the critic may also seem

to construct a fiction, but such a construction is an attempt to find,

not to impose, an order. This study, accordingly, attempts to discover

the fictional temple that Emily Dickinson built to replace the church

that, for her, had fallen into ruins. The order of the study is itself

a construction, an arrangement of the poems into a series of progressive

steps on the road to a sublime spiritual ideal. Though marked by the











poems themselves, the steps may or may not have been taken by the poet

in the order they are given here. The expansion of consciousness was

hers, to be sure; the order is for us.

As stated, it is not possible to show that the skeptical poems

are separated in time from the mystical ones, but it is probable that in

her search she had to reach to the bottom of doubt before she could as-

cend to spiritual heights. It thus seems logical to construct and fol-

low an order approximating such a search. The poems of uncertainty,

skepticism, and doubt mark a descent, while the poems of ecstasy,

transcendence, and unity may be viewed as steps upward. Since the

poems of descent comprise a smaller body, they are treated in one chapter.

Since the long and arduous ascent is typically interspersed with periods

of loss and trial, the poems denoting ascent are arranged into five

stages or chapters alternating between bliss and suffering. Such a pat-

tern is suggested by Evelyn Underhill's observation that ". . the

typical mystic seems to move toward his goal through a series of strongly

marked oscillations between 'states of pleasure' and 'states of pain'"

(p. 168).

A division of the poems of uncertainty, skepticism, and doubt

under three separate headings would be artificial since many of the

poems reflect the full range of attitudes. In the hope that Johnson's

variorum numbering represents an approximate chronology and hence a kind

of development in skepticism, I have, for the most part, taken the poems

in numerical order. A further question concerns the relationship of un-

certainty to skepticism and doubt in Emily Dickinson's poetry.











In one sense uncertainty is the matrix out of which skepticism

and doubt emerge. Anyone who inquires into universal questions begins

in uncertainty and never wholly escapes it, for it is an integral part

of the human condition itself. There are persuasive reasons to believe

that Emily Dickinson willingly accepted uncertainty as a state that

could never be fully overcome. Though we shall pass on to the consider-

ation of other states of mind, it should be remembered that uncertainty

reserves a place in her thought, providing openmindedness and flexibility.

The reasons for combining the poems of uncertainty, skepticism,

and doubt may then be summarized as follows: First, they help us to see

the full intellectual effort necessary to reach the bedrock of unbelief

on which a new edifice could be erected. The descent toward that bed-

rock may be compared to Dante's descent into hell; for purposes of under-

standing we need to see the bottom before we can turn toward purgatory

and paradise. Second, mysticism must logically be discussed in a progres-

sive order, and it is necessary to consider all phases of skepticism be-

fore the alternating stages of mysticism can be set forth with coherence.

Finally, the full range of uncertainty, skepticism, and doubt needs to

be viewed as a context and background against which Emily Dickinson's

mysticism can be seen in perspective. Her mysticism was unique pre-

cisely because of its foundation in such a context. Intellectual honesty,

an acceptance of undertainty and a continuous spirit of inquiry are aspects

of her skepticism that should be kept steadily before us in trying to

understand her mysticism.











Even such an early poem as number 3, her valentine of 1852, pub-

lished in the Springfield Daily Republican, reveals a certain flippancy

toward traditional religious teaching. For example, one stanza of that

poem reads as follows:

Put down the apple, Adam,
And come away with me,
So shalt thou have a pippin
From off my father's tree!

One could not say on the basis of this bit of humor that she yet seri-

ously doubted the doctrine of original sin, but the stanza shows that she

is willing to poke fun and to question. It is evident from certain ex-

periences recorded in her biography that she enjoyed playing the part of

the rascal, and in another stanza of the same poem she confirms her de-

light in such a role:

Mortality is fatal--
Gentility is fine,
Rascality, heroic,
Insolvency, sublime!

Insolvency, even in matters of faith or belief, is a state she comes to

regard as stimulating.

Another kind of flippancy is evident in poem 49, the well-known "I

never L-st as Much but Twice," where she refers to God as "Burglar!

Banker--Father!" The image of God that religion had given her is that

of a thief who takes away loved ones, an accountant who keeps careful

records of our deeds, and a patriarchal figure of authority who commands

obedience. It is an image she was not able whole-heartedly to accept.

In poem 62 she openly argues with the notion that the human state

is corrupt and dishonorable:












"Sown in dishonor"!
Ah! Indeed:
May this "dishonor" be?
If I were half so fine myself
I'd notice nobody!

"Sown in corruption"'
Not so fast!
Apostle is askew!
Corinthians 1.15. narrates
A Circumstance or two!

The passage in I Corinthians 15:41-43 answers those who have questioned

how the dead shall rise and what kind of body the resurrected shall in-

habit:

There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the
moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star dif-
fereth from another star in glory. So also is the resur-
rection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is
raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is
raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised
in power.

In spite of what is obvious questioning of one doctrine, the poet still

relies on the scriptures for a counter argument. The poem may point to

the fact that she was troubled by Biblical inconsistency.

The last stanza of poem 79 is one of the clearest early declara-

tions of disbelief. The poem concerns "Going to Heaven." In the first

stanza she wonders how and when but says "it will be done/ As sure as

flocks go home at night." In the second she asks another to "Save just

a little place for me/ Close to the two I lost." Then in the last stanza

comes a surprising reversal, an abrupt shift from confidence to disbelief:

I'm glad I don't believe it
For it w'd stop my breath--
And I'd like to look a little more
At such a curious Earth!











I am glad they did believe it
Whom I have never found
Since the mighty Autumn afternoon
I left them in the ground.

Two attitudes should be noted: exceeding delight in "such a curious

Earth" and kindliness toward those who "did believe it" since the pros-

pect of a hereafter evidently gave them comfort and made the going easier.

Poem 101, rather than stating positive disbelief, merely asks the

simple question "Will there really be a 'Morning?'" It is both an in-

quiry and a plea for understanding:

Oh some Scholar! Oh some Sailor!
Oh some Wise Man from the skies!
Please to tell a little Pilgrim
Where the place called "Morning" lies!

One possible reason for her ambiguous attitude toward religion is

given in poem 103:

I have a King, who does not speak--
So--wondering--thro' the hours meek
I trudge the day away--
Half glad when it is night, and sleep,
If, haply, thro' a dream, to peep
In parlors, shut by day.

And if I do--when morning comes--
It is as if a hundred drums
Did round my pillow roll,
And shouts fill all my Childish sky,
And Bells keep saying 'Victory'
From steeples in my soul!

And if I dont--the little Bird
Within the Orchard, is not heard,
And I omit to pray
'Father, thy will be done' today
For my will goes the other way,
And it were perjury!

If she is given the grace, in "dream" or vision, "to peep/ In parlors,

shut by day," the world is filled with "drums," "shouts," and "Bells"











of "Victory,'" but if the vision or insight is not granted, "my will

goes the other way,/ And it were perjury!" In short, religious doc-

trines then become lies, and she seeks to defy them. The poem fore-

shadows how very much she came to require and depend on personal reve-

lation or spiritual experience.

Poem 105 expresses uncertainty concerning our proper attitude

toward immortality:

To hang our head--ostensibly--
And subsequent, to find
That such was not the posture
Of our immortal mind--

Affords the sly presumption
That in so dense a fuzz--
You--too--take Cobweb attitudes
Upon a plane of Gauze!

In "so dense a fuzz" of unknowing one has no choice but to take non-

dogmatic "Cobweb attitudes," at times hopeful, at times despairing. The

poet recognizes that the conventional picture of saintliness is one in

which the head is bent in prayer or humility, but she questions whether

we might not subsequently find "That such was not the posture/ Of our

immortal mind." Perhaps a more fitting posture is one with head boldly

erect in the face of the blank "plane of Gauze" where we must find our

way without help.

A similar question about humility is asked in poem 124:

In lands I never aaw--they say
Immortal Alps look down--
Whose Bonnets touch the firmament--
Whose Sandals touch the town--

Meek at whose everlasting feet
A Myriad Daisy play--











Which, Sir, are you and which am I
Upon an August day?

"Sir" is obviously addressed to God, and one would conventionally iden-

tify God with the peaks touching the firmament, man with the meek

daisies. In questioning which is which the poet may be suggesting

that God is a product of the mind of man and hence that the mind stands

taller and more immense than its creation. She at least implies that

man's relationship toward God may not be that of the meek and humble

suppliant.

The posture she most frequently seems to favor is that of the

searcher who is willing to struggle for knowledge, either as a substi-

tute or as a support for faith. This is evident in poem 114:

Good night, because we must,
How intricate the dust!
I would go, to know.
Oh Incognito!

Saucy, Saucy Seraph
To elude me so!
Father! they wont tell me,
Wont you tell them to?

This poem, like so many others, seems to be inspired by someone's death.

But death is here recog ized as a possible gateway to knowledge, and the

poet is willing to go through the "intricate" dust, even at the cost of

her identity ("incognito"), to find answers to the question of immortal-

ity. The tone of the poem is one of playfulness, indicating that the

poet recognizes uncertainty as part of the game of life, yet she appeals

to God for answers that the angels refuse to give.

Poem 121 seems squarely neutral in regard to heaven's truth:











As Watchers hang upon the East,
As Beggars revel at a feast
By savory Fancy spread--
As brooks in deserts babble sweet
On ear too far for the delight,
Heaven beguiles the tired.

As that same watcher, when the East
Opens the lid of Amethyst
And lets the morning go--
That Beggar, when an honored Guest,
Those thirsty lips to flagons pressed,
Heaven to us, if true.

While it is eagerly awaited, but distant and unseen, heaven is like a

feast for beggars and a mirage in the desert; however real, it is un-

available. Its value is only to tease and tantalize. But if heaven

turns out to be true, it will be as startling as if the beggar were in-

vited to be an "honored Guest," and the waiting in uncertain hope will

only enhance the splendor of fulfillment. The poem does not quite ex-

press doubt, but neither does it reveal confidence.

In poem 178 "my priceless Hay" seems to represent the valuable

(meaningful religious beliefs perhaps) that the poet has separated from

the worthless (meaningless ones), only to have her harvest disappear:

I cautious,scanned my little life--
I winnowed what would fade
From what w'd last till Heads like mine
Should be a-dreaming laid.

I put the latter in a Barn--
The former, blew away.
I went one winter morning
And lo--my priceless Hay

Was not upon the "Scaffold"--
Was not upon the "Beam"--
And from a thriving Farmer--
A Cynic, I became.











Whether a Thief did it--
Whether it was the wind--
Whether Deity's guiltless--
My business is, to find.

So I begin to ransack!
How is it Hearts, with Thee?
Art thou within the little Barn
Love provided Thee?

The loss has made her a "Cynic," a term that even more strongly suggests

that the "priceless Hay" represents faith, since "cynic" is often equated

with "skeptic." The poem may well indicate that she has consciously

adopted the position of skepticism. Just as God was called "Burglar"

in poem 49, here "Deity" is juxtaposed with "Thief." When one trans-

lates the fourth stanza into literal terms, she seems to say that the

traditional Christian concept of God may be at fault in the loss of

faith she has experienced. She has apparently found it impossible to

believe in the images of "Burglar! Banker--Father!" and now, in the last

stanza, she wonders whether the concept of God as love may also be gone.

Another aspect of the struggle to maintain a hold on faith is evi-

dent in poem 190:

He was weak, and I was strong--then--
So He let me lead him in--
I was weak, and He was strong then--
So I let him lead me--Home.

'Twasn't far--the door was near--
'Twasn't dark--for He went--too--
'Twasn't loud, for He said nought--
That was all I cared to know.

Here she says that when "He was weak" (probably meaning God's influence

with her), she was strong (in her faith perhaps) and hence led him into

her life. Then when she became weak (physically), his influence in her











life was strong, and she let him "lead me--Home." The going was easy

with him to help. Thus, up to the end of the second stanza, the poem

could be taken as a familiar type of religious testimonial, but then

Day knocked--and we must part--
Neither--was strongest--now--
He strove--and I strove--too--
We didn't do it--tho'!

Unlike the conventional testimonials, the struggle is not rewarded with

success. Neither the power of God in her nor her own strength is suffi-

cient to break through the curtain of death and to affirm immortality.

It is also possible to read the poem as an account of sexual union, in

which case the strength and willingness of one suffices when that of the

other flags. But even in this interpretation the little death of orgasm

is such that neither can rise up from it at the break of day. In either

reading resurrection fails.

The last seven lines of poem 191 seem to affirm that the poet has

come to prefer uncertainty to questionable religious teaching concerning

life after death:

It's finer--not to know--
If Summer were an Axiom--
What sorcery had Snow?

So keep your secret--Father!
I would not--if I could,
Know what the Sapphire Fellows, do,
In your new-fashioned world!

The uncertain status of not knowing is "finer" because it enhances the

mystery of life and sharpens our sensitivity for the "Summer" of short

duration. Summer is usually symbolic of the fullness of life, even of

the total ecstasy of nature, as we shall see in the next chapter. If it











were "an Axiom," that is, if it were taken for granted or continued

without change, what mystery would be left in "Snow," by which she ob-

viously means death? Life is more savory because it is seasoned by the

"sorcery," the uncertain transformation, and the fear of death. There-

fore she will not listen to its secret which the skies, the hills, the

flower and bird (of the first two stanzas) seem ready to reveal. Quite

the reverse of poem 114, where she complains, "Father! they wont tell

me,/ Wont you tell them to," she now declares, "So Keep your secret--

Father'" She no longer wishes to speculate about the activities of "the

Sapphire Fellows," those who are crowned with the jewels of heaven. Her

full acceptance of uncertainty as a necessary state may have been prompted,

at least in part, by a romantic appreciation of the value of mystery and

the nostalgic sweetness of transience.

In spite of this temporary disavowal of interest in the affairs

of heaven, she is soon asking further questions about it, as may be seen

in poem 215, but they are probably facetious questions:

What is--"Paradise"--
Who live there--
Are they "Farmers"--
Do they "hoe"--
Do they know that this is "Amherst"--
And that I--am coming--too--

Do they wear "new shoes"--in'Eden"--
Is it always pleasant--there--
Wont they scold us--when we're hungry--
Or tell God--how cross we are--

You are sure there's such a person
As "a Father"--in the sky--
So if I get lost--there--over--
Or do what the Nurse calls "die"--
I shant walk the "Jasper"--barefoot--
Ransomed folks--wont laugh at me--











Maybe--"Eden" a'nt so lonesome
As New England used to be!

As a subtle side effect, this poem seems intended to satirize the pro-

vincial concepts of heaven that Emily Dickinson must have encountered in

her community and region. Some of the New England farmers may have

found it impossible to conceive of a heaven in which there was no work

to be done. Going to heaven was surely much like going to church, a

place to wear "'new shoes.'" The attitude of God had to be like that of

a typical Calvinist parent who scolded his children for being cross or

hungry. The last stanza suggests that if there is such a "Father" and

if there is such an "Eden," they may be less austere than their counter-

parts in New England. It is thus possible to see the poem as a gentle

spoof.

Poem 236 seems to indicate her attempt to hold on to a faith she

is in danger of losing:

If He dissolve--then--there is nothing--more--
Eclipse--at Midnight--
It was dark--before--

Sunset--at Easter--
Blindness--on the Dawn--
Faint Star of Bethlehem--
Gone down!

Would but some God--inform Him--
Or it be too late'
Say--that the pulse just lisps--
The Chariots wait--

Say--that a little life--for His--
Is leaking--red--
His little Spaniel--tell Him!
Will He heed?

If belief in Christ dissolves, "then--there is nothing--more." All would











return to darkness. The poem is an urgent cry for help. Her life, or

perhaps her faith, is leaking away, and she asks "some God" to "inform

Him--/ Or it be too late!" The various metaphors for darkness--sunset,

blindness, the star gone down--are an indication of the profundity of

her doubt. The metaphors of dying--lisping pulse, waiting chariots,

leaking red--attest to the urgency of her struggle to overcome it.

Poem 243 quite clearly, effectively, and unemotionally describes

the gradual disappearance of heaven:

I've known a Heaven, like a Tent--
To wrap its shining Yards--
Pluck up its stakes, and disappear--
Without the sound of Boards
Or Rip of Nail--Or Carpenter--
But just the miles of Stare--
That signalize a Show's Retreat--
In North America--

No Trace--no Figment of the Thing
That dazzled, Yesterday,
No Ring--no Marvel--
Men, and Feats--
Dissolved as utterly--
As Bird's far Navigation
Discloses just a Hue--
A plash of Oars, a Gaiety--
Then swallowed up, of View.

Comparing heaven to a tent suggests her awareness that it was never a

permanent structure in man's cosmic consciousness. It retreats from

view silently as it ceases to be real, leaving "No Trace" of its daz-

zling streets, "No Ring" of celestial music. It dissolves like Shake-

speare's "insubstantial pageant faded" and leaves "not a rack behind."

Shakespeare's influence was second only to that of the Bible, and in this

poem his words are almost certainly in her ear.

The anguish of doubt and uncertainty are again evident in poem 244:











It is easy to work when the soul is at play--
But when the soul is in pain--
The hearing him put his playthings up
Makes work difficult--then--

It is simple, to ache in the Bone, or the Rind--
But Gimblets--among the nerve--
Mangle daintier--terribler--
Like a Panther in the Glove--

When her soul suffers the pain of doubt, sensing that the "playthings" of

childlike faith are being put up, she finds it difficult to carry on her

daily work. Unlike the superficial physical pains of "the Bone, or the

Rind," this pain "among the nerve" is terriblee" and cannot be ignored.

Such poems attest to her inability to ignore painful questions that "Like

a Panther in the Glove," threaten to burst the comfortable protection

from harsh realities.

Salvation has been called the pearl of great price, and in the

next poem, 245, it seems likely that the jewel the poet has lost while

sleeping is the gem of faith:

I held a Jewel in my fingers--
And went to sleep--
The day was warm, and winds were prosy--
I said "'Twill keep"--

I woke--and chid my honest fingers,
The Gem was gone--
And now, an Amethyst remembrance
Is all I own--

Upon awakening, she realizes that she now has only "an Amethyst remembrance"

of the valuable "Gem" she once possessed. The word "remembrance" coupled

with the idea of sleep suggests that the changes wrought by time and

maturity have deprived her of a child's faith. Images of "Pearl" and

"Gem" are used with similar connotations in poem 270, which is discussed

in a later chapter.









Bertrand Russell says,

To take into the inmost shrine of the soul the irresistible
forces whose puppets we seem to be--Death and change, the
irrevocableness of the past, and the powerlessness of man
before the blind hurry of the universe from vanity to vanity--
to feel these things and know them is to conquer them .1

Very nearly the same understanding is expressed poetically in poem 281:

'Tis so appalling--it exhilirates--
So over Horror, it half Captivates--
The Soul stares after it, secure--
To know the worst, leaves no dread more--

To scan a Ghost, is faint--
But grappling, conquers it--
How easy, Torment, now--
Suspense kept sawing so--

The Truth, is Bald, and Cold--
But that will hold--
If any are not sure--
We show them--prayer--
But we, who know,
Stop hoping, now--

Looking at Death, is Dying--
Just let go the Breath--
And not the pillow at your Cheek
So Slumbereth--

Others, Can wrestle--
Yours, is done--
And so of Wo, bleak dreaded--come,
It snts the Fright at liberty--
And Terror's free--
Gay, Ghastly, Holiday'

When one has known "the worst," he is beyond the reach of fate; it can

do him no further harm. In almost the same words as Russell's, she af-

firms that "grappling, conquers it." Questioning, the panther in poem

244, has broken the glove, and she is now exposed: "The Truth, is Bald,

and Cold." Now that she has come to know, she has passed the point of


1"A Free Man's Worship" from Mysticism and Logic, p. 55. Succeed-
ing references to Russell in this chapter are to this essay.











hope. In her omn time such an admission of hopelessness would have

been tantamount to blasphemy; a hundred years later an existentially

oriented theology can assert that the ultimate religious life is a life
2
without hope in anything behind this life. Once the "Wo, bleak dreaded,"

has been faced, the "Fright" and terror are released, and the soul gains

that freedom implied in the title of Russell's essay "A Free Man's Wor-

ship":

The slave is doomed to worship Time and Fate and Death,
because they are greater than anything he finds in him-
self, and because all his thoughts are of things which
they devour. But great as they are, to think of them
greatly, to feel their passionless splendour, is greater
still. And such thought makes us free men. . (p. 55)

Emily Dickinson, feeling "their passionless splendour," called it a "Gay,

Ghastly, Holiday!"

Poem 370 offers persuasive evidence that Emily Dickinson, like

Wallace Stevens, regarded heaven as a construction of the mind:

Heaven is so far of the Mind
That were the Mind dissolved--
The Site--of it--by Architect
Could not again be proved--

'Tis vast--as our Capacity--
As fair--as our idea--
To Him of adequate desire
No further 'tis, than Here--

The dimensions of heaven are just such as the capacity of the mind can

comprehend, its beauty determined by the extent of our aesthetics. To

one who desires it strongly enough, heaven may even be "Here."

In poem 376 God is just as silent and oblivious of humanity as he


2Notes from a lecture on the new theology by Dr. William Mallard,
Associate Professor, Emory University School of Theology.











is to Captain Ahab or to the men in Crane's "Open Boat."

Of Course--I prayed--
And did God Care?
He cared as much as on the Air
A Bird--had stamped her foot--
And cried "Give Me"--
My Reason--Life--
I had not had--but for Yourself--
'Twere better Charity
To leave me in the Atom's Tomb--
Merry, and Nought, and gay, and numb--
Than this smart Misery.

Man's questions are as vain and insignificant as the bird's soundless

foot stamping "on the Air." A full stop should come after "Reason,"

squarely in the poem's center; thus the bird asks its reason for being.

The last half of the poem, beginning with "Life," could be spoken by

either bird or poet. In either case it would have been better never to

have emerged from the "Atom's Tomb" of inert matter than to be forced to

bear the "smart Misery" of not knowing.

Poem 377, a very straightforward statement, again declares the

pricelessness and irreplaceability of faith:

To lose one's faith--surpass
The loss of an Estate--
Because Estates can be
Replenished--faith cannot--

Inherited with Life--
Belief--but once--can be--
Annihilate a single clause--
And Being's--Beggary--

She recognizes that faith is "Inherited" and hence a gift, probably to

childhood, that can be received but once. Being becomes poor without it,

but one wonders if she does not recognize that its annihilation, for


some, is inevitable.












What are the impediments between man and God, and what kind of

effort is needed to bring them down, or to break through and glimpse

his face? The poet's straightforward struggle seems unsuited to the

subtle barrier, as she notes in poem 398:

I had not minded--Walls--
Were Universe--one Rock--
And far I heard his silver Call
The other side the Block--

I'd tunnel--till my Groove
Pushed sudden thro' to his--
Then my face take her Recompense--
The looking in his Eyes--

But 'tis a single Hair--
A filament--a law--
A Cobweb--wove in Adamant--
A Battlement--of Straw--

A limit like the Vail
Unto the Lady's face--
But every Mesh--a Citadel--
And Dragons--in the Crease--

If reaching God were a test of physical strength or endurance, she would

be equal to the task, but it is a "Hair," a "filament," a "Cobweb," and

a "Vail." These terms suggest the subtle hair-splitting of scholastic

argument, the entangled cobwebs of orthodoxy, and the veil of theologi-

cal definitions. To be sure, Emily Dickinson was not equipped to cope

with these, either by temperament or by inclination. As we shall see,

she preferred to tunnel straight through to direct experience by her

own mystic way.

Several poems indicate her skepticism of the literal truth of

Biblical events. The last stanza of poem 403 is an example:











And so there was a Deluge--
And swept the World away--
But Ararat's a Legend--now--
And no one credits Noah--

It is doubtful that such a liberal attitude was common in rural New

England during the mid-nineteenth century. It might have been so among

intellectuals, but it would hardly be accurate even today to say that

"no one" takes the story of Noah as literal truth.

Poem 413 is too playful and childlike to deserve serious comment,

but it reveals her obvious delight in making mildly heretical and daring

statements such as these: "I don't like Paradise--/ Because it's Sunday--

all the time" and "Myself would run away/ From Him--and Holy Ghost--and

All."

In the last two stanzas of number 420 the poet again suggests her

preference for deed rather than word, for intuition rather than utter-

ance, and she believes that deity shares this preference:

By intuition, Mightiest Things
Assert themselves--and not by terms--
"I'm Midnight"--need the Midnight say--
"I'm Sunrise"--Need the Majesty?
Omnipotence--had not a Tongue--
His lisp--is Lightning--and the Sun--
His Conversation--with the Sea--
"How shall you know"?
Consult your Eye!

Such a belief concerning the route to knowledge of God obviously called

for direct experience through the expansion of consciousness rather than

mare intellectual and bookish inquiry. Emily Dickinson was skeptical

not only of theological subtleties but of any attempt at verbalization

of God. In this way her skepticism itself led to mysticism. Skepticism

of the word led her to rely on the inner eye.











Poem 435 is an interesting commentary on the pressure to conform:

Much Madness is divinest Sense--
To a discerning Eye--
Much Sense--the starkest Madness--
'Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail--
Assent--and you are sane--
Demur--you're straightway dangerous--
And handled with a Chain--

The poet obviously considers herself as one who often has to "Demur" and

cannot "Assent" simply to be regarded with favor by the "Majority." This

was doubtless true in respect to her religious opinions. She refused to

assent to an act of faith or acceptance of salvation just because her

elders urged it or because everyone else was submitting. She refused

to conform even to the pattern of life that her region and her genera-

tion considered normal. To her "discerning Eye" the "Madness" of the

mystic way was indeed "divinest Sense," while the "Sense" of tradition

and orthodoxy were "the starkest Madness." She chose the solitary way

even though it meant being looked on as insane and "dangerous," even

though it meant being "handled with a Chain."

Her attitude toward prayer is revealed in poem 437:

Prayer is the little implement
Through which Men reach
Where Presence--is denied them.
They fling their Speech

By means of it--in God's Ear--
If then He hear--
This sums the Apparatus
Comprised in Prayer--

The use of such functional terms as "implement" and "Apparatus" reveals

that she considered prayer as little more than a mechanical device. She

is not at all sure God hears the "Speech" they so perfunctorily "fling."











The connotations of this description are that prayer is often a search

for favors or for favor, an act without love, and she came increasingly

to see that genuine spiritual experience was motivated solely by love.

Poem 441 may be read as a kind of variation on Hunt's "tbou Ben

Adhem":

This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me--
The simple News that Nature told--
With tender Majesty

Her Message is committed
To Hands I cannot see--
For love of Her--Sweet--countrymen--
Judge tenderly--of Me

Though Ben Adhem's name was not in the angel's book showing those who

love the lord, he asked that he be recorded as one who loves his fellow-

men. The poet here asks to be judged "tenderly" for her love of "Nature"

whose "Message" she believes to be "committed/ To Hands I cannot see."

In short, just as Ben Adhem's love reached God through his fellow men,

whom he could see, her love, she believes, reaches to God through nature.

Poem 455 describes four kinds of triumph. The last two pertain to

the price of skepticism:

A Triumph--when Temptation's Bribe
Be slowly handed back--
One eye upon the Heaven renounced--
And One--upon the Rack--

Severer Triumph--by Himself
Experienced--who pass
Acquitted--from that Naked Bar--
Jehovah's Countenance--

Since the promise of heaven was said to be dependent on conformity to

orthodox precepts, she could not help feeling risk and danger in refusing











to submit to those precepts and thus renouncing the "Bribe" of heavenly

hope. Yet to refuse, in obedience to conscience, is truly a "Triumph"

of the will. The uncertainty and anxiety of making such a choice is

vividly revealed in the lines "One eye upon the Heaven renounced--/

And One--upon the Rack," or hell. It will be an even greater triumph,

however, when all pretension is swept away and she is "Acquitted" by

that judge of severe integrity whcse "Countenance" cannot be faced by

the insincere. This poem stands among various others as an indication

of Emily Dickinson's disdain for religion based on a system of rewards

and punishments, which she considered bribes and threats.

The first three lines of poem 462 again comment on the pain of

doubt and uncertainty, and since the subject has already been explored,

they are sufficient to represent the poem:

Why make it doubt--it hurts it so--
So sick--to guess--
So strong--to know--

For the poet there was no avoiding the pain, however severe, since she

could not accept the security of those who claim "to know." The uncer-

tain state of not knowing was simply a fact of life.

The first twenty-four lines of poem 476 describe a child's belief

in prayer and in the Bible's promise

That "Whatsoever Ye shall ask--
Itself be given You"--

She concludes with a four-line statement of skepticism that has grown out

of disappointed expectation:

But I, grown shrewder--scan the Skies
With a suspicious Air--











As Children--swindled for the first
All Swindlers--be--infer--

Either God has proven a swindler or those who have spoken for him are

"All Swindlers."

The poet must have felt at times that her declining faith was lead-

ing to despair, which in poem 477 she compares to a "Goalless Road" that

cannot be compassed:

No Man can compass a Despair--
As round a Goalless Road
No faster than a Mile at once
The Traveller proceed--

Unconscious of the Width--
Unconscious that the Sun
Be setting on His progress--
So accurate the One

At estimating Pain--
Whose own--has just begun--
His ignorance--the Angel
That pilot Him along--

The image is that of a traveller proceeding in a circle, led by the

angel of his own ignorance. He is unconscious of both the futility of

his movement and the fact that death is closing in on him. Such a state

of desperation may well have been the ground in which a mystical con-

sciousness began to take root.

Poem 503 not only discloses another doubt about literal truth,

but describes what may be a first experience of mystical illumination.

In retrospect it takes the form of music:

Better than Music! For I--who heard it--
I was used--to the Birds--before--
This--was different--'.Tas Translation--
Of all tunes I knew--and more--












'Twasn't contained--like other stanza--
No one could play it--the second time--
But the Composer--perfect Mozart--
Perish with him--that Keyless Rhyme!

So--Children--told how Brooks in Eden--
Bubbled a better--Melody--
Quaintly infer--Eve's great surrender--
Urging the feet--that would--not--fly--

In contrast to the song of "Birds" or nature that she is used t, this new

ethereal music is like a "Translation/ Of all tunes," a chord of univer-

sal truth, that the "Composer" alone can play. The disappearance of the

sound suggests man's nostalgia for what "Children" are told is the "Melody"

of "Eden," which they assume was lost by "Eve's great surrender" to the

serpent's temptation.

Children--matured--are wiser--mostly--
Eden--a legend--dimly told--
Eve--and the Anguish--Grandame's story--
But--I was telling a tune--I heard--

Not such a strain--the Church--baptizes--
When the last Saint--goes up the Aisles--
Not such a stanza splits the silence--
When the Redemption strikes her Bells--

Let me not spill--its smallest cadence--
Humming--for promise--when alone--
Humming--until my faint Rehearsal--
Drop into tune--around the Throne--

In maturity we come to realize that "Grandame's story" is only "a legend--

dimly told." Unlike that legendary melody, the tune "I heard" is not to

be heard in any "Church." Even the invitational hymn, sung "When the

last Saint--goes up the Aisles" to be redeemed, cannot compare with it.

To remember it until she joins the heavenly choir, she must rehearse it

"when alone." Again she prefers her solitary spiritual experience to the












mythology and rituals of the church. Her skepticism and rejection of

these is accompanied by a gradual mystical awakening.

Poem 508 marks her ultimate break with orthodoxy in the clear-

est possible terms:

I'm ceded--I've stopped being Theirs--
The name They dropped upon my face
With water, in the country church
Is finished using, now,
And They can put it with my Dolls,
My childhood, and the string of spools,
I've finished threading--too--

Baptized, before, without the choice,
But this time, consciously, of Grace--
Unto supremest name--
Called to my Full--The Crescent dropped--
Existence's whole Arc, filled up,
With one small Diadem.

My second Rank--too small the first--
Crowned--Crowing--on my Father's breast--
A half unconscious Queen--
But this time--Adequate--Erect,
With Will to choose, or to reject,
And I choose, just a Crown--

The term "ceded" suggests both surrender and secession, a word with very

strong implications in 1862. She has severed ties even to the extent of

giving up her baptismal name. Abandoning the "Dolls" and toys of child-

hood, she also assumes a new identity, "consciously" choosing a name to

signify her new and fuller existence. Her new status as "' half uncon-

scious Queen" suggests mystical ecstasy and will be treated more fully

in the next chapter; here the emphasis is on her "Will to choose, or to

reject." She has, in fact, done both. She has rejected the cramped

identity of the country church and chosen to accept the offer "of Grace"

that will eventually fill up the "whole Arc" of being.











Poem 510 describes an experience that seems to be at once the

bottom of "Despair" and at the same time the stillness of ecstatic trance:

It was not Death, for I stood up,
And all the Dead, lie down--
It was not Night, for all the Bells
Put out their Tongues, for Noon.

It was not Frost, for on my Flesh
I felt Siroccos--crawl--
Nor Fire--for just my Marble feet
Could keep a Chancel, cool--

And yet, it tasted, like them all,
The Figures I have seen
Set orderly, for Burial,
Reminded me, of mine--

As if my life were shaven,
And fitted to a frame,
And could not breathe without a key,
And 'twas like Midnight, some--

When everything that ticked--has stopped--
And Space stares all around--
Or Grisly frosts--first Autumn morns,
Repeal the Beating Ground--

But, most, like Chaos--Stopless--cool--
Without a Chance, or Spar--
Or even a Report of Land--
To justify--Despair.

Similar to poem 508, this too seems to mark a turning point, like that

nadir of hell where gravity reverses and Dinte and Virgil begin to climb

upward. It is an experience that can be described only in negatives, yet

in saying what it was not, she suggests what it was like: death, night,

frost, and fire. The feeling of "Siroccos," a hot oppressive wind blow-

ing out of the desert, suggests the crucible of the wasteland where

saints are born. "Bells" and "Noon" are terms whose ecstatic connota-

tions will be discussed later. The supine figure is like that of one in











a trance. Most significantly, it is a sensation of timelessness and

empty space, of "Chaos" and loss of direction and location. Skepticism

and doubt have seemingly led to a state of absolute unknowing and "Des-

pair." The ground has been cleared and bedrock reached; a new edifice

can now be built.

Poem 513 gives an indication of what follows such a moment of

absolute despair. It has had the effect of instilling a sense of deep

unworthiness, which prepares for the conferring of an unexpected "prize."

Like Flowers, that heard the news of Dews,
But never deemed the dripping prize
Awaited their--low Brows--

Or Bees--that thought the Summer's name
Some rumor of Delirium,
No Summer--could--for Them--

Or Arctic Creatures, dimly stirred--
By Tropic Hint--some Travelled Bird
Imported to the Wood--

Or Wind's bright signal to the Ear--
Making that homely, and severe,
Contented, known, before--

The Heaven--unexpected come,
To Lives that thought the Worshipping
A too presumptuous Psalm--

The four examples of unexpected wonders prepare for the last stanza.

She finds it hard to believe that "Heaven," a sense of privately con-

ferred grace, could come to one who has been skeptical of "Worshipping,"

but is it not this very skepticism of "A too presumptuous Psalm" that

has qualified her for the grace? In each example it is the unassuming

and non-presumptuous that has been unexpectedly rewarded.

Poem 515 embodies a different kind of skepticism. The poet seems











to note some of the problems posed by the belief in resurrection of the

body. First of all, it will mean the assembling of such a crowd as has

never occurred:

No Crowd that has occurred
Exhibit--I suppose
That General Attendance
That Resurrection--does--

Circumference be full--
The long restricted Grave
Assert her Vital Privilege--
The Dust--connect--and live--

That "Vital Privilege" is obviously to open and allow the particles of

dust to "connect--and live" again. It beggars the imagination to visu-

alize the "Atoms" assuming the "features" of all the "Multitudes" who

have been dissolved into the earth.

On Atoms--features place--
All Multitudes that were
Efface in the Comparison--
As Suns--dissolve a star--

Solemnity--prevail--
Its Individual Doom
Possess each separate Consciousness--
August--Absorbed--Numb--

What Duplicate--exist--
What Parallel can be--
Of the Significance of This--
To Universe--and Me?

One wonders if the words "Solemnity" and "August" are not an ironic way

of suggesting the presumptuousness of supposing that "each separate

Consciousness" will be possessed of "Its Individual Doom." If such an

event were possible, it would surely have no "Parallel" in "Significance,"

both "To Universe--and Me." The poet seems almost to waver between awe

and unbelief.












Poem 518 combines four words that might serve as a title for this

entire study: "A Fiction superseding Faith." This is ultimately what

Emily Dickinson created--a fiction of mystical status superseding faith

through a rigorous skepticism that would permit nothing unessential to

stand. The context of these four words helps to place in perspective

the beginning and the end of this exploration of her spiritual conscious-

ness:

Her sweet Weight on my Heart a Night
Had scarcely deigned to lie--
When, stirring, for Belief's delight,
My Bride had slipped away--

If 'twas a Dream--made solid--just
The Heaven to confirm--
Or if Myself were dreamed of Her--
The power to presume--

With Him remain--who unto Me--
Gave--even as to All--
A Fiction superseding Faith--
By so much--as 'twas real--

The "Weight on my Heart" is evidently childhood faith or conviction that

"slipped away" almost before "Belief's delight" could be felt, suggest-

ing that it was perhaps eroded by skepticism. Only God can "presume" to

know whether that early "Dream," or faith, offered "solid" confirmation

of heaven or whether the pcet was herself "dreamed." (The latter alter-

native may suggest a kind of Cartesian doubt about external existence.)

It does not really matter, however. The new "Fiction superseding Faith,"

given to her "even as to All," is "real" so long as she conceives it.

One may say, then, that while skepticism attacked and eventually under-

mined conventional "Faith," something even more valuable and enduring

arose in its place, namely a "Fiction" embracing a level of consciousness











and being toward which she might aspire with all her intellectual and

artistic energy.

Still further proof that this new and enduring fiction could not

have been the product of hope or presumption is offered in poem 522:

Had I presumed to hope--
The loss had been to Me
A Value--for the Greatness' Sake--
As Giants--gone away--

Had I presumed to gain
A Favor so remote--
The failure but confirm the Grace
In further Infinite--

Since she had not "presumed to hope" or "to gain," she was not so easily

crushed when the fiction of heaven and of man's privileged status failed.

Nor did she feel compelled to cling to the "Grace" by readjusting her

perspective and placing it "In further Infinite."

'Tis failure--not of Hope--
But Confident Despair--
Advancing on Celestial Lists--
With faint--Terestrial power--

If the failure of hope is like the loss of "Giants," then according to

the theory of opposites, the failure of despair would be tremendous gain.

This she seems to affirm here in the third stanza. Only through unflinch-

ing despair can the "Terrestrial power" advance on the "Celestial" blank

and defeat the amoral universe. As Russell says in "A Free Man's Wor-

ship": ". . only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can

the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built" (p. 48).

'Tis Honor--though I die--
For That no Man obtain
Till He be justified by Death--
This--is the Second Gain--











Death does not diminish the "Honor" of one who wins through acceptance of

despair, whose virtue does not depend on hope. He who expects nothing

and whose goodness is not motivated by the lure of reward cannot be de-

feated in the effort to retain a system of values. Russell comments

further on such an effort:

Victory, in this struggle with the powers of darkness,
is the true baptism into the glorious company of heroes,
the true initiation into the overmastering beauty of human
existence. From that awful encounter of the soul with the
outer world, renunciation, wisdom, and charity are born;
and with their birth a new life begins. (pp. 54-55)

Death, in fact, is the ultimate justification of the struggle, which is

a way of coming to face the worst that death can bring. If that can be

faced, then one is beyond reach; no lesser terror can touch him, and he

is thus free. If freedom from the servility of hope is the first gain,

then freedom from the fear of death is the "Second Gain." It has been

said that the aim of all philosophy is to teach man how to die, for only

when he has learned to face death will he know how to live.

The poet comments further on the encounter with death in poem 531:

We dream--it is good we are dreaming--
It would hurt us--were we awake--
But since it is playing--kill us,
And we are playing--shriek--

What harm? Men die--externally--
It is a truth--of Blood--
But we--are dying in Drama--
And Drama--is never dead--

Cautious--We jar each other--
And either--open the eyes--
Lest the Phantasm--prove the Mistake
And the livid Surprise

Cool us to Shafts of Granite--
With just an Age--and Name--











And perhaps a phrase in Egyptian--
It's prudenter--to dream--

Since death too is part of the fiction, it does not really hurt. "Drama,"

as well as "dream," is apparently synonymous with what has been called

fiction, and since it is not a matter of "Blood," it is not subject to

death. Being an art, it is timeless. Even though we may realize that

it is a fiction, "It's prudenter--to dream" than to awaken to a meaning-

less universe of gravestones. She thus suggests that the fiction sus-

tains us in that it gives meaning and order to the universe. Man has no

choice but to order his universe; poetry and drama, like other arts, are

what Wallace Stevens calls "Ideas of Order."

Poem 532 suggests that becoming aware of "Death's tremendous near-

ness" instills in us a feeling of pity for others caught in the same mor-

tal predicament:

I tried to think a lonelier Thing
Than any I had seen--
Some Polar Expiation--An Omen in the Bone
Of Death's tremendous nearness--

I probed Retrieveless things
My Duplicate--to borrow--
A Haggard Comfort springs

From the belief that Somewhere--
Within the Clutch of Thought--
There dwells one other Creature
Of Heavenly Love--forgot--

I plucked at our Partition
As One should pry the Walls--
Between Himself--and Horror's Twin--
Within Opposing Cells--

I almost strove to clasp his Hand,
Such Luxury--it grew--
That as Myself--could pity Him--
Perhaps he--pitied me--











The probing of "Retrieveless things" suggests what Bertrand Russell

says about the "irrevocableness of the past":

The beauty of its motionless and silent pictures is like
the enchanted purity of late autumn, when the leaves, though
one breath would make them fall, still glow against the sky
in golden glory. The Past does not change or strive .
Its beauty, to a soul not worthy of it, is unendurable; but
to a soul which has conquered Fate it is the key of religion.
(p. 55)

We take "A Haggard Comfort" from the fact that others share the same fate

of "Heavenly Love--forgot." We are drawn together by a common bond; it

becomes a "Luxury" to clasp hands, knowing that we are doomed together.

The following passage from Russell's essay reads like a commentary on

the poem under consideration:

United with his fellow-men by the strongest of all
ties, the tie of a common doom, the free man finds that
a new vision is with him always, shedding over every
daily task the light of love. . One by one, as they
march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the
silent orders of omnipotent Death. Very brief is the time
in which we can help them, in which their happiness or
misery is decided. Be it ours to shed sunshine on their
path, to lighten their sorrows by the balm of sympathy,
to give them the pure joy of a never-tiring affection,
to strengthen failing courage, to instil faith in hours
of despair. . let us remember that they are fellow-
sufferers in the same darkness, actors in the same tragedy
with ourselves. (p. 56)

Emily Dickinson's apparent preoccupation with death can be understood in

light of her skepticism concerning the afterlife combined with her aware-

ness that the sense of impending doom heightens human perception and in-

tensifies human sympathy and affection. One must bear in mind that her

preoccupation with death was balanced by ecstatic delight in the sensory

world. She was able to treat death casually because she had faced up to


it and won the freedom to speak easily about it.











Just as doom heightens human perception and sympathy, so also

the goal of knowledge is enhanced by doubt. Poem 550 describes the

struggle to know, in the face of doubt, as an arduous journey over moun-

tain, sea, and desert. The fourth stanza is most significant, for it

suggests the fruitfulness of doubt and uncertainty, their stimulation

toward deeper understanding:

What merit had the Goal--
Except there intervene
Faint Doubt--and far Competitor--
To jeopardize the Gain?

In contrast to the condition of doubt and uncertainty, the state of un-

questioned belief is barren: arrived at comfortably and without travail,

costing nothing in lost hope and faith, hardening into meaningless rote

and ritual and ultimately into ennui. It is perhaps ironic that Emily

Dickinson, a spinster, could not tolerate such a state of barrenness.

Belief, for her, had to be dynamic and transforming or not at all. The

dynamic aspect of uncertainty is stressed in the last stanza, and appro-

priately the poem stops, without really ending, by asking a question--the

same crucial question that has long tantalized the reader and viewer of

Christian tragedy:

They strive--and yet delay--
They perish--Do we die--
Or is this Death's Experiment--
Reversed--in Victory?

"Death in Victory"3 or victory in death is related to the paradox of the



"Death in Victory" is the title of an essay on Shakespearean
tragedy by Fredson Bowers. It is printed in the South Atlantic Bulletin,
Vol. XXX, No. 2, March, 1965.











fortunate fall: just as Christ had to be crucified before he could be

resurrected, so man has to fall before he can rise, has to suffer in

order to learn. Our inability ever to know whether death is "Reversed--

in Victory" is what makes the whole quest worthwhile. Without the doubt,

without the question, the tragic experience would be deprived of its in-

tensity and fire.

In poem 555 the poet acknowledges the necessity of believing in

the unseen, using the examples of "William Kidd" and the "Buried Gold,"

belief in the philosopher's "Talismanic Stone," and Columbus' faith in

an unseen land. By implication, however, she compares herself to Thomas,

who had to be shown Christ's wounds:

The Same--afflicted Thomas--
When Deity assured
'Twas better--the perceiving not--
Provided it believed--

In the next poem,556, she notes that the brain "Runs evenly" in

its "Groove" of conformity until a splinter (doubt perhaps) intervenes.

Then, shifting the metaphor, she compares the destructiveness of such an

intervention to floods that "slit the Hills," blot out the original stream,

and trample everything in their path. Almost the same metaphor is used in

poem 928, where the heart is compared to a sea that remains within "nar-

row Banks" until "A cuestioning--dissolvcs" the gauze wall as might a

"Hurricane." In the description of such catastrophes there is a mixture

of terror and splendor.

Poem 564 relates an experience that results in her overcoming an

anthropomorphic conception of God:











My period had come for Prayer--
No other Art--would do--
My Tactics missed a rudiment--
Creator--Was it you?

Cod grows above--so those who pray
Horizons--must ascend--
And so I stepped upon the North
To see this Curious Friend--

His House was not--no sign had He--
By Chimney--nor by Door
Could I infer his Residence--
Vast Prairies of Air

Unbroken by a Settler--
Were all that I could see--
Infinitude--Had'st Thou no Face
That I might look on Thee?

The Silence condescended--
Creation stopped--for Me--
But awed beyond my errand--
I worshipped--did not "pray"--

Each verse except the last seems to comment on a different aspect of the

conventional view of God. In the first she is unable to discover God as

creator. In the second He is sought as a "Curious Friend" beyond the

horizon. In the third He is supposed to have a residence--in heaven no

doubt. In the fourth it is specifically his "Face" that she seeks. All

of these notions about God prove incorrect. There are only "Vast Prairies

of Air," "Infinitude," and "Silence." She can no longer respond with

prayer--only awe. "Awe," in fact, becomes the name she prefers and uses

repeatedly in other poems, since the term "God" has become clouded by

anthropomorphic connotations.

Poem 576 describes still another change in her attitude toward

prayer. The first two stanzas are sufficient to illustrate:












I prayed, at first, a little Girl,
Because they told me to--
But stopped, when qualified to guess
How prayer would feel--to me--

If I believed God looked ar und,
Each time my Childish eye
Fixed full, and steady, on his own
In Childish honesty--

How presumptuous our "Childish" wants would seem to Cod--even if He

heard. Here, as elsewhere (poems 513, 515, 522), it seems to be the

presumption of conventional religion that offends her most.

The first stanza of poem 594 makes a simple statement that dis-

closes the poet's struggle against the blank nothingness of the universe:

The Battle fought between the Soul
And No Man--is the One
Of all the Battles prevalent--
By far the greater One--

To describe the adversary as "No Man" may imply a denial of deity, or it

may suggest merely that whatever deity there be is nonhuman and perhaps

non-intelligent. The remainder of the poem indicates only that the

battle is interior and hence unnoticed by the world.

Poem 597 reveals skepticism of two kinds: further doubt about

the actuality of Biblical heroes and disagreement with "God's" justice:

It always felt to me--a wrong
To that Old Moses--done--
To let him see--the Canaan--
Without the entering--

And tho' in soberer moments--
No Moses there can he
I'm satisfied--the Romance
In point of injury--

Surpasses sharper stated--
Of Stephen--or of Paul--












For these--were only put to death--
While God's adroiter will

On Moses--seemed to fasten
With tantalizing Play
As Boy--should deal with lesser Boy--
To prove ability.

The fault--was doubtless Israel's--
Myself--had banned the Tribes--
And ushered Grand Old Moses
In Pentateuchal Robes

Upon the Broad Possession
'Twas little--He should see--
Old Man on Nebo! Late as this--
My justice bleeds--for Thee.

In "soberer moments" she cannot really believe Moses existed, but she

accepts the "Romance" as an indication of Old Testament justice, which

she evidently feels is more unjust than that of the New Testament repre-

sented by the martyrdom of Stephen and Paul. It is probably her sense

of artistic rightness that is most offended, since she apparently re-

gards the stories as works of art and imagination rather than as records

of historical fact. The martyrdom is consistent with the structure of

tragedy, which assumes "Death in Victory," but the refusal to admit

Moses to the Promised Land is simply bad art and completely without

justification. It makes God appear as a bully who delights in "tantaliz-

ing Play" simply "To prove ability." She rightly recognizes that "The

fault--was doubtless Israel's," indicating her awareness that she is ac-

tually criticizing a primitive Hebrew concept of justice and that God,

as thus pictured, is merely an unseen character in the legend.

Like many of the poems, number 696 declares the poet's preference

for the earth and finite existence rather than the uncertain "Glory" of

the "House of Supposition":











Their Hight in Heaven comforts not--
Their Glory--nought to me--
'Twas best imperfect--as it was--
I'm finite--I cant see--

The House of Supposition--
The Glimmering Frontier that
Skirts the Acres of Perhaps
To Me--shows insecure--

The Wealth I had--contented me--
If 'twas a meaner size--
Then I had counted it until
It pleased my narrow Eyes--

Better than larger values--
That show however true--
This timid life of Evidence
Keeps pleading--"I don't know."

If one were to try to show that Emily Dickinson was an agnostic,

this poem would furnish significant evidence. "I cant see" in the

first stanza compares to "I don't know" in the last. Both are simple,

unpretentious admissions that finite man cannot scan the infinite.

Thus "Their Hight in Heaven" is finally meaningless, "Their Glory--

nought" to the lowly. Man can have no secure knowledge of the

supposed heaven, and the poet is therefore content with the "Wealth"

of earth, which is "Better than larger values." The statement also

shows her to be a humanist. She prefers "This timid life of Evi-

dence" to one in which blind faith is a substitute for knowing.

Her preference for earth is once again evident in poem 722:

Sweet Mountains--Ye tell Me no lie--
Never deny Me--Never fly--
Those same unvarying Eyes
Turn on Me--when I fail--or feign,
Of take the Royal names in vain--
Their far--slow--Violet Gaze--












My Strong Madonnas--Cherish still--
The Wayward Nun--beneath the Hill--
Whose service--is to You--
Her latest Worship--When the Day
Fades from the Firmament away--
To lift Her Brows on You--

The constancy and truthfulness of the silent mountains compare to the

wavering vision, the half truths, of those who profess to speak for God.

The hills do not abandon her for small transgressions. In comparing

them to "Madonnas" and calling herself a "Wayward Nun," she says a

great deal about her personal religion. "Wayward" suggests her un-

certainty and doubt; yet "Nun" tells us that she is a worshipper; and

mountain "Madonnas" confirm that she worships the earth. Like the

psalmist, she lifts up her eyes to the hills, not because a God dwells

there, but because they themselves symbolize eternity, strength, and

gentle pre-eminence.

Poem 724, though it does not seem to doubt God's existence, does

question his goodness. The creation and destruction of human life is no

more to him than the painting in and blotting out of images on a canvas:

It's easy to invent a Life--
God does it--every Day--
Creation--but the Gambol
Of His Authority--

It's easy to efface it--
The thrifty Deity
Could scarce afford Eternity
To Spontaneity--

The Perished Patterns murmur--
But His Perturbless Plan
Proceed--inserting Here--a Sun--
There--leaving out a Man--












If poetry is an "invented world' to man, then perhaps creation is such

to God. As one is merely an exercise of the imagination, the other is

possibly no more than a game to exercise "His Authority." For the sake

of variety and interest, man the plaything could hardly be made eternal.

The "Spontaneity" of imagination demands that some patterns perish to be

replaced by new ones. The poem is obviously skeptical of the tradition

that "His eye is on the sparrow" and that he cares for each individual

life.

Man's blindness in a "Blank" universe is the subject of poem 761:

From Blank to Blank--
A Threadless Way
I pushed Mechanic feet--
To stop--or perish--or advance--
Alike indifferent--

If end I gained
It ends beyond
Indefinite disclosed--
I shut my eyes--and groped as well
'Twas lighter--to be Blind--

If God seemed indifferent to man's perishing in the previous poem, here

the poet herself is "indifferent." Since the way is "Threadless" and

there is only emptiness on all sides, it really does not matter whether

one "stop--or perish--or advance." No end or goal is in sight; indeed

none is possible. Perhaps it is better that we are blind, as Pope sug-

gested:

Oh blindness to the future! kindly given,
That each may fill the circle marked by Heaven:
Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,


See Wallace Stevens' "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction," I.












A hero perish, or a sparrow fall,
Atoms or systems into ruin hurled
And now a bubble burst, and now a world.
(Alexander Pope, Essay on Man, I, iii)

A significant difference should be noted however. Pope could consider

blindness "kindly given" because he trusted that the "equal eye" of God

was on hero and sparrow alike. But what if God is blind too? That is

the uncertainty Emily Dickinson faced.

Again in poem 779 she intimates her disdain for a system of values

based on reward:

The Service without Hope--
Is tenderest, I think--
Because 'tis unsustained
By stint--Rewarded Work--

Has impetus of Gain--
And impetus of Goal--
There is no Diligence like that
That knows not an Until--

The severest virtue is obviously that "That knows not an Until," that

has no "Goal" in view, that expects no "Gain." For the poet the recog-

nition of hopelessness, either in regard to this life or the next, was

no cause for the surrender of moral and ethical values. It was instead

an occasion for discovering higher motives.

Such hopelessness is a form of despair, and as she notes in poem

799,

Despair's advantage is achieved
By suffering--Despair--
To be assisted of Reverse
One must Reverse have bore--

There is positive value to be gained from the suffering of despair and of

reverses.











The Worthiness of Suffering like
The Worthiness of Death
Is ascertained by tasting--

As can no other Mouth

As noted in connection with poem 532, awareness of impending doom

heightens perception and intensifies human sympathy. To determine

the "Worthiness" of one's moral motives and one's love, death and suf-

fering must be tasted by "no other Mouth" than one's own.

Of Savors--make us conscious--
As did ourselves partake--
Affliction feels impalpable
Until Ourselves are struck--

The poet had come to realize that the expansion of consciousness depended

on partaking of "Affliction." My chapter called "Purgation, the Way of

Death," will explore this understanding more fully. Here it is important

to note that the impetus is despair, a product of skepticism.

The function of pain in proving values is also the subject of poem

806. The poet suggests that one must live

A Plated Life--diversified
With Gold and Silver Pain
To prove the presence of the Ore
In Particles--'tis when

A Value struggle--it exist--
A power--will proclaim
Although Annihilation pile
Whole Chaoses on Him-- Whole Chaoses/ Oblivions

The ultimate values will remain unassailable even in the face of human

"Annihilation" and the meaningless "Chaoses" or "Oblivions." Only through

skepticism are values subjected to such a test.

Quest literature, as a whole, is concerned with man's search for

God or for answers to universal questions. Poem 870 seems to be a paradigm












for such literature:


Finding is the first Act
The second, loss,
Third, Expedition for
The "Golden Fleece"

Fourth, no Discovery--
Fifth, no Crew--
Finally, no Golden Fleece--
Jason--sham--too.

The first finding is perhaps a child's encounter with religion. Then,

through questioning, faith is lost. The search to regain it is the typi-

cal quest. As the poet sees it, the objects of the quest, along with the

searchers, are all proven false, one by one. The reality even of one's

own existence is doubted in the final line.

Poem 910 poses a question that relates to the choice one was ex-

pected to make to be "saved":

Experience is the Angled Road
Preferred against the Mind
By--Paradox--the Mind itself--
Presuming it to lead

Quite Opposite--How Complicate
The Discipline of Man--
Compelling Him to Choose Himself
His Preappointed Pain--

Man insists on learning through experience, preferring it to the "Mind,"

which paradoxically presumes to lead in the opposite direction. In seek-

ing salvation man is faced with an even more complicated contradiction.

He is compelled to "Choose" a destiny that has already been "Preappointed."

This is one of several ironic commentaries on predestination. The poem

also seems to ask, How can man choose the right road ahead of time, as

expected, if he can learn only by experience The last stanza of the











succeeding poem, 911, seems to comment further on this:

Too narrow is the Right between--
Too imminent the chance--
Each Consciousness must emigrate
And lose its neighbor once--

All must sin or err at times, for it is through trial and error, loss

and gain, that we learn.

If faith is meant to comfort us in time of grief or death, it

does not succeed, according to poem 912:

Peace is a fiction of our Faith--
The Bells a Winter Night
Bearing the Neighbor out of Sound
That never did alight.

Death is just as real, just as silent, and just as cold as it would be

without the "Bells."

As noted in poem 951, those who depend on "Presumption" for

"Vitality" are apt to be disillusioned:

As Frost is best conceived
By force of its Result--
Affliction is inferred
By subsequent effect--

If when the sun reveal,
The Garden keep the Gash--
If as the Days resume
The wilted countenance

Cannot correct the crease
Or counteract the stain--
Presumption is Vitality
Was somewhere put in twain.

Presumption about the hereafter causes man to deny the effect of "Frost"

and "Affliction," but that presumption will be cut in two when the "sun

reveal" the "wilted countenance." In short, the hard light of fact shows

the futility of our attempt to nullify the ravages of death.











"Denial," in poem 965, is probably a reference to original sin:

Denial--is the only fact
Perceived by the Denied--
Whose Will--a numb significance--(Blank intelligence)
The Day the Heaven died--

And all the Earth strove common round--
Without Delight, or Beam-- (aim)
What Comfort was it Wisdom--was--
The spoiler of Our Home?

In a sense, the denial is double: man denies God through disobedience,

and God denies heaven to man. The "significance" of the act is perhaps

not immediately evident to either, but in its wake the earth strives

"Without Delight" or "aim," and it is little "Comfort" that "Wisdom," or

God,was "The spoiler of Our Home." The poem should not be read as an ex-

pression of regret about an actual happening, but rather as regret that

man has spoiled his earth by inventing a doctrine that is patently ab-

surd. Use of the word "Wisdom" as a substitute for God is a fairly clear

indication of this. It is unthinkable that the source of all wisdom

should have set the stage for such a colossal error, but apparently

neither man nor God perceives the incongruity, or anything beyond the

supposed "Denial" itself.

In poem 971 she suggests that spoiling this world through expecta-

tion of the next is like

Staking our entire Possession
On a Hair's result--
Then--Seesawing--coolly--on it--
Trying if it split--

It is an unwarranted risk.

A certain significance for Emily Dickinson's skepticism is to be

gathered from her reworking of poem 982. The version quoted below is











the earliest of three. In both of the later versions she dropped the

last eight lines or two stanzas. Since the first two stanzas are pes-

simistic and the last two optimistic concerning man's destiny, it seems

that she preferred to stick by pessimism and could not, after all, be

hopeful. Whereas the last two versions are dated 1865, Johnson assigns

1863 to the one that follows:

No Other can reduce Our
Mortal Consequence
Like the remembering it be nought--
A Period from hence--

But Contemplation for
Contemporaneous Nought--
Our Mutual Fame--that haply
Jehovah--recollect--

No Other can exalt Our
Mortal Consequence
Like the remembering it exist--
A Period from hence--

Invited from Itself
To the Creator's House--
To tarry an Eternity--
His--shortest Consciousness--

Like many other skepdcs, the poet is most struck by "Our mortal" insig-

nificance when she reflects that we will soon be nothing but a memory in

the "Contemplation" of those who come after us, who will themselves soon

be nothing. For both contemplator and contemplated, the only hope for

continuity is that, by chance, "Jehovah--recollect," and the likelihood

of this is expressed by an archaic haplyy." Consideration of our even-

tual nothingness suggests the Stoic philosophy.

In poem 1010 she seems to picture herself as a traveller on an

endless road chosen long ago:











Up Life's Hill with my little Bundle
If I prove it steep--
If a Discouragement withhold me--
If my newest step

Older feel than the Hope that prompted--
Spotless be from blame
Heart that proposed as Heart that accepted
Homelessness, for Home--

The continuous journey apparently denotes a condition of uncertainty that

now is fully accepted and can be viewed in retrospective tranquility..

"Hope" may have prompted the journey but has long since been abandoned.

Even "Discouragement" seems old; she no longer dreads the insecurities

of "Homelessness." When one considers the significance of "Home" in

Emily Dickinson's cloistered life, the acceptance of homelessness is

not only ironic but daring.

Not only does she choose "Homelessness, for Home," but she chooses

earth for heaven. Poem 1012 makes use of a cliche to explain why:

Which is best? Heaven--
Or only Heaven to come
With that old Codicil of Doubt?
I cannot help esteem

The "Bird within the Hand"
Superior to the one
The "Bush" may yield me
Or may not
Too late to choose again.

Since the "Heaven to come" is encumbered by an appendix of "Doubt," she

chooses the heaven "within the Hand," namely earth. If she staked all

her happiness on a hereafter that may "Or may not" be, it would be "Too

late to choose again" when it proved false. The poem is playful in

tone, so as not to be too shocking perhaps, but the theme is sufficiently

prevalent in her work to encourage belief in her sincerity.











Though the poet employs the term "Heavenly Father" in poem 1021,

there can be little doubt that she is commenting on the i age of God

presented by religion, particularly Calvinism:

Far from Love the Heavenly Father
Leads the Chosen Child,
Oftener through Realm of Briar
Than the Meadow mild.

Oftener by the Claw of Dragon
Than the Hand of Friend
Guides the Little One predestined
To the Native Land.

As the final chapter of this study is designed to show, the strongest

spiritual motivation for Emily Dickinson, as for the mystic, was love.

It is highly probable, therefore, that the most offensive aspect of

conventional religion, for her, was the image of an unloving God. She

was willing to accept the discipline of a "Realm of Briar," as we shall

see in the chapter on purification, but such discipline and purifica-

tion was endured for the sake of love. It was even welcomed as a way

of demonstrating love, but the god depicted in this poem is "Far from

Love." He is, in fact, far more primitive, as indicated by the "Claw

of Dragon," than the poet's nameless "Friend," who ultimately became

her Divine Lover. By thus suggesting the primitivism of such a love-

less god, she intimates, by analogy, the primitivism of the doctrine of

predestination, alluded to in the same stanza.

In poem 1080 her doubts about resurrection are compared to similar

doubts about the return of blossoms, robins, and May, but she concludes

with a stipuhtion:

If I am there--One does not know
What Party--One may be












Tomorrow, but if I am there
I take back all I say--

In poem 1144 she seems to realize that in the final analysis even

religion is uncertain about the afterlife, in spite of the claim that we

should rejoice and not weep at the time of death.

Ourselves we do inter with sweet derision.
The channel of the dust who once achieves
Invalidates the balm of that religion
That doubts as fervently as it believes.

Perhaps the real purpose of religion is to provide a "balm" to make the

dying smoother, but the "dust" absorbs and hence "Invalidates" it. The

fervent belief of religion is like a mask that hides a fundamental doubt.

A part of Emily Dickinson's skepticism can be accounted for by

the delight she apparently took in quiet defiance of authority. Poem

1201 provides an example of such defiance:

So I pull my Stockings off
Wading in the Water
For the Disobedience' Sake
Boy that lived for "Ought to"

Went to Heaven perhaps at Death
And perhaps he didn't
Moses wasn't fairly used--
Ananias wasn't--

Since the justice of heaven cannot be trusted, she has no qualms about

disobeying what religion tells her she "ought to" do.

Like many before and after her time, Emily Dickinson was repelled

by conventional religion partly because of its "counterfeit" peddlers of

"Truth." Rarely does she attack individuals in her poetry, but poem 1207,

though no name is mentioned, suggests her reaction to a specific sermon:

He preached upon "Breadth" till it argued him narrow--
The Broad are too broad to define












And of "Truth" until it proclaimed him a Liar--
The Truth never flaunted a Sign--

Simplicity fled from his counterfeit presence
As Gold the Pyrites would shun--
What confusion would cover the innocent Jesus
To meet so enabled a Man!

Her concept of God, unlike the preacher's, is "too broad to define"; her

truth, unlike his, unutterable. She surely includes herself when she says

that "Simplicity fled from his counterfeit presence," for simplicity, to

her, was a signal virtue, to be cultivated in style as in behavior. Sim-

plicity, in fact, was what set Jesus apart from so many who presume to

preach his word. It would not miss the mark by far to say that Emily

Dickinoon's skepticism compares with that of Jesus, who shattered the

idols and rebuked the chief priests just as she does in her poems.

In a poem written during her forties, number 1258, the poet re-

flects on the childhood conception of the Father and the Son. As chil-

dren we are given an explanation that excites awe and wonder, but in

maturity we seem to lose the capacity for portentous feeling. The fifth

stanza summarizes the problem:

We start--to learn that we believe
But once--entirely--
Belief, it does not fit so well
When altered frequently--

Frequent alteration of belief produces uncertainty that dulls faith and

makes acceptance difficult.

We blush, that Heaven if we achieve--
Event ineffable--
We shall have shunned until ashamed
To own the Miracle--

She realizes that she has passed the point of childlike acceptance. The












sense of struggle and terror found in the earlier poems is passed. Now

there is only a feeling of dull nostalgia and half regret.

A similar sense of regret appears in poem 1551. She compares the

security of belief in past times with the dark uncertainty of the present:

Those--dying then,
Knew where they went--
They went to God's Right Hand--
That Hand is amputated now
And God cannot be found--

The abdication of Belief
Makes the Behavior small--
Better an ignis fatuus
Than no illume at all--

The use of such strong words as "amputated" and "abdication" indicates

a fairly clear understanding that there is no turning back to the faith

of the past, however much more heroic and saintly behavior may have

seemed then. The use of "ignis fatuus," literally "foolish fire," some-

times called will-o'-the-wisp, implies her awareness that the light of

the past may have been deceptive and fictitious, but it was better than

the darkness of doubt.

She knows there is no turning back however. In poem 1264 she

compares herself with those who have "hoped before" but passed inexor-

ably into the escapelesss sea":

This is the place they hoped before,
Where I am hoping now.
The seed of disappointment grew
Within a capsule gay,
Too distant to arrest the feet
That walk this plank of balm--
Before them lies escapeless sea--
The way is closed they came.

"Disappointment" begins inconspicuously within the gay "capsule" of the











mind, without impeding movement, for the "plank" is made to seem smooth

by the "balm" of religion. In spite of the balm, there is no escape,

perhaps no resurrection, from the sea of infinity and eternity. All

must walk the plank.

She rejects two of the conventional attributes of heaven in poem

1270:

Is Heaven a Physician?
They say that He can heal--
But Medicine Posthumous
Is unavailable--
Is Heaven an Exchequer?
They speak of what we owe--
But that negotiation
I'm not a Party to--

She was humanist enough to believe that it is the living and not the

dead who need healing. Having already rejected the image of an accoun-

tant God, she could hardly be "a Party to" any heavenly "negotiation"

of human debts.

It perhaps summarizes her position to say, as she does in poem

1293, that heaven is "Untenable to Logic," but she admits the possibil-

ity that it may exist even so:

The Heaven, in which we hoped to pause
When Discipline was done
Untenable to Logic
But possibly the one--

In poem 1295 she attempts a limited definition of eternity and

death:

Two Lengths has every Day--
Its absolute extent
And Area superior
By Hope or Horror lent--












Eternity will be
Velocity or Pause
At Fundamental Signals
From Fundamental Laws.

To die is not to go--
On Doom's consummate Chart
No Territory new is staked--
Remain thou as thou art.

The eternity she envisions is materialistic and apparently patterned

after the Newtonian universe: made up of matter either in motion or at

rest, in obedience to "Fundamental Laws." Man also is matter; there-

fore death affords no transcendence. There is no "Territory" known as

heaven. When she says "Remain thou as thou art," she suggests that

since man is earth, he will never be anything else. The strict materi-

alism of this poem is not really typical, but it shows the extent to

which her skepticism carried her at times.

Poem 1317 similarly shows the extent of her disdain for the Old

Testament God:

Abraham to kill him
Was distinctly told--
Isaac was an Urchin--
Abraham was old--

Not a hesitation--
Abraham complied--
Flattered by Obeisance
Tyranny demurred--

Isaac--to his children
Lived to tell the tale--
Moral--with a Mastiff
Manners may prevail.

She retells the story with remarkable economy and at the same time pro-

jects a most devastating picture of God. He is a tyrant "Flattered by

Obeisance," rather than--as the story is generally rendered--a majestic











patriarch who tests and takes pity at the last moment. He is not unlike

a beast which, in spite of its viciousness, may occasionally respect

good manners.

The poet has already suggested, in poem 1264, that religion is a

balm to make dying easier. In poem 1323 she notes that the "Daily mind"

is threatened with "Madness" when forced to come face to face with the

"yawning Consciousness" of death, "That mightiest Belief":

I never hear that one is dead
Without the chance of Life
Afresh annihilating me
That mightiest Belief,

Too mighty for the Daily mind
That tilling its abyss,
Had Madness, had it once or twice
The yawning Consciousness,

Beliefs are Bandaged, like the Tongue
When Terror were it told
In any Tone commensurate
Would strike us instant Dead

I do not know the man so bold
He dare in lonely Place
That awful stranger Consciousness
Deliberately face--

It is possible to see here another reason for the prevalence of death as

a theme in Emily Dickinson's poetry. She realized the great value of

death as a teacher of incontrovertible truth, its great power of cut-

ting through the lesser "Bandaged" beliefs that cannot stand the ulti-

mate test. Hearing "that one is dead" renews the poet's own latent

urge for annihilation. In the last chapter we shall see how that urge

is translated into mystical fulfillment through unity. To face death's

unknown terror in its full intensity "would strike us instant Dead."











Though the poet professes not to "know the man so bold" as to "Deliber-

ately" face "That awful stranger Consciousness," she in fact devoted

much of her energy to a mystical expansion of consciousness that would

enable her to savor the sublime beauty and terror of such a confronta-

tion.

There is an indication here of the dramatic and profound religious

experience that Emily Dickinson eventually substituted for the conven-

tional orthodoxy of her acquaintances. In commenting on the influences

that may have prompted her to reject orthodoxy, Richard Chase speaks of

the "amalgam which Emily Dickinson made out of romanticism, popular sen-

timentality, and Calvinist Christianity." He concludes as follows:

She sensed that, for her, Christianity could be honestly
understood and accepted only as privately reconstituted
by the poetic imagination and that consequently it must
be abandoned as dogma and convention. (pp. 64-65)

Romantic poets and philosophers on both sides of the Atlantic were turn-

ing more and more to man's intuitive responses and to the poetic imagina-

tion as substitutes for conventional religious experiences. The prose

writings of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley bear this out as do the

works of Emerson and Thoreau. They were all apparently seeking a more

dramatic, vital, or transcendental relationship with nature and with the

indwelling life spirit, by whatever name it may have been called. Emily

Dickinson was doubtless influenced by this general movement, which com-

bined with her own sense of the dramatic and her curiosity about death

to stimulate mystical tendencies.

Again in poem 1357 the poet intimates her abhorrence for a re-

ligion based on a system of rewards and punishments. There are two











versions, but the first seems most lucid:

"Faithful to the end" 'mended
From the Heavenly Clause--
Constancy with a Proviso
Constancy abhors--

"Crowns of Life" are servile Prizes
To the stately Heart
Given for the Giving, solely,
No Emolument.

She realizes that far greater love is shown when it is given without

hope of reward. Likewise it is to treat men as children to offer the

"'Crowns of Life'" in return for being "'Faithful to the end.'" They

are "servile Prizes/ To the stately Heart," which gives freely and

without expectation of profit. Implicit in such a conception is the

meaning of caritas as selfless and disinterested love.

The bliss available to the poet on earth, as indicated in poem

1408, proves to her that she would not be at home in heaven even if she

could be sure it existed:

The Fact that Earth is Heaven--
Whether Heaven is Heaven or not
If not an Affidavit
Of that specific Spot
Not only must confirm us
That it is not for us
But that it would affront us
To dwell in such a place--

The poem that supports most forcefully her commitment to a philos-

ophy of perpetual uncertainty and skepticism is number 1413:

Sweet Skepticism of the Heart--
That knows--and does not know--
And tosses like a Fleet of Balm--
Affronted by the snow--
Invites and then retards the Truth
Lest Certainty be sere












Compared with the delicious throe
Of transport thrilled with Fear--

The poem is a startling accumulation of paradoxes: that skepticism is

sweet, that not knowing is seemingly better than knowing, that the

heart's tossing is like gentle floating in balm, in spite of the threat

of death ("snow"), that truth and certainty may be barren or sere, that

a throe is delicious and not painful, and that transport is more thrill-

ing because of fear. This ambiguity of feeling and inversion of ordin-

ary assumptions prepares for the ultimate result of her acceptance of

uncertainty and skepticism, namely the embracing of mysticism--but

mysticism built on no conventional base.

Poem 1417 may be a rather sophisticated attempt to account for the

psychological need to construct a Heaven:

How Human Nature dotes
On what it cant detect.
The moment that a Plot is plumbed
Its meaning is extinct--

Prospective is the friend
Reserved for us to know
When Constancy is clarified
Of Curiosity--

Of subjects that resist
Redoubtablest is this
Where go we--
Go we anywhere
Creation after this?

"Human Nature" must have something always out there unreachable and un-

determined. Browning, of course, implied much the same thing, and said

that otherwise what's a heaven for? The question of "Where go we," if

anywhere, must remain a mystery; life would be barren without mystery.











In summarizing the poems of skepticism and doubt one would be

less than fair to imply that the poet did not at times attempt to re-

affirm her faith in Christianity despite its weakened supports. Poem

1433 expresses both the weakness and the basis for reaffirmation:

How brittle are the Piers
On which our Faith doth tread--
No Bridge below doth totter so--
Yet none hath such a Crowd.

It is as old as God--
Indeed--'twas built by him--
He sent his Son to test the Plank,
And he pronounced it firm.

That she retained some hope of mending her faith is evident in poem 1442:

To mend each tattered Faith
There is a needle fair
Though no appearance indicate--
'Tis threaded in the Air--

And though it do not wear
s if it never Tore
'Tis very comfortable indeed
And spacious as before--

Though it may seem comfortable, the garment will never fit quite as it

once did. Whether she really found it quite spacious enough is doubtful,

for she devoted much of her artistic energy to weaving the seamless gar-

ment of an expanded consciousness capable of embracing infinity.

She must at times have felt torn between the attempt to reaffirm

conventional belief and the effort to discover a new level of under-

standing and experience. For some the dilemma might have led to a plateau

of accommodation or compromise, but the romantic temperament is not con-

tent with the climate of the plateau, and the honest intellectual is

aware that questions cannot be put down by compromise. Emily Dickinson











shared, to come degree, the characteristics of both the romantic and

the intellectual. Thus she came to realize that uncertainty must be

a continuing state. Perhaps most serious inquirers, whether in the realm

of science or religion or philosophy, come eventually to realize that

there is no end to the search and that one should not merely make the

best of it but welcome inconclusiveness as a sign of vitality. Emily

Dickinson seems to have accepted uncertainty as a desirable state of

tension between the static satiety of belief and the vacuity of doubt.

Additional reasons for her commitment to such a state of uncer-

tainty and insecurity are visible in poem 1434:

Go not too near a House of Rose--
The depredation of a Breeze
Or inundation of a Dew
Alarm its walls away--
Nor try to tie the Butterfly
In insecurity to lie
Is Joy's insuring quality.

Aside from the Dantesque allusion, the spiritual edifice she built could

itself be called a "House of Rose." Her sense of the romantic made her

aware that anything so finely constructed could not be formulated in

literal terms. In short, one dare not go "too near." Ecstasy is like-

wise a fragile state that cannot be firmly held. Paradoxically, it may

be insured only through an acceptance of insecurity.

In later considering her poems of ecstasy, one should remember

that her decision in favor of enduring uncertainty may have helped to

prepare for such ecstatic moments. The secure and comfortable structure

of organized religion was, for her, not conducive to mystical experience.

The Puritanism of Jonathan Edwards may have offered an opportunity for
The Puritanism of Jonathan Edwards may have offered an opportunity for











dramatic religious experience, but by the mid-nineteenth century the

churches descending from Puritanism had apparently lost that capacity.

As Richard Chase says,

She regrets that life is bereft of the pomp and drama
which the Puritan belief once gave it. What a blank day,
what a day of denial it was when "the Heaven died." We
are "dying in Drama," as she wrote in a memorable phrase,
and it is the business of the poet to preserve the dramatic
quality of existence which religious belief no longer
guarantees. (pp. 62-63)

This may help to explain why Emily Dickinson could not be orthodox, even

though apparently many of the greatest mystics have been. As Evelyn

Underhill says,

The view which regards the mystic as a spiritual anarchist
receives little support from history; which shows us,
again and again, the great mystics as faithful sons of the
great religions. (pp. 95-96)

For Emily Dickinson as for many others, one of the greatest

stumbling blocks in orthodox religion was the Pauline, Augustinian, and

Calvinist emphasis on the doctrine of original sin and natural deprav-

ity. Is man so corrupted, as a result of original sin, that he is in-

capable of goodness and utterly deprived of free will? If so, then as

Augustine maintained, God works both good and evil in us, rewarding his

own good works in us and punishing his own evil works. After recalling

these assumptions, Erasmus pointed out the rational absurdity of pre-

destination in the strongest of terms:

Who could persuade his soul to love with all his heart a
God who prepared a hell flaming with eternal tortures where
lHe may avenge on wretched men His own misdeeds, as if He
delighted in human tortures?5


5Erasmus, "On Free Will," trans. by Mary M. McLaughlin in The
Portable Renaissance Reader (New York, 1953), p. 679.











With a great deal more subtlety but no less devastation, Emily Dickin-

son, in poem 1461, demonstrates that she finds a similar image of God

implicit in the doctrine of predestination and natural depravity:

"Heavenly Father"--take to thee
The supreme iniquity
Fashioned by thy candid Hand
In a moment contraband--
Though to trust us--seem to us
More respectful--"We are Dust"--
We apologize to thee
For thine own Duplicity--

She seems to say, Please accept the "iniquity" you have reportedly

"Fashioned," but wouldn't it have been more "respectful" to have granted

us free will? As it is you put us in the untenable position of asking

your forgiveness for your own evil deeds and for a mistake you knew was

inevitable.

In an even more impish mood, she professes a certain affection for

the devil in poem 1479. She seems to admire qualities similar to those

Goethe gave to Mephistopheles: ability, resourcefulness, tireless ac-

tivity.

The Devil--had he fidelity
Would be the best friend--
Because he has ability--
But Devils cannot mend--
Perfidy is the virtue
That would but he resign
The Devil--without question
Were thoroughly divine.

By adopting a nonhuman persona the poet can express unconventional

views without subjecting himself to the scorn of conventional readers.

Emily Dickinson freely made use of this device. Perhaps the best known

example is poem 214, "I taste a liquor never brewed," in which she




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EMILY DICKINSON: MYSTIC AND SKEPTIC By ROBERT GENE FLICK A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PABTIAL FULFILLMENT OF HIE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY' OF FLORIDA April, 1967

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS To the administration and trustees of Jacksonville University I wish to express sincere thanUs for the paid leave of absence that allowed me to complete this dissertation. For their interest and support of my efforts to obtain such a grant, I am especially grateful to Dr. Dan A. Thomas, Dean of the Faculty, Dr. John E. Tilford, Chairman of the Division of Humanities, and Dr. George W. Hallam, Professor of English and a long-time friend. I want to thank those members of the English Department at the University of Florida v^o have shown interest in my progress and have offered advice and encouragement over a period of several years. I should like to mention particularly Professors T. Walter Herbert, Edwin C. Kirkland, Peter Lisca, and Alton C. Morris. My principal debt of gratitude, for his kindness, patience, and wise counsel, must go to the chairman of my committee. Dr. John T. Fain, who has given generously of his time in going over my writing and guiding me in the various stages of this study. I am Indebted also to Dr. William Ruff, a considerate and helpful member of my committee for several years, and to the people who at various times have represented my minor in humanities: Dr. John H. Groth, an inspiring former teacher, and Dr. Eugene A. Hammond, who generously consented to replace the late Dr. Arthur W. Thompson. Finally, I wish to thank my wife and family for their sacrifices and understanding during the progress of my work. 11

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TABLE OF CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ii CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION: BACKGROUND, DEFINITIONS, THE CRITICAL CONTEXT 1 XI UNCERTAINTY: THE CI£ANSING PERIL OF SKEPTICISM AND DOUBT. . 34 III ECSTASY: THE AWAKENING OF THE SOUL 110 IV DESOLATION: THE PARADOX OF LOSS AND GAIN 153 V ILLUMINATION: ITANiJCENDENT CONCEPTS OF REALITY 133 VI PURGATION: THE WAY CF DEATH 225 VII RAVISHMENT: THE CONSUMMATION OF UNITY 292 CONCLUSIONS 374 A SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY 376 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 379 ill

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CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION: BACKGROUND, DEFINITIONS, THE CRITICAL CONTEXT Backaround and purpose .— During the summer of 1962 I had occasion to re-read a considerable body of the poetry of Emily Dickinson In view of an illTxminating Introduction by Northrop Frye. It was partly a result of Frye's criticism that I began to see V7hat appeared to be a fusion of religious skepticism and mystical awareness in her poetry. The conception of Emily Dickinson as mystic and skeptic grew steadily from that time, culminating in the present study. This study represents an attempt to select a significant number of poems that reveal mystical or skeptical tendencies, to organize them Into meaningful phases of thought and feeling, and to explicate them emphasizing their mystical and skeptical qualities. Her mysticism, though it has been discerned, has apparently never been fully documented; the poems that illustrate it have not been brought together and analyzed to determine the distinctive character of her mysticism. Moreover, the unusual role of skepticism as a stimulant to her mystical temperament has not previously been described. These are some of the tasks undertaken here. In an attempt to avoid being unduly Influenced by the opinions of other critics, I postponed the reading of several of the standard works on the poet until the study was essentially complete. Though I V7as fully aware that her mystical tendencies had been noted by various writers, I Major Writers of America , ed. Perry Miller (New York, 1962), II, 3-17.

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had never encountered a statement describing her spiritual consciousness specifically as a combination of n^sticism and skepticism. It was astonishing, therefore, after the study was finished, to run on to the following passage in George Whicher's early biography. This Vas a Poet . After noting the "close parallel between her work and that of Donne, Herbert, and Vaughan," Whicher says that nevertheless she was evidently "not well acquainted" with these seventeenth century poets. She had, however, found one harbor in the seventeenth century. The writer of that period whom she most cherished, according to her statement to Higginson, was Sir Thomas Brov^ne. This is the first and last that we hear of him from her, but the hint is not to be neglected. Browne, who wrote the Religio Medici as a "private exercise" not intended for publication, who lived much apart from the world to speculate on the mysteries of time and death, who combined the mental attitudes of skeptic and mystic, and who loved to draw hermetic meanings out of scientific and mathematical figures, vjas obviously her spiritual kinsman, (p. 211) ^/hicher goes on to credit Margery McKay with the discovery that the poet's use of "circumference " is very similar to "Browne's use of the same word." Moreover, l\?hicher's recognition of contradictory tendencies in Emily Dickinson is not limited to his observation of her affinity with Browne. He says elsewhere that "like Emerson's Brahma, she was able to be both doubter and devotee in a fashion that puzzles more single-minded readers" (p. 292). Specifically concerning her work, he says, "In contrast to her poems of affirmation, therefore, we find a number conceived in a purely skeptical mood" (p. 300). His most penetrating comment on her ambivalence is probably the following: ^George Frisbie VThicher, This Was a Poet (New York, 1939).

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At any moment she was ready to acknowledge in herself the claims of rationalist and mystic, Pyrrhonist and Transcendentalist. A mood of faith that possessed her in the morning might become matter of delicate mockery in the afternoon, a piercing grief could be sublimated overnight into a rapture of spiritual purgation, (p. 305) It would seem then that l-Jhicher observed in Emily Dickinson the same "mental attitudes of skeptic and mystic" that I have tried to docuoient In the pages that follow. Though these statements come closest to expressing the synthesis aimed at in this study, there are quite a number of references that may be cited in support of mystical or skeptical tendencies alone. It might be appropriate to look at some of these, from both short and long works, before proceeding. Critical comments on mysticism or skepticism . — ^Various short critical analyses of Emily Dickinson's achievement have been assembled 3 in the collection of essays edited by Richard B. Sewall. In most of these essays some statement may be found to suggest the poet's inclination toward mysticism or skepticism. In his introduction, Sewall himself says, "She is variously a mystical poet, a romantic poet, a Metaphysical, a Transcendentalist, and, most recently, a Meditative poet" (p. 5). Conrad Aiken says that her Inability to find intellectual companionship made her an easy "prey to the then current Emersonian doctrine of mystical individualism." He also remarks on her skeptical tendencies, particularly her irreverence toward the "Puritan conception of God." Commenting on her use of the expression, "Burglar, banker, father" and 3 Emily Dickinson; a Collection of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 1963). References to these essays x^ill be cited hereafter by page only.

PAGE 7

on her apology to God for his own "duplicity," he concludes as follows: This, it must be repeated, is Emily Dickinson's opinion of the traditional and anthropomorphic "God," who was still, in her day, a portentous Victorian gentleman. Her real reverence, the reverence that made her a mystic poet of the finest sort, was reserved for Nature, which seemed to her a more manifest and more beautiful evidence of Divine Will than creeds and churches. (pp. 12-13) Allen Tate's essay, though it is one of the most illuminating, contains no specific reference to mysticism, but it does contain three or four statements that help to support my own conception of the poet and her work. Thougji the present study Is based almost entirely on the poetry, I have nevertheless, in the title, implied a designation for the poet herself. A comnent of Tate's tends to justify the identification of the poet with her work: "There is none of whom it is truer to say that the poet _is the poetry" (p. 19). Tate has also put his finger on the peculiar ability that made it possible for Emily Dickinson to be a mystic poet: ". . . like Donne, she perceives abstraction and thinks sensation ." Such perception may be considered a mystical faculty, and the ability to translate the perception into concrete sensory Images is obviously a poetic faculty. He notes other "remarkable ties" between Dickinson and Donne, but the one that most clearly suggests her distinct position between mystic and skeptic is the following: In Miss Dickinson, as In Donne, we may detect a singularly morbid concern, not for religious truth, but for personal revelation. The modern word is self-exploitation. It Is egoism grown irresponsible in religion and decadent in morals. In religion it is blasphemy; in society it means usually that culture is not self-contained and sufficient, that the spiritual community is breaking up. This is, along vjith some other features that do not concern hs here, the perfect literary situation, (pp. 21-23)

PAGE 8

To clarify the point Tate alludes to the situation that gave rise to Shakespeare. IThen the "world order is assimilated ... as medievalism was in Shakespeare, to the poetic vision,' it may be clearly seen for the fiction that it is. And, lilce the baseless fabric of this vision. The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces. The solemn temples, the great globe itself. Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve. In thus carrying Tate's point a bit farther and introducing Wallace Stevens' use of "fiction," I am able to suggest an idea developed in my final chapter. Though the Puritan fiction was a part of Emily Dickinson, she was never a part of it: hence her skepticism. Through her rejection of orthodox religion, as of the world in general, she was able to insist on personal illumination, however presumptuous it may seem. Thus the dissolution of the Puritan fiction does not carry her with It. Disintegration of a spiritual order is "the perfect literary situation" because it prepares for the building of a more enduring structure through the selecting and transforming power of art, and this was the process in which she was engaged. The spiritual quest was, for her, identical with the poetic process. Both were facets of the pursuit of immortality. In his essay called "Emily Dickinson and the Limits of Judgment" Yvor Winters mentions mysticism and mystical experience several times. He even calls it a major subdivision of her poetry: "mystical experience, or the definition of the experience of 'immortality,' to use a favorite word, or of beatitude." In commenting on poem 1159, "Great streets of silence led away,' he reveals the difficulty of actually calling her a mystic, notwithstanding the mysticism in her poetry:

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This is technically a mystical poem: that is, it endeavors to render an experience--the rapt contemplation, eternal and iimnovable, which Aquinas describes as the condition of beatitude-which is by definition foreign to all human experience, yet to render it in terms of a modified human experience. Yet there is no particular reason to believe that Emily Dickinson was a mystic, or thought she was a mystic, (pp. 30-32) The tone of Winters' essay as a whole is not one of admiration or sjmpathy for Emily Dickinson, but he does pay her a backhanded compliment when he says, "Her inability to take Christian mysticism seriously did not, however, drive her to the opposite extreme of the pantheistic mysticism which was seducing her contemporaries" (p. 35). Whatever may have been her attitude toward Christian mysticism, which is largely Catholic, Winters later notes that she was inclined to reinterpret certain aspects of Calvinlst theology "in the direction of a more clearly Catholic Christianity" (p. 39). Henry VI. Wells, in his essay on "Romantic Sensibility," attributes Emily Dickinson's mysticism to— well of course, to romantic sensibility: The contrasted seeds of mysticism and Stoicism took root in Emily's mind not only because of her own personality, but through a congenial ground prepared for them by romantic sensibility. ... In view of her total accomplishments she is neither a mystic nor a stoic poet, though she undeniably is both mystical and stoical. . . . Her mind was integrated at least to the extent that such qualities as her peculiar mysticism and Stoicism are themselves properly explained in the light of her romantic environment and soul, (p. A5) I wonder how mystical one must be to be a mystic. I have no particular quarrel with those, like Wells and Chase, who place a great deal of emphasis on the poet's romantic temperament; this does not necessarily, in my opinion, devaluate the genuineness of mystical perceptions. But

PAGE 10

It should be remembered that Emily Dickinson's romanticism was balanced by an almost severe realism and skepticism. In "Communication of the Word Donald E. Thackrey says that Emily Dickinson's reverence for "the power of the individual word . . . helps explain her use of poetic composition to discipline the mystical intuitions which involved her in both ecstasy and suffering of extreme intensity" (p. 51). He believes, however, that she ultimately came to the conclusion "that words, powerful as they are, cannot encompass what is truly significant." What course of action must follow from such a conclusion? The apparently logical thing to do would be to withdraw from all attempts at language communication and devote herself to a mystical experiencing of truth. Such a course of action would not have been foreign to her nature or inclination. Few persons have so completely withdrawn from human society as she did. However, Emily Dickinson was apparently not the type of person who could attain a completely mystical approach to life. She seemed to feel a desperate need for language communication, or at least the need to organize her experience to such a degree that it could be expressed on paper if only for herself to read. Thus, fully aware that she was attempting the exact thing which she considered impossible, she tried to find phrases for her thoughts, (p. 66) This is a valuable comment, it seems to me, for explaining in another way the intimate relationship between Emily Dickinson's art and her spiritual life. As already noted, the spiritual quest was, for her, identical with the poetic process. Poetry was a way of giving form to that which she knew xjas formless and finally inexpressible, but human sensibility requires form. Though he does not specifically mention mysticism, ^. P. Blackmur calls her, along with Herrick and Rilke, a "nuptial poet." "All three

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8 celebrate the kind of intimacy we celebrate and sometimes find as nuptial. . . . Each marriage is an effort towards identity" (p. 81). He also speaks of her "protestant self-excruciation in life's name" (p. 85). Self-excruciation is an aspect of the mystic way of death described in the sixth chapter of this study; marriage and identity are aspects of mystic unity discussed in the last chapter. John Crowe Ransom also avoids the word "mysticism," but something very much like it is implied when he speaks of the "magnificent image of her Soul which she has created in the poems. It may have been imaginary in the first instance, but it becomes more and more actual as she finds the courage to live by it." He observes further that she chose as an artist to claim a heroic history which exhibited first a great passion, then renunciation and honor, and a passage into the high experiences of a purified Soul" (pp. 96-98). These steps clearly suggest a pattern that can often be discerned in the Mystic Way: a movement from ecstasy to renunciation and purification, and finally to the achievement of unity. A similar pattern has been followed in organizing this study. Austin Warren, like Whicher, remarks on the influence of Sir Thomas Browne. It is not only her style that recalls Browne but the "difficulties which beset the acceptance of the Bible and orthodox theology." He mentions some of the incongruities that troubled Browne, then notes Emily Dickinson's comparable skepticism: Emily's most characteristic difficulties are with the morals of the Bible, especially of the Old Testament, — which in her time and place had not been subjected to the "Higher Criticism." She "knew her Bible" well, the total Bible: it was her prime mythology. She neither rejects nor accepts it without question and reservation. (p. 107)

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Warren later makes a point that I feel helps greatly to build the case for her mysticism: "It seems archetypally true of Emily to say that God was her lover" (p. 111). Much has been said in speculation about her lover that seems to me totally irrelevant to our understanding of her poetry, but if God — or "Awe," as she preferred — was the lover, it is not only relevant but fundamental to the mystical consciousness that is perhaps the source of her poetic power. Along with others, James Reeves says, "Her wit has been compared to the metaphysical style of Donne; it may also be compared with the gnomic style of Blake." Both English poets have been described as mystical, but of the two, Blake is more distinctly the visionary. Reeves suggests that Emily Dickinson shared this quality: Emily's arrival at the truth in this sibylline fashion is not so niuch irrational as super-rational. She was interested, not so much in a truth for its own sake — she was not a philosopher or a moralist--as in a direct vision of the truth. One might rationalize the vision or intuition after it had occurred, but that was not her business as a poet. In seeking to understand her poems, which are often highly cryptic, we require intuition rather than reason, (p. 121) Adding to what has been said before about the identification of her life and her art, Reeves says, "She lived her poems, and never simply thought them; they were paid for in sensibility or in suffering or in ecstasy" (p. 124). If so, they are the fruits of mystical experience. One of the finest short descriptions of Emily Dickinson's distinct sensibility is the essay by Richard Wilbur called "Sumptuous Destitution." I am glad I did not read it until my own study was completed, for I doubt if I could have v;ritten the chapter on the paradox of loss

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10 and gain without feeling deeply indebted to Wilbur. As it is, 1 only wish I had written the essay too, for it so perfectly and eloquently expresses my own understanding of Emily Dickinson's faculty for converting privation into abundance, loss into gain, pain into bliss. Wilbur may himself be indebted to VThicher, who covers much the same ground in the final chapter of This Was a Poet , but the following lines could hardly be surpassed as an expression of the paradoxical nature of mystical awareness: The creature of appetite (whether insect or human) pursues satisfaction, and strives to possess the object in itself; it cannot imagine the vaster economy of desire, in which the pain of abstinence is justified by moments of infinite joy, and the object is spiritually possessed, not merely for itself, but more truly as an index of the All. That is how one comprehendr, n nectar. Miss Dickinson's bee does not comprehend the rose which it plunders, because the truer sweetness of the rose lies beyond the rose, in its relationship to the whole of being. . . . Emily Dickinson elected the economy of desire, and called her privation good, rendering it positive by renunciation, /aid so she came to live in a huge world of delectable distances, (p. 133) Wilbur is not the first to notice that at times in her poetry "the life to come is described in an ambiguous present tense, so that we halfsuppose the speaker to be already in Heaven." This possession of eternity in the ever-present now I take to be a distinctly mystical aptitude. In the last few paragraphs of his essay Wilbur comsents on the logic of her claims to beatitude." He concludes that . . . poetry must have been the chief source of her sense of blessedness. The poetic impulses v/hich visited her seemed "bulletins from Inmortality," and by their means she converted all her losses into gains, and all the pains of her life to that clarity and repose which were to her the qualities of Heaven. So superior did she feel, as a poet, to earthly circumstance, and so strong was her faith

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11 in words, that she more than once prestnned to view this life from the vantage of the grave. In a manner of speaking, she V7as dead. And yet her poetry, with its articulate faithfulness to inner and outer truth, its insistence on maximum consciousness, is not an avoidance of life but an eccentric mastery of it. (pp. 135-36) It is easy enough to see the manner in which "she was dead" when we consider the mystical meaning of death. She was dead to the outer life in order that she might be inwardly alive. She had gone through the way of death in order to achieve unity through transformation. This is the final paradox, and it is treated in the last two chapters of the present study. "A Mystical Poet" by Louise Bogan is obviously devoted in its entirety to Emily Dickinson's tendencies toward mysticism. Published in 1960, the essay alludes to an article written in 1945 by the same author in which she said "that the time had come 'to assess Emily Dickinson's powers on the highest level of mystical poetry, where they should be assessed'" (p. 137). That task, xjhich had not yet been undertaken in 1960, is at least attempted In this study. Though there have been various articles and longer works on her religious viev7s, her renunciation, and her concept of death and Immortality, there has been no exhaustive attempt to set forth the actual evidence of mysticism in her poetry, so far as I have been able to determine. Recognizing the importance of defining "mystic" and "mysticism," Louise Bogan notes that "when, in the West, we speak of true mysticism, we have in mind the example of the Christian saints." She cites Evelyn Underbill's statement that mysticism "came to itself" in Christianity

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12 and became aware of its true object In the personality of God. "True mystics," she believes, "do not indulge in diffuse pantheism. . ." (p. 137). I do not wish to view mysticism so narrowly. As Bertrand Russell has pointed out, it is almost impossible for the mystic to escape the consideration of pantheism; Christianity, moreover, because of its roots in Platonic dualism, presents difficulties for the mystic that are not found in Buddhism and other Eastern religions. Thus I do not limit my consideration of Emily Dickinson's mysticism to the tradition of the Christian saints. There are points of similarity, as noted in the last chapter, between her conception of unity and that of Oriental mysticism. There are times when her mystical insight seems to range outside the bounds of any particular religion. In spite of Evelyn Underbill's claim that the great mystics are generally "faithful sons of the great reli4 gions," I believe mysticism often denotes a level of understanding, a dimension of experience, and an expansion of consciousness that simply cannot be embraced by any religious system. The considerations of orthodox theology may be utterly irrelevant to it. Underbill comes close to acknotr/ledging this when she says that the true mystic does not need the map of orthodoxy but is "willing to use the map of the community in which he finds himself" (p. 104). She admits that mystics are often regarded as madmen or heretics by the orthodox. Mysticism, as I see it, may be described as a faculty that is dis^Evelyn Underbill, Mysticism , Meridian Book edition (Cleveland, 1955), p. 96. All references to Underbill are to this edition. See bibliography for original publisher and copyright date.

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13 cipllned by an effort involving both mind and body— the whole being— and that has, as its aim and potentiality, the fulfillment of the whole being. It is partly an effort to negate and override death, foolish as that may seem to the realist (which Emily Dickinson sometimes was), and to achieve a sense of the eternal now that renders time meaningless. Yet it has no use for considerations of sin, reward, punishment, heaven, or hell. Eternity is no future time calling for hope of reward or fear of damnation; it is a state of consciousness, an elect status and stasis, wherein the attempt to grasp the rapidly fading pageant of the world is happily abandoned. Louise Bogan perceives that "the progress of the mystic toward illumination, and of the poet toward the full depth and richness of his insight— are much alike" (p. 138), and with this I can readily agree, particularly when it is applied to Emily Dickinson. But she goes on to say that Emily Dickinson belongs "in the company" of the English Romantic poets— Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats— who identified the imagination with God. I am not fully sympathetic with this assumption; it again tends to overlook her realism, and it ignores her hesitation to say anything about Cod. I have the distinct impression that Emily Dickinson regarded the term "God" as too ambiguous and anthropomorphic to be meaningful. She preferred a term like "Awe" that could not be addressed or visualized. What was the basis of Emily Dickinson's mystical awareness'' According to Bogan, "Balance, delicacy and force--fed by her exquisite senses and her infinitely lively and inquisitive mind--these are the

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14 qualities which reinforce her vision Into the heart and spirit of nature, and into her own heart." She adds later that the "power to say the unsayable— to hint of the unknowable— Is the power of the seer, in this woman equipped with an Ironic Intelligence and great courage of spirit." Her aphorisms correspond to "mystical writing from Plotinus to Blake" (pp. 141-43). Thus it Is pointed out once more that the poetic faculty is united with the mystical faculty, as it is In the ancient conception of the poet as prophet. This is a point that cannot be stressed too often as one tries to understand the distinctive power of Emily Dickinson. Two comaients from Archibald MacLeish's examination of the poet's "private world" permit further insight into the value of renunciation In cultivating mystical consciousness: The poet of the private world is not observer only but actor in the scene that he observes. nd the voice that speaks In his poems is the voice of himself as actor— as sufferer of those sufferings, dellghter In those delights — as well as his voice as poet . ... It is not true that her withdrawal Into her father's house and Into her own room in that house was a retreat from life. On the contrary it was an adventure into life--a penetration of the life she had elected to discover and explore-the vast and dangerous and often painful but always real-polgnantly real— realer than any other— life of herself. (pp. 154-55) Here again it is stressed that the poet lived the poems, that the poet and the poems are one. AJaed to that Is the suggestion of a point that Is developed later in this study: that she came to regard this private adventure of discovery and exploration as a poem In itself. Thus her Immortal poem was not made merely of the words she wrote but of the mystic quest she lived.

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15 Since Northrop Frye's Introduction was mentioned as a major influence on the original conception that led to this study, it seems appropriate to conclude this svmimary of comments from essays by citing a few of his most pertinent remarks. On her skepticism he says, . . . Emily Dickinson had a great respect for orthodox religion and morality, did not question the sincerity of those who practiced it, and even turned to it for help. But she never felt that the path of social conformity and assent to doctrine was her path. (Frye, p. 11) Frye points out her apparent belief that "there is another kind of religious experience that counterbalances, but does not necessarily contradict, the legal and doctrinal Christianity which she had been taught." He defines it more clearly as follows: This other kind of religious experience is a state of heightened consciousness often called "Transport" and associated with the word "Circumference," when the poet feels directly in communion with nature and in a state of "identity"— another frequent term— with it. Nature is then surrounded by the circumference of human consciousness, and such a world is Paradise, the Biblical Eden, a nature with a human shape and meaning, a garden for man. ( Ibid . , p. 12) Such a "heightened consciousness" of nature suggests an Oriental rather than a Christian aspect of mysticism. Nature, in the Christian view, is Eden after the fall; it is hard for the Christian to escape the vague feeling that nature is condemned, that its sensuous temptations must be resisted. For Emily Dickinson, however, nature can still be paradise, as Frye says. The conclusion of his argument may be sunmarized with a few excerpts: The first fact of Emily Dickinson's experience, then, was that whatever the Bible may mean by Paradise or Eden . . . it is something that is already given in experience. It is

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16 attainable; the poet has attained It; It is not, therefore, a "superhuman site," nor could it survive the extinction of the human mind. . . . If so, then the experience of Paradise In life is identical with the experience of eternity. The people we ordinarily call mystics are the people for whom this is true. Eternity to them is not endless time, but a real present, a "now" which absorbs all possible hereafters. Emily Dickinson also often speaks with the mystics of death as a rejoining of heaven, of "Forever" as "composed of Nows," of an eternal state of consciousness symbolized by a continuous summer and noon, of a coming "Aurora," a dawn that will have no night. But in her background there were two powerful antimystical tendencies at work. One was the rationalism of her generation; the other was the Puritanism in which she had been reared. . . . For Emily Dickinson, therefore, the identity between the experience of circumference she had had and the post-mortal eternity taught in the Bible remained a matter of "inference." (Ibid., p. 13) If Prye is right in assuming that she believed heaven could not "survive the extinction of the human mind" (and there is poetic evidence to support this assumption), then she obviously realized, as Wallace Stevens did, that heaven is a fiction woven by the imagination. This point too will be taken up later in detail. Frye mentions rationalism as one of the two "antimystical tendencies" in her background. Skepticism Is a product of rationalism, and I have chosen to express the delicate balance In her nature by using the see-saw designation, mystic and skeptic. The point is not that she was first one and then the other but that she was and remained both at once, that she kept the two in a delicate state of tension. Tliough it may have been painful, she Is far more fascinating because of the combination. In his full-length study of Emily Dickinson, Richard Chase devotes Richard Chase, Emily Dickinson . Delta Book edition (New York, 1965). All references to Chase's criticism are to this book. See bibliography for original publisher and copyright date.

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17 considerable space to her religious attitudes and her spiritual understanding. He describes the "crisis of the Poet's religious life" at Mount Holyoke, and he remarks that in spite of her inability to accept Christian salvation, "she surely had more potential capacity for religious experience than any of her young friends." Of her growing skepticism he says, "Like Melville, Emily Dickinson was finding Christian belief impossible to accept in the nineteenth century. . . . She voices her conviction that Christianity has come to represent passivity, spiritual surrender, and mediocrity." A slightly different reason for her rejection of orthodoxy is evident when he says that "she was a poet who found that the poetic content of Christianity was, for her. Incompatible vith a formal commitment to Christian dogma and the Christian church" (pp. 55-60). Following T te's lead, he prefers to attribute her spiritual effort to a requirement for the dramatic that was lacking in her time and place: . . . our poet's theme of renunciation finds one of its sources in the historical situation which forces her to give up the dramatically significant life she believes she would have had as a birthright in more Christian times and forces her, furthermore, to take up the arduous task of constructing a privately dramatic life through imagination and poetry, (p. 63) Scattered throughout Chase's book are various brief comnents that point tovard the poet's mysticism: "Experience" in Emily Dickinson's best poetry is narrow and profound. Typically it takes the form of a sudden illumination, an appalling pause in the motion of things, a seizure of an unspeakable power, an ecstatic influx. (p. 122) She had certain visionary qualities in common with Blake, and she invented a poetically imagined eschatology. (p. 12A)

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18 Reality and truth have for Emily Dickinson and H wthorne so nwch the -uallty of something finally given to the clairvoyant mind once and for all that they do not easily take to ideas of evolution and unfolding, (p. 127) . . . she presents the precarious possibility that the soul can acquire its royal diadem through the reception of ineffable experience. ... (p. 130) . . . Emily Dickinson can sometimes strike us as an embodiment of purely magic pother and an unprincipled but endlessly searching and Ingenious imagination mysteriously in touch with the forces of the universe, (p136) She was a realist and a seer. No moralist can delve such abysses in the universe, (p. 147) In her moments of what she called "rapt attention" Emily Dickinson . . . was capable of the ecstatic experience of grace, (p. 1A8) To Emily Dickinson, then, the idea of grace entailed the rare moment of exalted, intuitive experience which conferred a redemptive status upon her personal and domestic life. (p. 150) The pain of life as well as the preliminary "estates" one has achieved are "guarantees" or "certificates" of Imnortality. Emily Dickinson's poetry is a contract or covenant v;ith God. (p. 180) In view of the mystical connotations of these statements, it is rather surprising to read the following: Though Emily Dickinson's religion of Immortality may be loosely described as "mystical," she was surely not a mystic in any closely defined sense of the word. . . . Our poet understood the mystic experience, the totally engaged contemplation of the eternal, beatific light, and she sometiir.es wrote about it as an idea— as when she speaks of the "rapt attention" to immortality. But she never tries directly to render the experience itself. She Is no St. Catherine, no John of the Cross, (pp. 184-85) I devote this much space to Chase because the various consnents point up the problem of terminology. I can neither agree nor disagree with his contention that 'she was surely not a mystic in any closely defined sense

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19 of the word." It is of course the "sense of the word" that is most crucial to a basis of agreement. I would not try to contend that she was the kind of mystic that John of the Cross was — or St. Catherine or St. Teresa or any of the Christian saints. The difficultues she experienced in trying to accept Christianity have been adequately shown. The question is, does this difference from the saints make her any the less a mystic? I cannot fully agree that "she never tries directly to render the experience itself." Either Chase has overlooked some poems (he wrote before the variortnn appeared), or else we see them differently. I have included several examples of such direct and intense poems in Chapters III and VII. It seems to me that she comes as close to describing the unutterable as most other mystics. But she knew, as they did, that mystical experience cannot finally be expressed. One final aspect of Chase's criticism is interesting. He finds it meaningful to account for her attitude toward inonortality by relating it to Gnosticism: This extraordinary generalization of immortality, outside of history, church, and dogma, clearly has the quality of Gnosticism. For, like the Gnostic believer of all ages, Emily Dickinson makes of immortality an almost omni-present magic power. . . . Also in the Gnostic manner is her occasionally indulged habit of obscuring the fact of death by speaking as if through suffering or receiving revealed truth the fortunate individual may already possess immortality in this life. (p. 183) Just as he finds it meaningful to note her correspondence to Gnosticism, by the same token many have found it meaningful to speak of her correspondence to mysticism— based on some of the same evidence. The important thing is not what Chase believed or what I believe but what the poet

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20 hereelf believed about her experience, and as Chase himself notes, "Emily Dickinson believed that the poet was indeed possessed at the moment of utterance by that 'spectral power in thought that walks alone'" (pp. 190-91). There can be little doubt that she also believed she had received some kind of mystical illvmination. References to mysticism are few in Thomas Johnson's biography. After stating that her ideas about poetry and poetics "are in the main stream from Plato to Emerson," he describes her conception in words that echo Chase: The poet is a seer; his inspiration comes as a grace, overJ leaping regular channels; he is thus a man possessed, who reveals truth out of the agony of his travail; and the anguish of such possession enables the receiver to partake of reality and reveal at least a fragment of the mysteries that the heart perceives." Johnson also recalls a letter in which she gives "a hint that Vaughan was a poet she greatly admired," and he speaks of "her admiration for that seventeenthcentury mystic, whose imagination stirred her own, and whose feeling for nature and the homely terms of everyday usage in which he dared to express it, she shared." On the following page he says, "On occasion her poems are in the tradition that records a mystical or philosophical sense of nature" (pp. 196-97). The only other comment relative to mysticism is the following: A poem can convey the nuances of exultation, agony, compassion, or any mystical mood. But no one can successfully define mysticism because the logic of language has no place for it. (p. 222) f. Thomas H. Johnson, Emily Dickinson: an Interpretive Biography (Cambridge, 1955), p. 148.

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21 This, of course, is one of the difficulties that must be faced in a study such as the present one. I have already attempted a partial definition, unsuccessful though it may be, and the efforts of others to define it will be mentioned later. Johnson makes two brief statements that may help to specify her skepticism. He says that "from the first she quested for certainties which from beginning to end she rejected" (p. 239). This is very apt. Little needs to be added except to observe that the comment involves both sides of her nature, religious and skeptical. Near the end of his book he examines a poem (number 766) that he says "throws clear light upon the nature of her skepticism. To have less faith in the upward striving creature than in the outstretched arm of the Creator, she says here and often elsewhere, is to expect a less than perfect union between God and man" (p. 255). Thus Johnson suggests that her skepticism is based partly on faith in man. The most recent and probably the most thorough treatment of Emily Dickinson's intellectual and spiritual life is Albert Gelpi's book. The 7 Mind of the Poet . It contains many coimnents relative to this studytoo many in fact to include them all here. I have tried to select a few, however, that offer some new light. Gelpi recalls, for example, the early and important influence of Ben Newton: From Benjamin Newton's superior mind and spirit she drew not the orthodox faith, but a different kind of faith in ^Albert J. Gelpi, Emily Dickinson; the Mind of the Poet (Cambridge, 1965).

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22 things unseen. ... He introduced her to Emerson and gave her a cherished copy of the Poems . Visionary faith in Nature was, she realized through Newton, the vocation of the poet. ... (p. 16) In connection with her skepticism he says that she was aware of "the questions raised by Darwinism and the Higher Criticism,"^ and as he sees it, "The consistent implication is that the Bible must be considered as a humanly, not a divinely, inspired document, as a 'romance' or 'myth.'" He cites several passages from her letters to show that for her, as for Emerson, Jesus was not God but rather "the representative man." He comments extensively on Emily's irreverent use of Biblical passages for humorous or literary effect, again contending that it shows her to have regarded the Bible as the literary expression of human situations and human truths. . . ." He seems unwilling to dismiss her irreverence as lightly as certain others: "In the attempt to make Emily a Good Christian despite her eccentricities, some biographers berate the humorless critic who would take her little jokes at face value as intentional irreverence." Judge Lord was probably another influence on her skepticism according to Gelpi. He feels that she must have at times admired the Judge's stoicism "which neither feared extinction nor prized redemption." Still another influence, he suggests, was Theodore Parker's book The Two Christmas Celebrations that Mrs. Bowles gave her for Christmas in 1859. "Parker moved his narrative from the humble simplicity of Jesus' birth through His preaching of individual piety and good Q Compare Austin Warren's comment on the Higher Criticism quoted on p. 8.

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23 will to the corruption of Jesus' example into Christianity, with all its paraphernalia of redemption, resurrection, miracles, devils, heaven, and hell." One further comment about her skepticism should be emphasized: 'She understood skepticism all too well and she could not take the easy escape of merely dismissing the problems" (pp. 48-53). Gelpi is inclined to emphasize the influence of Emerson on her mystical tendencies as well as on her skepticism. Emerson's "metaphysic found German idealism and Oriental mysticism more congenial than Christian dualism" (p. 57). Though Gelpi does not say so, it is altogether possible that the appeal of Oriental mysticism, which seems evident in the poems of unity, reached her through Emerson. He does say that she had "absorbed, as early as 1850, the essential features of Transcendentalism" with its "metaphysicaJ and mystical speculations" (p. 63). Emily Dickinson's moments of illumination, according to Gelpi, are part of a broad literary context: In the whole span of the New England tradition, from Bradford and Winthrop and Edwards to Emerson and Dickinson and later to Eliot and Frost, individual experience finally focused and rested upon the pivotal moments of revelation and insight--the moments of divine manifestation and human vision. This union-however insecure--in which the individual lost himself in totality is the sole end of that Augustinian strain of piety which Perry Miller saw as the bright heart of Puritanism. . . . But while Christians see regeneration as the moment of grace, "other people have found other names for the experience: to lovers it is love, to mystics it is ecstasy, to poets inspiration." (p. 76) Gelpi is here quoting Miller as background for his own conclusion: For a poet she was; and, in some senses of the words, a lover and a mystic as well. What remains, therefore, is to see what she made of and with her fitful vision. (Ibid.)

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24 He later notes that the "transfoirming experience was the momentous interview" prestonably with the divine. In the moments between such interviews "she could only relive earlier bliss in memory or anticipate bliss to come" (p. 87). As I have done in this study, Gelpi places a great deal of emphasis on consciousness, which "defined the inner world in terms of the outer and the outer world in terms of the inner, its arc sweeping variously around the central self" (p. 102). He declares that Emily Dickinson "made the cultivation of consciousness her religion" (p. 108). I have noted earlier my own view that the mystic quest involves an expansion of consciousness that cannot be satisfied or contained by any religious system. Such an expansion gives rise to the faculty whereby the limits of time and physical form may be transcended. Gelpi adds that In a body of poetry devoted to the main concerns of consciousness the principal themes are, predictably, love, death, and immortality: fulfillment, dissolution, and transcendence inextricably entwined. The need for love--that is, for external union which would complete and express the self--is the force that pervades all of Emily Dickinson's writing, (p. 109) This she certainly has in common with the mystic. Gelpi maintains, however, that on all levels — human, sexual, religious, and mystical — Emily Dickinson's love was doomed, by its very nature and demands, to retire to itself in unrequited frustration." Only in the "Eden-Heaven' would she find "fulfillment in and absorption by the 'lover.'" Then, reverting to her skepticism, he adds, "But what could the prospect of fulfillment in the afterlife mean to one who was alternately skeptical or fearful of immortality;' She found herself trapped in the coils of her own doubts."

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25 Immortality, for her, meant something quite different from the conventional afterlife; it "had its deepest meaning for her, as did love and death, as an existential state of mind and feeling" (pp. 111-15). Once more Gelpi chooses to relate these concepts to the Transcendentalists. He Insists that "in Dickinson, as in Emerson and Thoreau, eternity and infinity and God Himself can best be taken as the encircling infinity into which the individual may expand in accordance with his inner capacity." Commenting on the meaning of Circumference, he says that it "signifies ecstasy in its expansiveness, in its self-contained wholeness, in its self-ordered coherence, in its definition of the individual's capacity for being (and for Being)" (pp. 122-23). Near the end of his book Gelpi acknowledges that Emily Dickinson "felt the impulse to find outside herself something which answered her and which she could answer," but he believes that she "cringed" and "retreated from that faceless presence ..." (pp. 160-61). I am convinced, on the contrary, that she retreated from an external existence precisely for the purpose of facing and cultivating that presence. The search for the unknov/n center of being, he suggests, poses the question of its location: Is the goal within our Individuality? This would compel us to absorb externals into the fullest cultivation of consciousness. Or is the goal without? This would compel us to seek ourselves in a transcendent reality. Edv7ards, Emerson, and Eliot would have told her that loss of self and fullness of self were finally the same. (p. 173) Again I am Inclined to take issue, at least with her need for instruction concerning the loss of self. In the last chapter I have tried to show that she reached an awareness even of that highest stage of mystical

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26 development, the annihilation of self. I v7ould not maintain that she achieved such fulfillment--How can one ever know?--but there Is poetic evidence to show that she understood it. This summary of the criticism touching upon Emily Dickinson's mysticism and skepticism is certainly not definitive, but it should convey a fair idea of the range of opinion. Though there are exceptions, I find in these comments considerable support for what is said in this study. There is no attempt here, however, merely to repeat the conclusions of others. The intention is to seek poetic evidence and to draw the conclusions from that alone. Definitions . --Anyone who writes about mysticism must be concerned about the problem of ambiguity and the consequent need for clear definition. Yet an area so far from the ordinary realm of human experience does not easily submit to definition. Language Itself— a system of sounds deriving meaning from shared human experience— is perhaps the crux of the problem. Mystical experience is shared by very few. Evelyn Underbill devotes an entire chapter of her well-known work on mysticism to the symbols mystics have used in an effort to convey their unique experience to those less gifted. How is it possible to impart the essence and exhilaration of a wholly non-sensory experience to those familiar only with the sights and sounds of the physical world? Obviously It is possible only by stimulating the imagination through metaphor. The poet has a distinct advantage in that his use of language is special and extralogical. I have already cited Johnson's observation that "no one can successfully define

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27 mysticism because the logic of language has no place for it," but I would contend that the language of poetry is not strictly logical. Though it may be impossible for the critic to formulate an adequate definition, the mystical poet in a sense defines the experience in his verses. The critic may therefore be well advised to build his definition by commenting on the poems themselves. In "Mysticism and Logic" Bertrand Russell says, "Mysticism is, in essence, little more than a certain intensity and depth of feeling in re9 gard to what is believed about the universe. ..." He goes on to elaborate four characteristics of mysticism: a. belief in the possibility of a way of knowledge which may be called revelation or insight or intuition, as contrasted with sense, reason, and analysis. . . . b. belief in unity, and its refusal to admit opposition or division anjwhere. c. denial of the reality of Time. d. belief that all evil is mere appearance and illusion produced by the divisions and oppositions of the analytic intellect, (pp. 9-11) I have no quarrel with any of these, and I would be quite content to accept them as characteristic of Emily Dickinson's mysticism. It should be noted that in each case Russell speaks of belief or a state of mind rather than a claim of experience. By the same token, I do not wish to indulge in claims relative to supernatural visitation, visions, or voices in regard to Etolly Dickinson. I am concerned here primarily with the ex* tent of her ability to conceive and write about the range of mystical experiences. Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (London, 1917), p. 3. All references to Russell's essays are to this collection.

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28 William James sets forth what he calls "four marks which, when an experience has them, may justify us In calling it mystical." These are ineffability, noetic quality, transiency, and passivity. The first suggests, as noted above, that such an experience cannot be expressed and stresses that it is a state of feeling. The second stresses that it is also a state of knowledge or of the intellect, a kind of illumination. The third obviously implies that "mystical states cannot be sustained for long." And the fourth indicates that such states are involuntary, cannot be clearly induced or controlled; "the mystic feels as if his OT^n will were in abeyance. ..." Each of these marks is suggested, at one time or another, in Emily Dickinson's poetry. The chapters on ecstasy and ravishment both include poems that try to describe inexpressible feelings. Chapter V deals specifically with intellectual transcendence or illumination, which James calls noetic quality. And Chapter IV deals not only with the desolation resulting from the transiency of ecstasy, but also with the poet's inability to bring about a repetition of the experience--an indication of passivity. In setting up a definition of mysticism it is necessary to recognize that there is not only a difference between genuine and spurious, but more importantly a difference in the degrees or levels of mystical experience . Evelsrn Underbill states that "No one mystic can be discovered in whom all the observed characteristics of the transcendental consciousness are resumed . . ." (p. 167). Thus it is impossible to establish an William James, The V rieties of Religious Experience . Modern Library Edition (New York, 1902), pp. 371-72.

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29 inflexible set of criteria and then try to determine whether a person measures up to it as a means of proving his mysticism. In addition to the partial definition attempted on pages 12 and 13, it might be said that the whole merit of this study is definition, in which the connotations of description, distinction, and delimitation are subsumed. It is not so much an effort to prove her mysticism~if such were possible--as to qualify, describe, and define it. Limitations . — The Emily Dickinson this study is concerned with is the poet, the persona of the poems, and not necessarily the spinster recluse of Amherst who is the subject of biographers. There are several reasons for confining the study to the poetry. In writing about mysticism there is a positive value in focusing on the deliberate work of a writer rather than on the fortuitous circimistances of his life and society. One does not often live as deliberately as Thoreau did on Walden Pond, even though a life of semi-isolation such as Emily Dickinson's may well represent an attempt to do so. Our lives are not usually quite what we intend, even for the most severe individualists. In some respects the events of one's life comprise what might be called an accidental catalog of facts. For this reason I have, for the most part, ignored biographical material in attempting to assess and define mystical tendencies in the poetry. For the same reason I have generally excluded consideration of the letters. They too, it seems, represent a self that is less than fully revealed. Even as frank and startling a personality as Emily Dickinson was inclined to adopt a persona to suit the occasion or the reader to

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30 whom a letter was directed. We know, for example, that she led Higginson to believe that she had the highest regard for his literary judgment even though she "rejected—politely and gratefully but adamant ly--every piece of practical literary advice that 'Preceptor' Higginson offered." She occasionally liked to strike a dramatic pose in a letter, and one senses that the real Emily was smiling all the while at the reaction she knew it would produce. This is not to say that she is not sometimes playful and ironic in the poems as well, but the poet's awareness of a more general audience ordinarily gives the irony some fairly obvious significance in the context of the poem. In letters, as in personal relations, we tend to become the persons we want others to see. In short we assume a mask or persona. Can we not say, then, that biography tends to represent the acci dental self, and letters the assumed self, v/hereas the poetry can be taken as an intentional and ideal statement of one's deepest self? There is yet another reason for limiting our consideration of mysticism to the poems, and it is to some extent reflected in this matter of the deepest, intentional self. Biography is generally a record of events that transpire in the physical realm of existence, but mysticism is concerned with a level of ultra-sensory being. External events may have little bearing on the interior life of mystical consciousness. Thus ordinary biography may be largely irrelevant to a study of this kind. 11 C3elpi, p. 144.

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31 Considered as an expression of intentional being, poetry itself becomes a kind of biography, not of external events but of the interior life. In the Ion Plato says that the poet "is an airy thing . . . and he cannot make poetry until he becomes inspired and goes out of his 12 senses and no mind Is left in him," The poet, like the mystic, must escape the senses and the self-conscious mind. Thus poetry seems to be the most appropriate medium for recording life on the mystical level, and in exploring that life it is actually better to shun the distractions of external biography and to concentrate on the life recorded in the poems. Organlzat ion . --S Ince the poems range from early to late in every conceivable grouping, it is not feasible to order the categories so as to shoxij that Emily Dickinson experienced a consistent mystical development. Some kind of development undoubtedly took place, but because of uncertainties in chronology, such a development v7ould be difficult to trace on the evidence of the poems alone, I took a cue for the arrangement used here from Evelyn Underbill, who says that "the typical mystic seems to move toward his goal through a series of strongly marked oscillations between 'states of pleasure' and 'states of pain.'" She proceeds to offer her own classification for studying the "phases of the mystical life." Though her exposition of the phases is quite detailed, they may be summarized or listed as awakening, purgation, illumination, the mystic death or spiritual crucifixion, and union. She admits "that Oriental Mysticism insists upon a further stage beyond that of union" which she 12 W. H. D. Rouse, trans. Great Dialogues of Plato (New York, 1956), p. 18.

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calls "annihilation or reabsorption of the individual soul in the Infinite" (pp. 168-70). I have tried to retain the structure of oscillation between pleasure and pain in the arrangement of the last five chapters, those concerned specifically with mysticism. Except for the fourth chapter, the titles obviously bear a resemblance to Underbill's classification of phases, but I have tried to word them so as to reflect states of mind and feeling Implied specifically in the poems. Emily Dickinson uses the word "ecstasy" frequently, and since this is generally an early and momentary state, I have placed it first. The feeling that seems to follow most closely after ecstasy In her experience is the emptiness occasioned by the withdrawal or loss of ecstasy; this state of pain I have called desolation. Then follows a significant group of poems that reveal the poet's illumination, her intellectual and imaginative conceptions of transcendent reality. The state of pain that has been described after this is clearly a more mature experience than that called desolation; the poet often compares it to crucifixion and is aware of its purgative value. In the final chapter I have included the many poems of divine love and ravishment that reveal the poet's longing for unity. This longing is sometimes expressed as a desire for wholeness, and though the illustrations are not as numerous, it even appears in terms of the Oriental conception of annihilation and absorption. While this arrangement cannot be proven by chronology, it is a meaningful order for analysis, and it reveals the extent to which Emily Dickinson's mystical awareness corresponds to Evelyn Underbill's standard and widely respected classification.

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33 Text . — The text of Emily Dickinson's poems used in this study is derived from the 1955 variorum edition of her complete poetry by Thomas H. Johnson. Following his own example in the later one-volume edition, I have corrected misplaced apostrophes in such words as "it's" and "was'nt," but I have preserved her curious spelling (e.g., visiter, witheld, exhilirate, sovreign, wo, extasy) whereas Johnson corrects these words and many others in the one-volume edition. It is my belief that the intruding or misplaced apostrophe is distracting in a study of this kind, although it might be significant in a prosodical or textual study. The unconventional spelling, however (and spelling is nothing more than convention), is a quirk that contributes to the poet's distinctive personality. It may be generally unintentional, but this is not certain, and in any event it is an idiosjmcrasy that should not be lost. The same may be said of her unconventional use of capital letters and dashes, which I have also retained. Johnson saw fit to preserve these in the one-volume edition even though he corrected her spelling. Throughout the study I have referred to the poems by Johnson's numbering. The letters likewise, though not often quoted, are designated by their number in the Johnson-Ward text. It seems unnecessary to give volume and page numbers since the poems and letters are in sequence. The bibliography provides complete data on the collected works as well as on other sources used.

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CHAPTER II UNCERTAINTY: THE CLEANSING PERIL OF SKEPTICISM AND DOUBT Before the new can be constructed, the old often must be swept away. This observation Is no less true of intellectual than of physical achievement. ^'Jhen one attempts to raise an edifice of spiritual consciousness, the rubble of lost meaning must first be cleared from the mind. Such a clearing process requires disinterested inquiry and skepticism. It requires that one refuse to clutter the spaces of the mind with furniture designed primarily for comfort. To doubt is often unpopular and never comfortable. If conventional religion, as Wallace Stevens suggests, is a fiction that has now lost most of its meaning, earlier stages in the gradual loss are observable in the nineteenth century and before. Calvinists had long since installed lightning rods, a sign of declining belief in God's direct intervention, his responsibility for natural phenomena. Science was having a telling effect on religion in the United States as well as in Europe, and intellectuals were searching for compromise and adjustment. The time was ripe for the poet, as prophet, to point the way toward a new fiction. Emerson seemed a likely candidate for the role of prophet, and he did indeed help build a fiction called Transcendentalism. Whitman went so far as to declare himself prophet of the new democracy, and his ever-expanding, iconoclastic book was being debated in public. Emily Dickinson, working in privacy and silence, was also clearing away crumbling beliefs that could no longer stand, but more important, she was 34

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35 building a new and more spacious spiritual temple, founded on the bedrock of skepticism and dedicated to the exaltation of consciousness. This study attempts to describe the spiritual edifice that Emily Dickinson erected and to show x^herein that structure resembles mysticism. If mysticism is the shape of the edifice, the steel frame that supports it is skepticism. Mysticism and skepticism are so intertwined in her poetry that it is impossible to separate them so as to speak of development from one to the other, probably because their coexistence had been established before she began seriously to write. She wrote very few poems before she was twenty-eight, and there is every reason to believe that her spiritual crisis had passed some time before that, in the years immediately following her brief but disturbing psychological experience at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary ten years earlier. After being exposed to extreme emotional pressure to be "saved," and almost submitting, she finally withdrew — from commitment, from the school, and eventually from the world. The result of that withdrawal was her remarkable poetic achievement, which at the sane time represented an unsuspected spiritual achievement . To account for the poet's achievement, the critic may also seem to construct a fiction, but such a construction is an attempt to find, not to impose, an order. This study, accordingly, attempts to discover the fictional temple that Emily Dickinson built to replace the church that, for her, had fallen into ruins. The order of the study is itself a construction, an arrangement of the poems into a series of progressive steps on the road to a sublime spiritual ideal. Though marked by the

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36 poems themselves, the steps may or may not have been taken by the poet In the order they are given here. The expansion of consciousness was hers, to be sure; the order Is for us. As stated. It Is not possible to show that the skeptical poems are separated In time from the mystical ones, but It Is probable that In her search she had to reach to the bottom of doubt before she could ascend to spiritual heights. It thus seems logical to construct and follow an order approximating such a search. The poems of uncertainty, skepticism, and doubt mark a descent, while the poems of ecstasy, transcendence, and unity may be viewed as steps upward. Since the poems of descent comprise a smaller body, they are treated In one chapter. Since the long and arduous ascent Is typically Interspersed with periods of loss and trial, the poems denoting ascent are arranged Into five stages or chapters alternating between bliss and suffering. Such a pattern is suggested by Evelyn Underbill's observation that ". . . the typical mystic seems to move toward his goal through a series of strongly marked oscillations between 'states of pleasure' and 'states of pain'" (p. 168). A division of the poems of uncertainty, skepticism, and doubt under three separate headings v7ould be artificial since many of the poems reflect the full range of attitudes. In the hope that Johnson's variortmj numbering represents an approximate chronology and hence a kind of development in skepticism, I have, for the most part, taken the poems In numerical order. A further question concerns the relationship of uncertainty to skepticism and doubt in Emily Dickinson's poetry.

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37 In one sense uncertainty is the matrix out of which skepticism and doubt emerge. Anyone who inquires into universal questions begins in uncertainty and never wholly escapes it, for it is an integral part of the human condition itself. There are persuasive reasons to believe that Emily Dickinson willingly accepted uncertainty as a state that could never be fully overcome. Though we shall pass on ^o the consideration of other states of mind, it should be remembered that uncertainty reseirves a place in her thought, providing openmindedness and flexibility. The reasons for combining the poems of uncertainty, skepticism, and doubt may then be summarized as follows: First, they help us to see the full intellectual effort necessary to reach the bedrock of unbelief oti which a new edifice could be erected. The descent toward that bedrock may be compared to Dante's descent into hell; for purposes of understanding we need to see the bottom before we can turn toward purgatory and paradise. Second, mysticism must logically be discussed in a progressive order, and it is necessary to consider all phases of skepticism before the alternating stages of mysticism can be set forth vjith coherence. Finally, the full range of uncertainty, skepticism, and doubt needs to be viewed as a context and background against which Emily Dickinson's mysticism can be seen in perspective. Her mysticism was unique precisely because of its foundation in such a context. Intellectual honesty, an acceptance of undertainty and a continuous spirit of inquiry are aspects of her skepticism that should be kept steadily before us in trying to understand her mysticism.

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38 Even such an early poem as number 3, her valentine of 1852, published in the Springfield Daily Republican , reveals a certain flippancy toward traditional religious teaching. For example, one stanza of that poem reads as follows: Put down the apple, Adam, And come away with me. So Shalt thou have a pippin From off my father's tree.' One could not say on the basis of this bit of humor that she yet seriously doubted the doctrine of original sin, but the stanza shows that she Is willing to poke fun and to question. It is evident from certain experiences recorded In her biography that she enjoyed playing the part of the rascal, and in another stanza of the same poem she confirms her delight in such a role: Mortality is fatal-Gentility is fine. Rascality, heroic. Insolvency , sublime .' Insolvency, even In matters of faith or belief, is a state she comes to regard as stimulating. Another kind of flippancy is evident in poem 49, the well-known "I never L.st as Much but Twice," where she refers to God as "Burglar." Banker— Father.'" The image of God that religion had given her is that of a thief who takes away loved ones, an accountant who keeps careful records of our deeds, and a patriarchal figure of authority who conmands obedience. It is an image she was not able whole-heartedly to accept. In poem 62 she openly argues with the notion that the human state is corrupt and dishonorable:

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39 "Sown in dishonor"' Ah .' Indeed .' May this "dishonor" be? If I were half so fine myself I'd notice nobody.' "Sown in corruption".' Not so fast .' Apostle is askew.' Corinthians 1.15. narrates A Circumstance or two.' The passage in I Corinthians 15:41-43 answers those who have questioned how the dead shall rise and what kind of body the resurrected shall inhabit: There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth frrra another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. In spite of what is obvious questioning of one doctrine, the poet still relies on the scriptures for a counter argument. The poem may point to the fact that she was troubled by Biblical inconsistency. The last stanza of poem 79 is one of the clearest early declarations of disbelief. The poem concerns "Going to Heaven." In the first stanza she wonders how and when but says "it will be done/ As sure as flocks go home at night." In the second she asks another to "Save just a little place for me/ Close to the two I lost." Then in the last stanza comes a surprising reversal, an abrupt shift from confidence to disbelief: I'm glad I dont believe it For it w'd stop my breath-And I'd like to look a little more At such a curious Earth.'

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40 I am glad they did believe it Whom I have never found Since the mighty Autumn afternoon I left them in the ground. Two attitudes should be noted: exceeding delight in "such a curious Earth" and kindliness toward those who "did believe it" since the prospect of a hereafter evidently gave them comfort and made the going easier. Poem 101, rather than stating positive disbelief, merely asks the simple question "Will there really be a 'Morning?'" It is both an inquiry and a plea for understanding: Oh some Scholar.' Oh some Sailor.' Oh some Wise Man from the skies.' Please to tell a little Pilgrim Where the place called "Morning" lies.' One possible reason for her ambiguous attitude toward religion Is given In poem 103: I have a King, who does not speak — So--wonderlng--thro' the hours meek I trudge the day away-Half glad when it is night, and sleep. If, haply, thro' a dream, to peep In parlors, shut by day. And if I do--when morning comes-It is as if a hundred drums Did round my pillow roll. And shouts fill all my Childish sky. And Bells keep saying 'Victory' From steeples In my soul.' And If I dont— the little Bird Within the Orchard, is not heard, And I omit to pray 'Father, thy will be done' today For my will goes the other way. And It were perjury.' If she Is given the grace, in "dream" or vision, "to peep/ In parlors, shut by day," the world is filled with "drums," "shouts," and "Uells"

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41 of "Victory,"' but if the vision or insight is not granted, "my will goes the other way,/ And it were perjury!" In short, religious doctrines then become lies, and she seeks to defy them. The poem foreshadows how very much she came to require and depend on personal revelation or spiritual experience. Poem 105 expresses uncertainty concerning our proper attitude toward immortality: To hang our head--ostenslbly-And subsequent, to find That such was not the posture Of our immortal mind-Af fords the sly presumption That in so dense a fuzz-You-too-take Cobweb attitudes Upon a plane of Gauze.' In "so dense a fuzz" of unknowing one has no choice but to take nondogmatic "Cobweb attitudes," at times hopeful, at times despairing. The poet recognizes that the conventional picture of saintllness is one in which the head is bent in prayer or humility, but she questions whether we might not subsequently find "That such was not the posture/ Of our immortal mind." Perhaps a more fitting posture is one with head boldly erect in the face of the blank "plane of Gauze" where we must find our way without help. A similar question about humility Is asked in poem 124: In lands I never aaw--they say Inmortal Alps look down — Vhose Bonnets touch the flrmament-Whose Sandals touch the tmm-Meek at whose everlasting feet A Myriad Daisy play--

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42 Which, Sir, are you and which am I Upon an August day? "Sir" is obviously addressed to God, and one would conventionally identify God with the peaks touching the firmament, man with the meek daisies. In questioning which is which the poet may be suggesting that God is a product of the mind of man and hence that the mind stands taller and more immense than its creation. She at least implies that man's relationship toward God may not be that of the meek and humble suppliant. The posture she most frequently seems to favor is that of the searcher who is willing to struggle for knowledge, either as a substitute or as a support for faith. This is evident in poem 114: Good night, because we must. How intricate the dust I I would go, to know.' Oh Incognito! Saucy, Saucy Seraph To elude me so.' Father.' they vonl tell me. Wont you tell them to? This poem, like so many others, seems to be inspired by someone's death. But death is here recog ized as a possible gateway to knowledge, and the poet is willing to go through the "Intricate" dust, even at the cost of her identity ("incognito"), to find answers to the question of immortality. The tone of the poem is one of playfulness, indicating that the poet recognizes uncertainty as part of the game of life, yet she appeals to God for answers that the angels refuse to give. Poem 121 seems squarely neutral in regard to heaven's truth:

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43 As Watchers hang upon the East, As Beggars revel at a feast By savory Fancy spread-As brooks in deserts babble sweet On ear too far for the delight, Heaven beguiles the tired. AS that sante watcher, when the East Opens the lid of Amethyst And lets the morning go-That Beggar, when an honored Guest, Those thirsty lips to flagons pressed. Heaven to us, if true. While it is eagerly axvaited, but distant and unseen, heaven is like a feast for beggars and a mirage in the desert; however real, it is unavailable. Its value is only to tease and tantalize. But if heaven turns out to be true, it will be as startling as if the beggar were invited to be an "honored Guest," and the waiting in uncertain hope will only enhance the splendor of fulfillment. The poem does not quite express doubt, but neither does it reveal confidence. In poem 178 "my priceless Hay" seems to represent the valuable (meaningful religious beliefs perhaps) that the poet has separated from the worthless (meaningless ones), only to have her harvest disappear: I cautious, scanned my little life-I winnowed what would fade From what w'd last till Heads like mine Should be a-dreaming laid. I put the latter in a Barn-The former, blew away. I went one winter morning And lo — my priceless Hay Was not upon the "Scaffold" — Was not upon the 'Beam"-And from a thriving Farmer— A Cynic, I became.

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44 Whether a Thief did It— Whether it was the wind-Whether Deity's guiltless-Hy business is, to find.' So I begin to ransack.' How Is it Hearts, with Thee? Art thou within the little Barn Love provided TheeV The loss has made her a "Cynic," a term that even more strongly suggests that the "priceless Hay" represents faith, since 'cynic" is often equated with "skeptic." The poem may well indicate that she has consciously adopted the position of skepticism. Just as God was called "Burglar" In poem 49, here "Deity" is Juxtaposed with "Thief." When one translates the fourth stanza into literal terms, she seems to say that the traditional Christian concept of God may be at fault in the loss of faith she has experienced. She has apparently found it impossible to believe in the images of "Burglar.' Banker--Fatherl" and now, in the last stanza, she wonders whether the concept of God as love may also be gone. Another aspect of the struggle to maintain a hold on faith is evident in poem 190: He was weak, and I was strong — then-So He let me lead him in — I was weak, and He was strong then-So I let him lead me--Home. 'Twasn't far — the door was near-'Twasn't dark-for He V7ent — too-'Tx^asn't loud, for He said nought — That was all I cared to know. Here she says that when "He was weak" (probably meaning God's influence with her), she was strong (in her faith perhaps) and hence led him into her life. Then when she became weak (physically), his influence In her

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45 life was strong, and she let him "lead me— Home." The going was easy with him to help. Thus, up to the end of the -second stanza, the poem could be taken as a familiar type of religious testimonial, but then Day knocked— and we must part-Neither--was strongest— not?— He strove--and I strove--too— We didn't do it— tho*! Unlike the conventional testimonials, the struggle is not rewarded with success. Neither the power of God in her nor her own strength is sufficient to break through the curtain of death and to affirm immortality. It Is also possible to read the poem as an account of sexual union, in which case the strength and willingness of one suffices when that of the other flags. But even in this interpretation the little death of orgasm is such that neither can rise up frcm it at the break of day. In either reading resurrection fails. The last seven lines of poem 191 seem to affirm that the poet has come to prefer uncertainty to questionable religious teaching concerning life after death: It's finer--not to know — If Slimmer were an Axiom -What sorcery had Snow ? So keep your secret— Father.' I would not-if I could. Know what the Sapphire Fellovjs, do. In your new-fashioned world I The uncertain status of not knowing is "finer" because it enhances the mystery of life and sharpens our sensitivity for the "Summer" of short duration. Summer is usually S3mibolic of the fullness of life, even of the total ecstasy of nature, as we shall see in the next chapter. If it

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46 were "an Axiom," that Is, If It were taken for granted or continued without change, what mystery would be left in "Snow ." by which she obviously means death? Life is more savory because it is seasoned by the "sorcery," the uncertain transformation, and the fear of death. Therefore she will not listen to its secret which the skies, the hills, the flower and bird (of the first two stanzas) seem ready to reveal. iuite the reverse of poem 114, where she complains, "Father.' they wont tell me,/ Wont you tell them to," she now declares. "So Keep your secretFather.'" She no longer wishes to speculate about the activities of "the Sapphire Fellows," those who are crowned with the jewels of heaven. Her full acceptance of uncertainty as a necessary state may have been prompted, at least in part, by a romantic appreciation of the value of mystery and the nostalgic sweetness of transience. In spite of this temporary disavowal of interest in the affairs of heaven, she is soon asking further questions about it, as may be seen in poem 215, but they are probably facetious questions: VJhat is — "Paradise"— Who live thereAre they "Farmers"-Do they "hoe"— Do they know that this is "Amherst"— And that I--am coming-too-Do they wear "new shoes"— in 'Eden"-Is it always pleasant— there — Wont they scold us--when we're hungry — Or tell God— ho\7 cross we are-You are sure there's such a person As "a Father"— in the skySo if I get lost— there— ever— Or do what the Nurse calls "die"— I shant walk the "Jasper"— barefootRansomed folks — wont laugh at me —

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47 Maybe--"Eden" a'nt so lonesome As New England used to be! As a subtle side effect, this poem seems intended to satirize the provincial concepts of heaven that Emily Dickinson must have encountered in her community and region. Some of the New England farmers may have found it impossible to conceive of a heaven in which there was no work to be done. Going to heaven was surely much like going to church, a place to wear '"new shoes.'" The attitude of God had to be like that of a typical Calvinist parent who scolded his children for being cross or hungry. The last stanza suggests that if there is such a "Father" and if there is such an "Eden," they may be less austere than their counterparts in New England. It is thus possible to see the poem as a gentle spoof. Poem 236 seems to indicate her attempt to hold on to a faith she is in danger of losing: If He dissolve — then — there is nothing— more Eclipse — at Midnight — It was dark -before — Sunset --at EasterBlindness — on the DawnFaint Star of Bethlehem— Gone down .' Would but some God -inform Rim-Or it be too late.' Say— that the pulse just lisps -The Chariots wait — Say— that a little life — for His— Is leaking — red — His little Spaniel — tell Him! Will He heed ? If belief in Christ dissolves, "then--there is nothing--more . " All would

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48 return to darkness. The poem is an urgent cry for help. Her life, or perhaps her faith, is leaking away, and she asks "some God " to "inform Him — / Or it be too late .'" The various metaphors for darkness — sunset, blindness, the star gone down~are an indication of the profundity of her doubt. The metaphors of dying--lisping pulse, waiting chariots, leaking red--attest to the urgency of her struggle to overcome it. Poem 243 quite clearly, effectively, and unemotionally describes the gradual disappearance of heaven: I've known a Heaven, like a TentTo wrap its shining Yards — Pluck up its stakes, and disappear-Without the sound of Boards Or Rip of Nail — Or Carpenter — But just the miles of Stare — That signalize a Show's Retreat — In North America-No Trace — no Figment of the Thing That dazzled. Yesterday, No Ring-no MarvelMen, and Feats-Dissolved as utterly-As Bird's far Navigation Discloses just a Hue-A plash of Oars, a Gaiety-Then swallo^^ed up, of View. Comparing heaven to a tent suggests her awareness that it was never a permanent structure in man's cosmic consciousness. It retreats from view silently as it ceases to be real, leaving "No Trace" of its dazzling streets, "No Ring" of celestial music. It dissolves like Shakespeare's "insubstantial pageant faded" and leaves "not a rack behind." Shakespeare's influence was second only to that of the Bible, and in this poem his words are almost certainly in her ear. The anguish of doubt and uncertainty are again evident in poem 244:

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49 It is easy to work when the soul is at play-But when the soul is in pain— The hearing him put his playthings up Makes work difficult--then— It is simple, to ache in the Bone, or the Rind-But Gimblets--among the nerve-Mangle daintier—terribler— Like a Panther in the GloveWhen her soul suffers the pain of doubt, sensing that the "playthings" of childlike faith are being put up, she finds it difficult to carry on her daily work. Unlike the superficial physical pains of 'the Bone, or the Rind," this pain "among the nerve" is "terribler" and cannot be ignored. Such poems attest to her inability to ignore painful questions that "Like a Panther in the Glove," threaten to burst the comfortable protection from harsh realities. Salvation has been called the pearl of great price, and in the next poem, 245, it seems likely that the jewel the poet has lost while sleeping is the gem of faith: I held a Jewel in my fingersAnd went to sleep — The day was warm, and v/inds were prosy— I said "'T\^ill keep"— I woke--and chid my honest fingers. The Gem was gone-And now, an Amethyst remembrance Is all I own— Upon awakening, she realizes that she nor* has only "an Amethyst remembrance" of the valuable "Gem" she once possessed. The word "remembrance" coupled with the idea of sleep suggests that the changes wrought by time and maturity have deprived her of a child's faith. Images of "Pearl " and "Gem " are used with similar connotations in poem 270, which is discussed in a later chapter.

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50 Bertrand Russell says. To take Into the inmost shrine of the soul the irresistible forces whose puppets we seem to be--Death and change, the irrevocableness of the past, and the powerlessness of man before the blind hurry of the universe from vanity to vanity-to feel these things and know them is to conquer them . Very nearly the same understanding is expressed poetically in poem 281: 'Tis so appalling— it exhilirates— So over Horror, it half Captivates-The Soul stares after it, secureTo know the worst, leaves no dread more— To scan a Ghost, is faintBut grappling, conquers itHow easy. Torment, now— Suspense kept sawing so-The Truth, Is Bald, and Cold— But that will hold— If any are not sure-We show them— prayer-But we, who know. Stop hoping, nowLooking at Death, is DyingJust let go the Breath— And not the pillow at your Cheek So S lumber eth-Others, Can wrestle— Yours, is done— And so of Wo, bleak dreaded--come. It sr^ts the Fright at liberty— And Terror's free-Gay, Ghastly, Holiday'. When one has known "the worst," he is beyond the reach of fate; it can do him no further harm. In almost the same words as Russell's, she affirms that "grappling, conquers it." Questioning, the panther in poem 244, has broken the glove, and she is now exposed; "The Truth, is Bald, and Cold." Now that she has come to know, she has passed the point of ^"A Free Man's Worship" from Mysticism and Logic , p. 55. Succeeding references to Russell in this chapter are to this essay.

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51 hope. In her own time such an admission of hopelessness would have been tantamount to blasphemy; a hundred years later an existentially oriented theology can assert that the ultimate religious life is a life 2 without hope in anything behond this life. Once the "Wo, bleak dreaded," has been faced, the "Fright" and terror are released, and the soul gains that freedom implied in the title of Russell's essay "A Free Man's Worship": The slave is doomed to worship Time and Fate and Death, because they are greater than anything he finds in himself, and because all his thoughts are of things which they devour. But great as they are, to think of them greatly, to feel their passionless splendour, is greater still. And such thought makes us free men. ... (p. 55) Emily Dickinson, feeling "their passionless splendour," called it a "Gay, Ghastly, Holiday!" Poem 370 offers persuasive evidence that Emily Dickinson, like Wallace Stevens, regarded heaven as a construction of the mind: Heaven is so far of the Mind That were the Mind dissolved — The Site— of it— by Architect Could not again be proved-'Tis vast--as our Capacity-As fair— as our idea-To Him of adequate desire No further 'tis, than Here— The dimensions of heaven are just such as the capacity of the mind can comprehend, its beauty determined by the extent of our aesthetics. To one who desires it strongly enough, heaven may even be "Here." In poem 376 God is just as silent and oblivious of humanity as he 2 Notes from a lecture on the new theology by Dr. William Mallard, Associate Professor, Emory University School of Theology.

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52 is to Captain Ahab or to the men in Crane's "Open Boat." Of Course— I prayedAnd did God Care? He cared as niuch as on the Air A Bird--had stamped her foot-And cried "Give Me"— My Reason — Life-I had not had— but for Yourself— •Twere better Charity To leave me in the Atom's Tomb-Merry, and Nought, and gay, and numb-Than this smart Misery. Man's questions are as vain and insignificant as the bird's soundless foot stamping "on the Air." A full stop should come after "Reason," squarely in the poem's center; thus the bird asks its reason for being. The last half of the poem, beginning with "Life," could be spoken by either bird or poet. In either case it would have been better never to have emerged from the "Atom's Tomb" of inert matter than to be forced to bear the "smart Misery" of not knowing. Poem 377, a very straightforward statement, again declares the pricelessness and irreplaceability of faith: To lose one's faith--surpa88 The loss of an Estate-Because Estates can be Replenished--faith cannot-Inherited with Life— Belief--but once--can be-Annihilate a single clause— And Being 's--Beggary-She recognizes that faith is "Inherited" and hence a gift, probably to childhood, that can be received but once. Being becomes poor without it, but one wonders if she does not recognize that its annihilation, for some, is inevitable.

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53 What are the impediments between man and God, and what kind of effort is needed to bring them dovjn, or to break through and glimpse his face? The poet's straightforward struggle seems unsuited to the subtle barrier, as she notes in poem 398: I had not minded-WallsWere Universe--one Rock-And far I heard his silver Call The other side the Block — I'd tunnel--till my Groove Pushed sudden thro' to his-Then my face take her Recompense— The looking in his Eyes-But 'tis a single Hair— A filament--a law-A Cobweb — wove in Adamant-A Battlement--of Straw-A limit like the Vail Unto the Lady's face-But every Mesh--a Citadel— And Dragons--in the Crease-If reaching God were a test of physical strength or endurance, she would be equal to the task, but it is a "Hair," a "filament," a "Cobweb," and a "Vail." These terms suggest the subtle hair-splitting of scholastic argument, the entangled cobwebs of orthodoxy, and the veil of theological definitions. To be sure, Emily Dickinson was not equipped to cope with these, either by temperament or by inclination. As we shall see, she preferred to tunnel straight through to direct experience by her own mystic way. Several poems indicate her skepticism of the literal truth of Biblical events. The last stanza of poem 403 is an example:

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54 And so there was a Deluge— And svept the World away— But Ararat's a Le3end--nOT^-And no one credits Noah-It is doubtful that such a liberal attitude was common In rural New England during the mid-nineteenth century. It might have been so among intellectuals, but it would hardly be accurate even today to say that "no one" takes the story of Noah as literal truth. Poem 413 is too playful and childlike to deserve serious comment, but it reveals her obvious delight in making mildly heretical and daring statements such as these: "I dont like Paradise--/ Because it's Sunday — all the time" and "Myself would run away/ From Him--and Holy Ghost — and All." In the last two stanzas of number 420 the poet again suggests her preference for deed rather than word, for intuition rather than utterance, and she believes that deity shares this preference: By intuition. Mightiest Things Assert themselves --and not by terms-"I'm Midnight"— need the Midnight say— "I'm Sunrise"— Need the Majesty? Omnipotence--had not a Tongue-His lisp — is Lightning — and the Sun-Ilis Conversation— with the Sea— "How shall you know"? Consult your Eyei Such a belief concerning the route to knowledge of God obviously called for direct experience through the expansion of consciousness rather than niere intellectual and bookish inquiry. Emily Dickinson was skeptical not only of theological subtleties but of any attempt at verbalization of God. In this way her skepticism itself led to mysticism. Skepticism of the word led her to rely on the inner eye.

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55 Poem 435 is an Interesting connnentary on the pressure to confonn: Much Madness is divinest Sense-To a discerning Eye-Much Sense — the starlcest Madness-'Tis the Majority In this, as All, prevail-Assent--ind you are sane-Deinur--you're straightway dangerous-And handled v7ith a ChainThe poet obviously considers herself as one who often has to "Demur" and cannot "Assent" simply to be regarded with favor by the "Majority." This was doubtless true in respect to her religious opinions. She refused to assent to an act of faith or acceptance of salvation just because her elders urged it or because everyone else was submitting. She refused to conform even to the pattern of life that her region and her generation considered normal. To her "discerning Eye" the "Madness" of the mystic way was indeed "divinest Sense," while the "Sense" of tradition and orthodoxy were "the starkest Madness." She chose the solitary way even though it meant being looked on as insane and "dangerous," even though it meant being "handled with a Chain." Her attitude toward prayer is revealed in poem 437: Prayer is the little implement Through which Men reach IThere Presence--is denied them. They fling their Speech By means of it — in God's Ear-If then He hear-This sums the Apparatus Comprised in Prayer-The use of such functional terms as 'implement" and "Apparatus" reveals that she considered prayer as little more than a mechanical device. She is not at all sure God hears the "Speech" they so perfunctorily "fling."

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56 The connotations of this description are that prayer is often a search for favors or for favor, an act without love, and she came increasingly to see that genuine spiritual experience was motivated solely by love. Poem 441 may be read as a kind of variation on Hunt's " vbou Ben Adhem": This is my letter to the World That never wrote to Me— The simple News that Nature told-With tender Majesty Her Message is committed To Hands I cannot see-For love of Her--Sweet--countrymen — Judge tenderly--of Me Though Ben Adhem 's name was not in the angel's book showing those who love the lord, he asked that he be recorded as one who loves his fellowmen. The poet here asks to be judged "tenderly" for her love of "Nature" whose "Message" she believes to be "conmitted/ To Hands I cannot see." In short, just as Ben Adhem' s love reached God through his fellow men, x;hom he could see, her love, she believes, reaches to God through nature. Poem 455 describes four kinds of triumph. The last two pertain to the price of skepticism: A Triumph--when Temptation's Bribe Be slowly handed back-One eye upon the Heaven renounced — And One--upon the Hack-Severer Triumph--by Himself Experienced-who pass Acquitted--from that Naked Bar-Jehovcih's CountenanceSince the promise of heaven was said to be dependent on conformity to orthodox precepts, she could not help feeling risk and danger in refusing

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57 to submit to those precepts and thus renouncing the "Bribe" of heavenly hope. Yet to refuse, in obedience to conscience, is truly a "Triumph" of the will. The uncertainty and anxiety of making such a choice Is vividly revealed In the lines 'tone eye upon the Heaven renounced — / And One — upon the Rack," or hell. It will be an even greater triumph, hOT7ever, when all pretension is swept away and she is "Acquitted" by that judge of severe Integrity whc se "Countenance" cannot be faced by the insincere. This poem stands among various others as an indication of Emily Dickinson's disdain for religion based on a system of rewards and punishments, which she considered bribes and threats. The first three lines of poem 462 again comment on the pain of doubt and uncertainty, and since the subject has already been explored, they are sufficient to represent the poem: Why make it doubt--it hurts It so-So slck--to guess-So strong--to know-For the poet there vjas no avoiding the pain, however severe, since she could not accept the security of those who claim "to know." The uncertain state of not knowing was simply a fact of life. The first twentyfour lines of poem 476 describe a child's belief in prayer and in the Bible's promise That "Whatsoever Ye shall ask-Itself be given You"— She concludes with a four-line statement of skepticism that has grown out of disappointed expectation: But I, grown shrewder--scan the Skies With a suspicious Air--

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58 As Children — swindled for the first All Swindlers--be--infer" Either God has proven a swindler or those who have spoken for him are "All Swindlers." The poet must have felt at times that her declining faith was leading to despair, which in poem 477 she compares to a "Goalless Road" that cannot be compassed: No Man can compass a Despair-As round a Goalless Road No faster than a Mile at once The Traveller proceed— • Unconscious of the Width — Unconscious that the Sun Be setting on His progress-So accurate the One At estimating Pain — Whose own--has just begun-His ignorance — the Angel That pilot Him along— The image is that of a traveller proceeding in a circle, led by the angel of his own ignorance. He is unconscious of both the futility of his movement and the fact that death is closing in on him. Such a state of desperation may well have been the ground in which a mystical consciousness began to take root. Poem 503 not only discloses another doubt about literal truth, but describes what may be a first experience of mystical illumination. In retrospect it takes the form of music: Better than Music! For I--who heard it— I was used— to the Birds — before — This--was different— 'Tv7as Translation-Of all tunes I knew — and more—

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59 'Twasn't contained— like other stanzaNo one could play it--the second time-But the Composer — perfect Mozart-Perish with him — that Keyless Rhjnme.' So— Children--told how Brooks In Eden-Bubbled a better — Melody-Quaintly infer--Eve's great surrender-Urging the feet — that would--not--f ly— In contrast to the song of "Birds" or nature that she is used to, this new ethereal music is like a "Translation/ Of all tunes," a chord of universal truth, that the "Composer" alone can play. The disappearance of the sound suggests man's nostalgia for what "Children" are told is the "Melody" of "Eden," which they assume v/as lost by "Eve's great surrender" to the serpent's temptation. Children-ma tured--are wiser--mostly-Eden--a legend— dimly told-Eve--and the Anguish--Crandame 's story-But--I was telling a tune--I heard-Not such a strain--the Church--baptizes-VJhen the last Saint — goes up the Aisles — Not such a stanza splits the silence — When the Redemption strikes her Bells-Let me not spill--its smallest cadence-Humming— for promise— when aloneHumming — until my faint RehearsalDrop Into tune— around the Throne-In maturity we come to realize that "Grandame's story" is only "a legend— dimly told." Unlike that legendary melody, the tune "I heard" is not to be heard in any "Church." Even the invitational hymn, sung "When the last Saint--goes up the Aisles" to be redeemed, cannot compare with it. To remember it until she joins the heavenly choir, she must rehearse it "when alone." Again she prefers her solitary spiritual experience to the

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60 mythology and rituals of the church. Her skepticism and rejection of these is accompanied by a gradual mystical awakening. Poem 508 marks her ultimate breaV; with orthodoxy in the clearest possible terms: I'm ceded--! 've stopped being Theirs — The name They dropped upon my face With water, in the country church Is finished using, now. And They can put it with my Dolls, My childhood, and the string of spools, I've finished threading--too-Baptized, before, without the choice. But this time, consciously, of Grace-Unto supreme St name-Called to my Full— The Crescent dropped-Existence's whole Arc, filled up. With one small Diadem. My second Rank — too small the first-Crowned--Crowins--on my Father's breast-A half unconscious Queen-But this time--Adequate — Erect, With Will to choose, or to reject. And I choose, just a Crown-The term "ceded" suggests both surrender and secession, a word with very strong implications in 1862. She has severed ties even to the extent of giving up her baptismal name. Abandoning the "Dolls" and toys of childhood, she also assumes a new identity, "consciously" choosing a name to signify her new and fuller existence Her new status as " half unconscious Queen" suggests mystical ecstasy and will be treated more fully in the next chapter; here the emphasis is on her "Will to choose, or to reject." She has, in fact, done both. She has rejected the cramped identity of the country church and chosen to accept the offer "of Grace" that will eventually fill up the "whole Arc" of being.

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61 Poem 510 describes an experience that seems to be at once the bottom of "Despair" and at the same time the stillness of ecstatic trance! It was not Death, for I stood up. And all the Dead, lie down-It was not Night, for all the Bells Put out their Tongues, for Noon. It was not Frost, for on ray Flesh I felt Siroccos— crawl-Nor Flre--for just my Marble feet Could keep a Chancel, cool-And yet, it tasted, like them all. The Figures I have seen Set orderly, for Burial, Reminded me, of mine-As If my life were shaven. And fitted to a frame. And could not breathe without a key. And 'twas like Midnight, some — When everything that ticked--has stopped— And Space stares all around-Or Grisly frosts — first Autumn morns. Repeal the Beating GroundBut, most, like Chaos--Stopless--cool— Without a Chance, or Spar-Or even a Report of Land-To Justify— Despair. Similar to poem 508, this too seems to mark a turning point, like that nadir of hell xjhere gravity reverses and Dinte and Virgil begin to climb upward. It is an experience that can be described only in negatives, yet in saying what it was not, she suggests what it was like: death, night, frost, and fire. The feeling of "Siroccos," a hot oppressive wind blowing out of the desert, suggests the crucible of the wasteland where saints are born. "Bells" and "Noon" are terms whose ecstatic connotations will be discussed later. The supine figure is like that of one in

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62 a trance. Most significantly, it is a sensation of tlmelessness and empty space, of "Chaos" and loss of direction and location. Skepticism and doubt have seemingly led to a state of absolute unknowing and "Despair." The ground has been cleared and bedrock reached; a new edifice can now be built. Poem 513 gives an indication of v;hat follows such a moment of absolute despair. It has had the effect of instilling a sense of deep unworthiness, which prepares for the conferring of an unexpected "prize." Like Flowers, that heard the news of Dews, But never deemed the dripping prize Awaited their— low Browser r>ees--that thought the Summer's name Some rumor of Delirium, No Simmer— could— for Them-Or Arctic Creatures, dimly stirred — By Tropic Hint— some Travelled Bird Imported to the Wood-Or Wind's bright signal to the EarMaking that homely, and severe. Contented, known, before-The Heaven--unexpected come, To Lives that thought the Worshipping A too presumptuous Psalm-The four examples of unexpected wonders prepare for the last stanza. She finds it hard to believe that "Heaven," a sense of privately conferred grace, could come to one who has been skeptical of "Worshipping," but is it not this very skepticism of "A too presumptuous Psalm" that has qualified her for the grace? In each example it Is the unassuming and non-presumptuous that has been unexpectedly rewarded. Poem 515 embodies a different kind of skepticism. The poet seems

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63 to note some of the problems posed by the belief in resurrection of the body. First of all, it will mean the assembling of such a crowd as has never occurred: No Crowd that has occurred Exhibit--! suppose That General Attendance That Resurrection--does-Circumference be full— The long restricted Grave Assert her Vital Privilege — The Dust--connect--and live-That "Vital Privilege" is obviously to open and allow the particles of dust to "connect— and live" again. It beggars the imagination to visualize the "Atoms" assuming the "features" of all the "^fultitudes" who have been dissolved into the earth. On Atoms-features place-All Multitudes that were Efface in the Comparison-As Suns--dissolve a starSolemnity— prevail-Its Individual Doom Possess each separate Consciousness-August--Absorbed--Numb— What Duplicate--exist-What Parallel can be— Of the Significance of This— To Universe — and Me? One wonders if the words "Solemnity" and "August" are not an ironic way of suggesting the presumptuousness of supposing that "each separate Consciousness" will be possessed of "Its Individual Doom." If such an event were possible, it would surely have no "Parallel" in "Significance," both "To Universe — and Me." The poet seems almost to waver between awe and unbelief.

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64 Poem 518 combines four words that might serve as a title for this entire study: "A Fiction superseding Faith." This is ultimately what Emily Dickinson created — a fiction of mystical status superseding faith through a rigorous skepticism that would permit nothing unessential to stand. The context of these four words helps to place in perspective the beginning and the end of this exploration of her spiritual consciousness: Her sweet Weight on my Heart a Night Had scarcely deigned to lie-When, stirring, for Belief's delight. My Bride had slipped away-If 'twas a Dream--made solid-just The Heaven to confirm — Or if Myself were dreamed of Her-The power to presume-With Him remain — who unto Me— Gave— even as to A11-A Fiction superseding Faith-By so much--as 'twas real-The "Weight on my Heart" is evidently childhood faith or conviction that "slipped away" almost before "Belief's delight" could be felt, suggesting that it was perhaps eroded by skepticism. Only God can "presume" to know whether that early "Dream," or faith, offered "solid" confirmation of heaven or whether the poet was herself "dreamed." (The latter alternative may suggest a kind of Cartesian doubt about external existence.) It does not really matter, however. The new "Fiction superseding Faith," given to her "even as to All," is "real" so long as she conceives it. One may say, then, that while skepticism attacked and eventually undermined conventional "Faith," something even more valuable and enduring arose in its place, namely a "Fiction" embracing a level of consciousness

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65 and being tcnvrard v/hlch she might aspire with all her intellectual and artistic energy. Still further proof that this new and enduring fiction could not have been the product of hope or presumption is offered in poem 522; Had I presumed to hope— The loss had been to Me A Value— for the Greatness' Sake— As Giants-gone a^jay-Had I presumed to gain A Favor so remote — The failure but confirm the Grace In further Infinite-Since she had not "^resumed to hope" or "to gain," she was not so easily crushed when the fiction of heaven and of man's privileged status failed. Nor did she feel compelled to cling to the "Grace" by readjusting her perspective and placing it "In further Infinite." 'Tis failure--not of Hope— But Confident Despair — Advancing on Celestial Lists — With faint — Terestrlal power — If the failure of hope Is like the loss of "Giants," then according to the theory of opposltes, the failure of despair would be tremendous gain. This she seems to affirm here In the third stanza. Only through unflinching despair can the "Terrestrial power" advance on the "Celestial" blank and defeat the amoral universe. As Russell says in "A Free Man's Worship": ". . . only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built" (p. 48). 'Tis Honor— though I die— For That no Man obtain Till He be justified by Death— This — is the Second Gain —

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66 Death does not diminish the "Honor" of one who wins through acceptance of despair, whose virtue does not depend on hope. He who expects nothing and whose goodness is not motivated by the lure of reward cannot be defeated in the effort to retain a system of values. Russell comments further on such an effort: Victory, in this struggle with the powers of darkness, is the true baptism into the glorious company of heroes, the true initiation into the overmastering beauty of human existence. From that awful encounter of the soul with the outer world, renunciation, wisdom, and charity are born; and with their birth a new life begins. (pp. 5A-55) Death, in fact, is the ultimate justification of the struggle, which is a way of coming to face the worst that death can bring. If that can be faced, then one is beyond reach; no lesser terror can touch him, and he is thus free. If freedom from the servility of hope is the first gain, then freedom from the fear of death is the "Second Gain." It has been said that the aim of all philosophy is to teach man how to die, for only when he has learned to face death will he know how to live. The poet comments further on the encounter with death in poem 531: We dream-it is good we are dreamlng-It would hurt us--were we awake-But since it is playing--klll us. And we are playing--shrlek — What harm? Men die — externally — It is a truth — of Rlood — But we — are dying in Drama-And Drama-is never dead-Cautious— We jar each other— And either--open the eyes — Lest the Phantasm--prove the Mistake And the livid Surprise Cool us to Shafts of Granite — With just an Age — and Name —

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67 And perhaps a phrase in Egjrptlan-It's prudenter— to dreatn-Slnce death too is part of the fiction, it does not really hurt. "Drama," as well as "dream," is apparently synonymous with vhat has been called fiction, and since it is not a matter of "Blood," it is not subject to death. Being an art, it is timeless. Even though we may realize that it is a fiction, "It's prudenter— to dream" than to awaken to a meaningless universe of gravestones. She thus suggests that the fiction sustains us in that it gives meaning and order to the universe. Man has no choice but to order his universe; poetry and drama, like other arts, are what Wallace Stevens calls "Ideas of Order." Poem 532 suggests that becoming aware of "Death's tremendous nearness" instills in us a feeling of pity for others caught in the same mortal predicament: I tried to think a lonelier Thing Than any I had seen— Some Polar Expiation--An Omen in the Bone Of Death's tremendous nearness-I probed lletrieveless things My Duplicate--to borrow— A Haggard Comfort springs From the belief that Somewhere-Within the Clutch of ThoughtThere dwells one other Creature Of Heavenly Love— forgot-I plucked at our Partition As One should pry the Ualls-Between Ilimsel f--and Horror's Twin-Within Opposing Cells— I almost strove to clasp his Hand, Such Luxury-it grev;-That as Myself— could pity Him— Perhaps he--pitied me--

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68 The probing of "Retrieveless things" suggests what Bertrand Russell says about the "Irrevocableness of the past": The beauty of Its motionless and silent pictures is like the enchanted purity of late autumn, when the leaves, though one breath would make them fall, still glow against the sky in golden glory. The Past does not change or strive. Its beauty, to a soul not worthy of It, is unendurable,* but to a soul which has conquered Fate It is the key of religion. (p. 55) We take "A Haggard Comfort" from the fact that others share the same fate of "Heavenly Love--forgot . " We are drawn together by a common bond; it becomes a "Luxury" to clasp hands, knowing that we are doomed together. The following passage from Russell's essay reads like a commentary on the poem under consideration: United with his fellow-men by the strongest of all ties, the tie of a conmon doom, the free man finds that a new vision is with him always, shedding over every dally task the light of love. ... One by one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent Death. Very brief Is the time in which we can help them, in which their happiness or misery is decided. Be it ours to shed sunshine on their path, to lighten their sorrows by the balm of sympathy, to give them the pure joy of a never-tiring affection, to strengthen falling courage, to instil faith in hours of despair. ... let us remember that they are fellowsufferers in the same darkness, actors in the same tragedy with ourselves. (p. 56) Emily Dickinson's apparent preoccupation with death can be understood in light of her skepticism concerning the afterlife combined with her awareness that the sense of impending doom heightens human perception and intensifies human sympathy and affection. One must bear in mind that her preoccupation with death was balanced by ecstatic delight in the sensory world. She was able to treat death casually because she had faced up to it and won the freedom to speak easily about it.

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69 Just as doom heightens human perception and sympathy, ao also the goal of knowledge is enhanced by doubt. Poem 550 describes the struggle to kno\7, in the face of doubt, as an arduous journey over mountain, sea, and desert. The fourth stanza is most significant, for it suggests the fruitfulness of doubt and uncertainty, their stimulation toward deeper understanding: What merit had the Goal— Except there intervene Faint Doubt--and far Competitor-To jeopardize the Gain? In contrast to the condition of doubt and uncertainty, the state of unquestioned belief is barren: arrived at comfortably and without travail, costing nothing in lost hope and faith, hardening into meaningless rote and ritual and ultimately into ennui. It is perhaps ironic that Emily Dickinson, a spinster, could not tolerate such a state of barrenness. Belief, for her, had to be djmamic and transforming or not at all. The dynamic aspect of uncertainty is stressed in the last stanza, and appropriately the poem stops, without really ending, by asking a question--the same crucial question that has long tantalized the reader and viewer of Christian tragedy: They strive--and yet delay-They perish--Do we die-Or is this Death's Experiment-Reversed— in Victory? "Death in Victory" or victory in death is related to the paradox of the 3 "Death in Victory" is the title of an essay on Shakespearean tragedy by Fredson Bowers . It is printed in the South Atlantic Bulletin . Vol. XXX, No. 2, March, 1965.

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70 fortunate fall: just as Christ had to be crucified before he could be resurrected, so man has to fall before he can rise, has to suffer in order to learn. Our inability ever to know whether death J^ "Reversed— In Victory" is what makes the whole quest worthwhile. Without the doubt, without the question, the tragic experience would be deprived of its intensity and fire. In poem 555 the poet acknowledges the necessity of believing In the unseen, using the examples of 'Vllliam Kidd" and the "Buried Gold," belief in the philosopher's "Talismanic Stone," and Columbus' faith In an unseen land. By Implication, however, she compares herself to Thomas, who had to be shown Christ's wounds: The Same--afflicted Thomas — When Deity assured 'Twas better — the perceiving notProvided it believed— In the next poem, 556, she notes that the brain "Runs evenly" in its "Groove" of conformity until a splinter (doubt perhaps) intervenes. Then, shifting the metaphor, she compares the destructiveness of such an intervention to floods that "slit the Hills," blot out the original stream, and trample everything in their path. Almost the same metaphor is used In poem 928, where the heart is compared to a sea that remains within "narrow Banks" until "A ruestioning— dissolves" the gauze wall as might a "Hurricane." In the description of such catastrophes there is a mixture of terror and splendor. Poem 564 relates an experience that results in her overcoming an anthropomorphic conception of God:

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71 My period had come for Prayer-No other Art--would do~ My Tactics missed a rudiment-Creator— Was it you? God grows above— so those who pray norizons--must ascend-And so I stepped upon the North To see this Curious Friend— His House was not--no sign had He— By Chimney-nor by Door Could I infer his Residence-Vast Prairies of Air Unbroken by a SettlerWere all that I could see— Infinitude--Had 'st Thou no Face That I might look on Thee? The Silence condescended-Creation stopped— for Me— But awed beyond my errand-I worshipped--dld not "pray"— Each verse except the last seems to comment on a different aspect of the conventional view of God. In the first she is unable to discover God as creator. In the second He is sought as a "Curious Friend" beyond the horizon. In the third He Is supposed to have a residence-in heaven no doubt. In the fourth it is specifically his "Face" that she seeks. All of these notions about God prove Incorrect . There are only "Vast Prairies of Air," "Infinitude," and "Silence." She can no longer respond with prayer--only awe. "Awe," in fact, becomes the name she prefers and uses repeatedly in other poems, since the term "God" has become clouded by anthropomorphic connotations. Poem 576 describes still another change in her attitude toward prayer. The first two stanzas are sufficient to Illustrate:

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72 I prayed, at first, a little Clrl, Because they told me to — 3ut stopped, when qualified to guess How prayer would feel — to me — If I believed God looked ar und. Each time my Childish eye Fixed full, and steady, on his own In Childish honesty — How presumptuous our "Childish" wants would seem to God— even if l^e heard. Here, as elsewhere (poems 513, 515, 522), it seems to be the presumption of conventional religion that offends her most. The first stanza of poem 594 makes a simple statement that discloses the poet's struggle against the blank nothingness of the universe: The Battle fought between the Soul And No Man-is the One Of all the Battles prevalent-Ly far the greater One-To describe the adversary as "No Man" may imply a denial of deity, or it may suggest merely that whatever deity there be is nonhuman and perhaps non-intelligent. The remainder of the poem Indicates only that the battle is Interior and hence unnoticed by the world. Poem 597 reveals skepticism of two kinds: further doubt about the actuality of Biblical heroes and disagreement with "God's" justice: It always felt to me — a wrong To that Old Moses--done-To let him see — the Canaan-Wlthout the entering — And tho ' in soberer moments-No Moses there can be I'm satisfied--the Romance In point of injury — Surpasses sharper stated-Of Stephen--or of Paul--

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73 For these--were only put to death-\4hile God's adroiter will On Moses-seemed to fasten With tantalizing Play As Boy--should deal with lesser Boy-To prove ability. The fault — was doubtless Israel 's-Myself — had banned the Tribes — And ushered Grand Old Moses In Pentateuchal Robes Upon the Broad Possession 'Twas little--He should see-Old Man on Nebo.' Late as this-My justice bleeds--for Thee. In "soberer moments" she cannot really believe Moses existed, but she accepts the "lomance" as an indication of Old Testament justice, which she evidently feels is more unjust than that of the New Testament represented by the martyrdom of Stephen and Paul. It is probably her sense of artistic rightness that is most offended, since she apparently regards the stories as v/orks of art and imagination rather than as records of historical fact. The martyrdom is consistent with the structure of tragedy, which assumes "Death In Victory," but the refusal to admit Moses to the Promised Land is simply bad art and completely without justification. It makes God appear as a bully who delights in "tantalizing Play" simply "To prove ability." She rightly recognizes that "The fault— was doubtless Israel's," indicating her awareness that she is actually criticizing a primitive Hebrew concept of justice and that God, as thus pictured, is merely an unseen character in the legend. Like many of the poems, number 696 declares the poet's preference for the earth and finite existence rather than the uncertain "Glory" of the "House of Supposition":

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74 Their Hight in Heaven comforts not-Their Glory — nought to me-'Twas best imperfect— as it was-I'm finite--! cant see-The House of Supposition-The Glimmering Frontier that Skirts the Acres of Perhaps To Me — shows insecure-The Wealth I had — contented me-If 'twas a meaner size-Then I had counted it until It pleased my narrow Eyes — Better than larger values-That show however true-This timid life of Evidence Keeps pleading— "I dont know." If one were to try to show that Emily Dickinson was an agnostic, this poem would furnish significant evidence. "I cant see" in the first stanza compares to "l dont know" in the last. Both are simple, unpretentious admissions that finite man cannot scan the infinite. Thus "Their Hight in Heaven" is finally meaningless. "Their Glorynought" to the lowly. Man can have no secure knowledge of the supposed heaven, and the poet is therefore content with the 'Vealth" of earth, which is "Better than larger values." The statement also shows her to be a humanist. She prefers "This timid life of Evidence" to one In which blind faith is a substitute for knowing. Her preference for earth is once again evident in poem 722: Sweet Mountains— Ye tell Me no lieNever deny Me— Never fly— Those sane unvarying Eyes Turn on Me--when I fail— or feign. Of take the Royal names in vain— Their far— slow— Violet Gaze—

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75 My Strong Madonnas — Cherish still-The Wayward Nun — beneath the Hill — Whose service — is to You — Her latest Worship — ^-Jhen the Day Fades from the Firmament away — To lift Her Brows on You-The constancy and truthfulness of the silent mountains compare to the wavering vision, the half truths, of those who profess to speak for God. The hills do not abandon her for small transgressions. In comparing them to "Madonnas" and calling herself a 'Vayward Nun," she says a great deal about her personal religion. "Wayward" suggests her uncertainty and doubt; yet "Nun" tells us that she is a worshipper; and mountain "Madonnas" confirm that she worships the earth. Like the psalmist, she lifts up her eyes to the hills, not because a God dwells there, but because they themselves symbolize eternity, strength, and gentle pre-eminence. Poem 724, though it does not seem to doubt God's existence, does question his goodness. The creation and destruction of human life is no more to him than the painting in and blotting out of images on a canvas: It's easy to invent a Life-God does it — every Day — Creation--but the Gambol Of His Authority-It's easy to efface it-The thrifty Deity Could scarce afford Eternity To Spontaneity-The Perished Patterns murmur-But His Perturbless Plan Proceed--inserting Here--a Sun — There — leaving out a Man--

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76 4 If poetry is an "invented world" to man, then perhaps creation is such to God. As one is merely an exercise of the imagination, the other is possibly no more than a game to exercise "His Authority." For the sake of variety and interest, man the plaything could hardly be made eternal. The "Spontaneity" of imagination demands that some patterns perish to be replaced by new ones. The poem is obviously skeptical of the tradition that "His eye is on the sparrow" and that he cares for each individual life. Man's blindness in a "Blank" universe is the subject of poem 761; From Blank to Blank-A Thread less Way 1 pushed Mechanic feet-To stop--or perish--or advance-Alike indifferent-If end I gained It ends beyond Indefinite disclosed-I shut my eyes--and groped as well 'Twas lighter — to be Blind— If God seemed indifferent to man's perishing in the previous poem, here the poet herself is "indifferent." Since the way is "Threadless" and there is only emptiness on all sides, it really does not matter whether one "stop— or perish--or advance." No end or goal is in sight; indeed none is possible. Perhaps it is better that we are blind, as Pope suggested: Oh blindness to the future I kindly given. That each may fill the circle marked by Heaven: Who sees with equal eye, as God of all. 4 See Wallace Stevens' "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction," I.

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77 A hero perish, or a sparrow fall. Atoms or systems into ruin hurled And now a bubble burst, and now a world. (Alexander Pope, Essay on Man . I, lii) A significant difference should be noted however. Pope could consider blindness "kindly given" because he trusted that the "equal eye" of God was on hero and sparrow alike. But what If God is blind too? That Is the uncertainty Emily Dickinson faced. Again in poem 779 she intimates her disdain for a system of values based on reward: The Service without Hope-Is tenderest, I think-Because 'tis unsustained By stint— Rewarded Work-Has Impetus of Gain-And impetus of Goal-There is no Diligence like that That knows not an Until-The severest virtue is obviously that "That knows not an Until," that has no "Goal" in vievj, that expects no "Gain." For the poet the recognition of hopelessness, either in regard to this life or the next, was no cause for the surrender of moral and ethical values. It was Instead an occasion for discovering higher motives. Such hopelessness Is a form of despair, and as she notes In poem 799, Despair's advantage is achieved By suffering--Despalr-To be assisted of Reverse One must Reverse have bore-There is positive value to be gained from the suffering of despair and of reverses.

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78 The Worthiness of Suffering like The Worthiness of Death Is ascertained by tasting — As can no other Mouth As noted In connection with poem 532, awareness of impending doom heightens perception and Intensifies human sympathy. To determine the "Worthiness" of one's moral motives and one's love, death and suffering must be tasted by "no other Mouth" than one's own. Of Savors--make us conscious-As did ourselves partake — Affliction feels impalpable Until Ourselves are str^ck-The poet had come to realize that the expansion of consciousness depended on partaking of "Affliction." My chapter called "Purgation, the Way of Death," will explore this understanding more fully. Here it is important to note that the impetus is despair, a product of skepticism. The function of pain in proving values is also the subject of poea 806. The poet suggests that one must live A Plated Life--diversified With Gold and Silver Pain To prove the presence of the Ore In Particles-'tis when A Value struggle — it exist— A power--will proclaim Although Annihilation pile Whole Chaoses on Him — Whole Chaoses/ Oblivions The ultimate values will remain unassailable even in the face of human "Annihilation" and the meaningless "Chaoses" or "Oblivions." Only through skepticism are values subjected to such a test. Quest literature, as a whole, is concerned with man's search for God or for answers to universal questions. Poem 870 seems to be a paradigm

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79 for such literature: Finding Is the first Act The second, loss. Third, Expedition for The "Golden Fleece" Fourth, no Discovery-Fifth, no Crew — Finally, no Golden Fleece-Jason--sham--too. The first finding is perhaps a child's encounter with religion. Then, through questioning, faith is lost. The search to regain it is the typical quest. As the poet sees it, the objects of the quest, along with the searchers, are all proven false, one by one. The reality even of one's own existence is doubted in the final line. Poem 910 poses a question that relates to the choice one was expected to make to be "saved": Experience is the Angled Road Preferred against the Mind 3y — Paradox--the Mind itself-Presuming it to lead Quite Opposite--How Complicate The Discipline of ManCompelling Him to Choose Himself His Preappointed Pain-Man insists on learning through experience, preferring it to the "Mind," which paradoxically presumes to lead in the opposite direction. In seeking salvation man is faced with an even more complicated contradiction. He is compelled to "Choose" a destiny that has already been "Preappointed." This is one of several ironic commentaries on predestination. The poem also seems to ask. How can man choose the right road ahead of time, as expected, if he can learn only by experience The last stanza of the

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80 succeeding poem, 911, seems to comment further on this: Too narrow Is the Right betweenToo imminent the chance — Each Consciousness must emigrate And lose its neighbor once-All must sin or err at times, for it is through trial and error, loss and gain, that we learn. If faith is meant to comfort us In time of grief or death, it does not succeed, according to poem 912: Peace is a fiction of our Faith — The Bells a Winter Night Bearing the Neighbor out of Sound That never did alight. Death is just as real, just as silent, and just as cold as it would be without the "Bells." As noted In poem 951, those who depend on "Presumption" for "Vitality" are apt to be disillusioned: As Frost is best conceived By force of its Recult-Affliction is inferred By subsequent effect — If when the sun reveal. The Garden keep the Gash-If as the Days resume The wilted countenance Cannot correct the crease Or counteract the stain-Presumption is Vitality Was somewhere put in twain. Presumption about the hereafter causes man to deny the effect of "Frost" and "Affliction," but ihai prestimption will be cut in two when the "sun reveal" the "wilted countenance." In short, the hard light of fact shows the futility of our attempt to nullify the ravages of death.

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81 "Denial," in poem 965, is probably a reference to original sin: Etenial~is the only fact Perceived by the Denied-Whose Will — a numb significance-(Blank intelligence) The Day the Heaven died-And all the Earth strove common round-Without Delight, or Beam — (aim) What Comfort was it Wisdom — was-The spoiler of Our Home? In a sense, the denial is double: man denies God through disobedience, and God denies heaven to man. The "significance" of the act Is perhaps not immediately evident to either, but in its wake the earth strives "t-7ithout Delight" or "aim," and it is little "Comfort" that 'Visdom," or God, was "The spoiler of Our Home." The poem should not be read as an expression of regret about an actual happening, but rather as regret that man has spoiled his earth by inventing a doctrine that is patently absurd. Use of the word "Wisdom" as a substitute for God is a fairly clear indication of this. It is unthinkable that the source of all wisdom should have set the stage for such a colossal error, but apparently neither man nor God perceives the incongruity, or anything beyond the supposed "Denial" itself. In poem 971 she suggests that spoiling this world through expectation of the next is like Staking our entire Possession On a Hair's result-Then — Seesawing--coolly — on itTrying if it splitIt is an unwarranted risk. A certain significance for Emily Dickinson's skepticism is to be gathered from her reworking of poem 982. The version quoted below is

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82 the earliest of three. In both of the later versions she dropped the last eight lines or two stanzas. Since the first two stanzas are pessimistic and the last two optimistic concerning man's destiny, it seems that she preferred to stick by pessimism and could not, after all, be hopeful. Whereas the last two versions are dated 1865, Johnson assigns 1863 to the one that follows: No Other can reduce Our Mortal Consequence Like the remembering it be noughtA Period from hence-But Contemplation for Contemporaneous Nought — Our Mutual Fame — that haply Jehovah-recollect-No Other can exalt Our Mortal Consequence Like the remembering it exist— A Period from hence-Invited from Itself To the Creator's House — To tarry an Eternity — His--shortest Consciousness-Like many other skeptics, the poet is most struck by "Our mortal" insignificance when she reflects that we will soon be nothing but a memory in the "Contemplation" of those who come after us, who will themselves soon be nothing. For both contemplator and contemplated, the only hope for continuity is that, by chance, "Jehovah— recollect," and the likelihood of this is expressed by an archaic "haply." Consideration of our eventual nothingness suggests the Stoic philosophy. In poem 1010 she seems to picture herself as a traveller on an endless road chosen long ago:

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83 Up Life's Hill with my little Bundle If I prove it steep-If a Discouragement withhold me— If my newest step Older feel than the Hope that prompted-Spotless be from blame Heart that proposed as Heart that accepted Homelessness, for Home-The continuous journey apparently denotes a condition of uncertainty that now is fully accepted and can be viewed in retrospective tranquility. "Hope" may have prompted the journey but has long since been abandoned. Even "Discouragement" seems old; she no longer dreads the insecurities of "Homelessness." When one considers the significance of "Home" in Emily Dickinson's cloistered life, the acceptance of homelessness is not only ironic but daring. Not only does she choose "Homelessness, for Home," but she chooses earth for heaven. Poem 1012 makes use of a cliche to explain why: Which is best? Heaven-Or only Heaven to come With that old Codicil of Doubt? I cannot help esteem The "Bird within the Hand" Superior to the one The "Bush" may yield me Or may not Too late to choose again. Since the "Heaven to come" is encumbered by an appendix of "Doubt," she chooses the heaven 'H^ithin the Hand," namely earth. If she staked all her happiness on a hereafter that may "Or may not" be, it would be "Too late to choose again" when it proved false. The poem is playful in tone, so as not to be too shocking perhaps, but the theme is sufficiently prevalent in her work to encourage belief in her sincerity.

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84 Though the poet employs the term "Heavenly Father" in poem 1021, there can be little doubt that she is commenting on the 1 age of God presented by religion, particularly Calvinism: Far from Love the Heavenly Father Leads the Chosen Child, Oftener through Realm cf Briar Than the Meadow mild. Oftener by the Claw of Dragon Than the Hand of Friend Guides the Little One predestined To the Native Land. As the final chapter of this study is designed to show, the strongest spiritual motivation for Emily Dickinson, as for the mystic, was love. It is highly probable, therefore, that the most offensive aspect of conventional religion, for her, was the image of an unloving God. She was willing to accept the discipline of a "Realm of Briar," as we shall see in the chapter on purification, but such discipline and purification was endured for the sake of love. It was even welcomed as a way of demonstrating love, but the god depicted in this poem is "Far from Love." He is, in fact, far more primitive, as indicated by the "Claw of Dragon," than the poet's nameless "Friend," who ultimately became her Divine Lover. By thus suggesting the primitivism of such a loveless god, she Intimates, by analogy, the primitivism of the doctrine of predestination, alluded to in the same stanza. In poem 1080 her doubts about resurrection are compared to similar doubts about the return of blossoms, robins, and May, but she concludes with a stipubtion: If I am there--One does not know What Party-One may be

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85 Tomorrow, but if I am there I take back all I say-In poem 11A4 she seems to realize that in the final analysis even religion is uncertain about the afterlife, in spite of the claim that we should rejoice and not weep at the time of death. Ourselves we do inter with sweet derision. The channel of the dust who once achieves Invalidates the balm of that religion That doubts as fervently as it believes. Perhaps the real purpose of religion is to provide a "balm" to make the dying smoother, but the "dust" absorbs and hence "Invalidates" it. The fervent belief of religion is like a mask that hides a fundamental doubt. A part of Emily Dickinson's skepticism can be accounted for by the delight she apparently took in quiet defiance of authority. Poem 1201 provides an example of such defiance: So I pull my Stockings off Wading in the Water For the Disobedience ' Sake Boy that lived for "Ought to" Went to Heaven perhaps at Death And perhaps he didn't Moses wasn't fairly used-Ananias wasn't-Since the justice of heaven cannot be trusted, she has no qualms about disobeying what religion tells her she "ought to" do. Like many before and after her time, Emily Dickinson was repelled by conventional religion partly because of its "counterfeit" peddlers of "Truth." Rarely does she attack individuals in her poetry, but poem 1207, though no name is mentioned, suggests her reaction to a specific sermon: He preached upon "Breadth" till it argued him narrow— The Broad are too broad to define

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86 And of "Truth" until it proclaimed him a Liar — The Truth never flaunted a Sign — Simplicity fled from his counterfeit presence As Gold the Pyrites would shun — What confusion would cover the innocent Jesus To meet so enabled a Man I Her concept of God, unlike the preacher's, is "too broad to define"; her truth, unlike his, unutterable. She surely includes herself when she says that "Simplicity fled from his counterfeit presence," for simplicity, to her, was a signal virtue, to be cultivated in style as in behavior. Simplicity, in fact, was what set Jesus apart from so many who presume to preach his word. It would not miss the mark by far to say that Emily Dickinson's skepticism compares with that of Jesus, who shattered the idols and rebuked the chief priests just as she does in her poems. In a poem written during her forties, number 1258, the poet reflects on the childhood conception of the Father and the Son. As children we are given an explanation that excites awe and wonder, but in maturity we seem to lose the capacity for portentous feeling. The fifth stanza summarizes the problem: We start--to learn that we believe But once--entirely-Belief, it does not fit so well When altered frequent ly-Frequent alteration of belief produces uncertainty that dulls faith and makes acceptance difficult. We blush, that Heaven If we achieve— Event ineffable-We shall have shunned until ashamed To own the Mlracle-She realizes that she has passed the point of childlike acceptance. The

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87 sense of struggle and terror found in the earlier poems is passed. Now there is only a feeling of dull nostalgia and half regret. A similar sense of regret appears in poem 1551. She compares the security of belief in past times with the dark uncertainty of the present: Those--dying then. Knew where they went— They went to God's Right HandThat Hand is amputated now And God cannot be found — The abdication of Belief Makes the Behavior small-Better an ignis fatuus Than no illume at all-The use of such strong words as "amputated" and "abdication" indicates a fairly clear understanding that there is no turning back to the faith of the past, however much more heroic and saintly behavior may have seemed then. The use of "ignis fatuus," literally "foolish fire," sometimes called will-o'-the-wisp, implies her awareness that the light of the past may have been deceptive and fictitious, but it was better than the darkness of doubt. She knows there is no turning back however. In poem 1264 she compares herself with those who have "hoped before" but passed inexorably into the "escapeless sea": This is the place they hoped before. Where I am hoping now. The seed of disappointment grew Within a capsule gay. Too distant to arrest the feet That walk this plank of balm-Before them lies escapeless sea-The way is closed they came. "Disappointment" begins inconspicuously within the gay "capsule" of the

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88 mind, without impeding movement, for the "plank" is made to seem smooth by the "balm" of religion. In spite of the balm, there is no escape, perhaps no resurrection, from the sea of Infinity and eternity. All must walk the plank. She rejects two of the conventional attributes of heaven in poem 1270: Is Heaven a Physician? They say that He can healBut ffedicine Posthximous Is unavallable-Is Heaven an Exchequer? They speak of what we oweBut that negotiation I 'm not a Party to— She was humanist enough to believe that it Is the living and not the dead who need healing. Having already rejected the image of an accountant God, she could hardly be "a Party to" any heavenly "negotiation" of human debts. It perhaps summarizes her position to say, as she does in poem 1293, that heaven is "Untenable to Logic," but she admits the possibility that it may exist even so: The Heaven, in which we hoped to pause When Discipline was done Untenable to Logic But possibly the one— In poem 1295 she attempts a limited definition of eternity and death: Two Lengths has every Day-Its absolute extent And Area superior By Hope or Horror lent—

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89 Eternity will be Velocity or Pause At Fundamental Signals From Fundamental Laws. To die is not to go-On Doom's consummate Chart No Territory new is staked-Remain thou as thou art. The eternity she envisions is materialistic and apparently patterned after the Newtonian universe: made up of matter either in motion or at rest, in obedience to "Fundamental Laws." Man also is matter; therefore death affords no transcendence. There is no "Territory" known as heaven. When she says "Remain thou as thou art," she suggests that since man is earth, he will never be anything else. The strict materialism of this poem is not really typical, but it shows the extent to which her skepticism carried her at times. Poem 1317 similarly shows the extent of her disdain for the Old Testament God: Abraham to kill him Was distinctly told-Isaac was an Urchin-Abraham was old~ Not a hesitation-Abraham complied-Flattered by Obeisance Tyranny demurredIsaac-«to his children Lived to tell the taleMoral— with a Mastiff Manners may prevail. She retells the story with remarkable economy and at the same time projects a most devastating picture of God. He is a tyrant "Flattered by Obeisance," rather than— as the story is generally rendered— a majestic

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90 patriarch who tests and takes pity at the last moment. He is not unlike a beast which, in spite of its viciousness, may occasionally respect good manners . The poet has already suggested, in poem 1264, that religion is a balm to make dying easier. In poem 1323 she notes that the "Daily mind" is threatened with "Madness" when forced to come face to face with the "yawning Consciousness" of death, "That mightiest Belief": I never hear that one is dead Without the chance of Life Afresh annihilating me That mightiest Belief, Too mighty for the Daily mind That tilling its abyss. Had Madness, had it once or twice The yawning Consciousness, Beliefs are Bandaged, like the Tongue Vrhen Terror were it told In any Tone commensurate Would strike us instant Dead I do not know the man so bold He dare in lonely Place That awful stranger Consciousness Deliberately face — It is possible to see here another reason for the prevalence of death as a theme in Emily Dickinson's poetry. She realized the great value of death as a teacher of incontrovertible truth, its great power of cutting through the lesser "Bandaged" beliefs that cannot stand the ultimate test. Hearing "that one is dead" renews the poet's own latent urge for annihilation. In the last chapter we shall see how that urge is translated into mystical fulfillment through unity. To face death's unknown terror in its full intensity "would strike us instant Dead."

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91 Though the poet professes not to "know the man so bold" as to "Deliberately" face "That awful stranger Consciousness," she in fact devoted much of her energy to a mystical expansion of consciousness that would enable her to savor the sublime beauty and terror of such a confrontation. There Is an indication here of the dramatic and profound religious experience that Emily Dickinson eventually substituted for the conventional orthodoxy of her acquaintances. In commenting on the influences that may have prompted her to reject orthodoxy, Richard Chase speaks of the "amalgam which Emily Dickinson made out of romanticism, popular sentimentality, and Calvinist Christianity." He concludes as follows: She sensed that, for her, Christianity could be honestly understood and accepted only as privately reconstituted by the poetic imagination and that consequently it must be abandoned as dogma and convention, (pp. 64-63) Romantic poets and philosophers on both sides of the Atlantic were turning more and more to man's intuitive responses and to the poetic imagination as substitutes for conventional religious experiences. The prose writings of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley bear this out as do the works of Emerson and Thoreau. They were all apparently seeking a more dramatic, vital, or transcendental relationship with nature and with the indwelling life spirit, by whatever name it may have been called. Emily Dickinson was doubtless influenced by this general movement, which combined with her own sense of the dramatic and her curiosity about death to stimulate mystical tendencies. Again in poem 1357 the poet Intimates her abhorrence for a religion based on a system of rewards and punishments. There are two

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92 versions, but the first seems most lucid: "Faithful to the end" mended From the Heavenly Clause-Constancy with a Proviso Constancy abhors-"Crowns of Life" are servile Prizes To the stately Heart Given for the Giving, solely. No Emolument. She realizes that far greater love is shown when it is given without hope of reward. Likewise it is to treat men as children to offer the "'Crowns of Life'" in return for being "'Faithful to the end.'" They are "servile Prizes/ To the stately Heart," which gives freely and without expectation of profit. Implicit in such a conception is the meaning of caritas as selfless and disinterested love. The bliss available to the poet on earth, as indicated in poem 1408, proves to her that she would not be at home in heaven even if she could be sure It existed: The Fact that Earth is Heaven — Whether Heaven is Heaven or not If not an Affidavit Of that specific Spot Not only must confirm us That it is not for us But that it would affront us To dwell in such a place — The poem that supports most forcefully her commitment to a philosophy of perpetual uncertainty and skepticism is number 1413: Sweet Skepticism of the Heart-That kno\Js--and does not know-And tosses like a Fleet of Balm-Affronted by the snow — Invites and then retards the Truth Lest Certainty be sere

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93 Coii5)ared with the delicious throe Of transport thrilled with Fear— The poem is a startling accumulation of paradoxes: that skepticism is sweet, that not knovjing is seemingly better than knowing, that the heart's tossing is like gentle floating in balm, in spite of the threat of death ("snow"), that truth and certainty may be barren or sere, that a throe is delicious and not painful, and that transport is more thrilling because of fear. This ambiguity of feeling and inversion of ordinary assumptions prepares for the ultimate result of her acceptance of uncertainty and skepticism, namely the embracing of mysticism — but mysticism built on no conventional base. Poem 1417 may be a rather sophisticated attempt to account for the psychological need to construct a Heaven: How Human Nature dotes On V7hat it cant detect. The moment that a Plot is plumbed Its meaning is extinct — Prospective is the friend Reserved for us to knOT7 Vhen Constancy is clarified Of Curiosity— Of subjects that resist Redoubtablest is this Where go we-Go we an3TO'here Creation after this? "Hximan Nature" must have something always out there unreachable and undetermined. Browning, of course, implied much the same thing, and said that other^Jise what's a heaven for? The question of "Where go we," if anyvjhere, must remain a mystery; life would be barren without mystery.

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94 In summarizing the poems of skepticism and doubt one would be less than fair to Imply that the poet did not at times attempt to reaffirm her faith In Christianity despite Its weakened supports. Poem 1A33 expresses both the weakness and the basis for reaffirmation: How brittle are the Piers On which our Faith doth tread-No Bridge below doth totter so-Yet none hath such a Crowd. It Is as old as GodIndeed-'twas built by hlm-He sent hie Son to test the Plank, And he pronounced It firm. That she retained some hope of mending her faith is evident In poem 14A2: To mend each tattered Faith There is a needle fair Though no appearance indicate — 'Tis threaded in the Air-And though it do not wear s if it never Tore 'TIs very comfortable Indeed And spacious as before-Though It may seem comfortable, the garment will never fit quite as it once did. Whether she really found it quite spacious enough Is doubtful, for she devoted much of her artistic energy to weaving the seamless garment of an expanded consciousness capable of embracing Infinity. She must at times have felt torn between the attempt to reaffirm conventional belief and the effort to discover a new level of understanding and experience. For some the dilemma might have led to a plateau of accoTJinodatlon or compromise, but the romantic temperament is not content with the climate of the plateau, and the honest intellectual is aware that questions cannot be put dox7n by compromise. Emily Dickinson

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95 shared, to some degree, the characteristics of both the romantic and the intellectual. Thus she came to realize that uncertainty must be a continuing state. Perhaps most serious inquirers, whether in the realm of science or religion or philosophy, come eventually to realize that there Is no end to the search and that one should not merely make the best of it but welcome Inconcluslveness as a sign of vitality. Emily Dickinson seems to have accepted uncertainty as a desirable state of tension between the static satiety of belief and the vacuity of doubt. Additional reasons for her commitment to such a state of uncertainty and insecurity are visible in poem 1434: Go not too near a House of Rose— The depredation of a Breeze Or inundation of a Dew Alarm its walls a\7ay-Nor try to tie the Butterfly In insecurity to lie Is Joy's insuring quality. Aside from the Dantesque allusion, the spiritual edifice she built could Itself be called a "House of Rose." Her sense of the romantic made her aware that anything so finely constructed could not be formulated in literal terms. In short, one dare not go "too near." Ecstasy is likewise a fragile state that cannot be firmly held. Paradoxically, it may be Insured only through an acceptance of Insecurity. In later considering her poems of ecstasy, one should remember that her decision in favor of enduring uncertainty may have helped to prepare for such ecstatic nwrnents. The secure and comfortable structure of organized religion was, for her, not conducive to mystical experience. The Puritanism of Jonathan Edwards may have offered an opportunity for

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96 dramatic religious experience, but by the mid-nineteenth century the churches descending from Puritanism had apparently lost that capacity. As Richard Chase says, She regrets that life is bereft of the pomp and drama which the Puritan belief once gave it. What a blank day, what a day of denial It was when "the Heaven died." We are "dying in Drama," as she wrote in a memorable phrase, and it is the business of the poet to preserve the dramatic quality of existence which religious belief no longer guarantees, (pp. 62-63) This may help to explain why Emily Dickinson could not be orthodox, even though apparently many of the greatest mystics have been. As Evelyn Underbill says. The view which regards the mystic as a spiritual anarchist receives little support from history; which shows us, again and again, the great mystics as faithful sons of the great religions, (pp. 95-96) For Emily Dickinson as for many others, one of the greatest stumbling blocks in orthodox religion was the Pauline, Augustlnlan, and Calvinist emphasis on the doctrine of original sin and natural depravity. Is man so corrupted, as a result of original sin, that he is incapable of goodness and utterly deprived of free will? If so, then as Augustine maintained, God works both good and evil in us, rewarding his own good works in us and punishing his own evil works. After recalling these assumptions, Erasmus pointed out the rational absurdity of predestination in the strongest of terms: Who could persuade his soul to love with all his heart a God who prepared a hell flaming with eternal tortures where He may avenge on wretched men His own misdeeds, as if He delighted in htiman tortures? ^ ^Erasmus, "On Free Will," trans, by Mary M. McLaughlin in The Portable Renaissance Reader (New York, 1953), p. 679.

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97 With a great deal more subtlety but no less devastation, Emily Dickinson, in poem 1461, demonstrates that she finds a similar image of God implicit in the doctrine of predestination and natural depravity: "Heavenly Father"— take to thee The supreme iniquity Fashioned by thy candid Hand In a moment contraband-Though to trust us-seem to us More respectful--"l7e are Dust"— We apologize to thee For thine own Duplicity-She seems to say. Please accept the "iniquity" you have reportedly "Fashioned," but wouldn't it have been more "respectful" to have granted us free will? As it is you put us in the untenable position of asking your forgiveness for your own evil deeds and for a mistake you knew was inevitable. In an even more impish mood, she professes a certain affection for the devil in poem 1479. She seems to admire qualities similar to those Goethe gave to Mephistopheles: ability, resourcefulness, tireless activity. The Devil— had he fidelity Would be the best friend-Because he has ability — But Devils cannot mend — Perfidy is the virtue That would but he resign The Devil--without question Were thoroughly divine. By adopting a nonhuman persona the poet can express unconventional views without subjecting himself to the scorn of conventional readers. Emily Dickinson freely made use of this device. Perhaps the best known example is poem 214, "I taste a liquor never brewed," in which she

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98 assumes the persona of a drunken bee to describe summer ecstasy. It is tempting to asstane her identification with a bee also in two poems that describe the bee's rejection of ordinary New England moral standards. In poem 1522 it rejects the "vanity" Of Industry and Morals And every righteous thing For the divine Perdition Of Idleness and Spring-A similar kind of heresy is evident in poem 1526: His oriental heresies Exhilirate the Bee, And filling all the Earth and Air With gay apostasy Fatigued at last, a Clover plain Allures his jaded eye That lowly Breast where Butterflies Have felt it meet to dieOriental mysticism and contemplation doubtless would have been regarded as a kind of heresy in a village such as Amherst, which was proud of its missionaries who had gone to exotic places to convert the heathen. If the poet felt in some way attracted to oriental modes of spiritual experience, she could hardly have said so openly, but through the bee she could express it. They are such "heresies" as "Exhilirate" and fill "all the Earth and Air," even more clearly indicating their mystical character. The "jaded eye," in addition to suggesting weariness after the exhilaration of ecstasy, may also refer to the jeweled "eye" in the forehead of the Buddha. The "Clover plain" and "Butterflies" create an impressionistic scene that might be found in an oriental watercolor. Finally, the brevity of life and the ease of death, suggested in the

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99 last line, convey an oriental sense of time, in which human life is an ephemeral cycle in the chasm of infinity. One of her most comprehensive and literal critiques of the JudaoChristian scriptures is poem 1545: The Bible is an antique Volinne-Written by faded lisn At the suggestion of Holy SpectresSubjects-Be thlehem-Eden — the ancient HomesteadSatan— the Brigadier— Judas--the Great Defaulter-David--the Troubadour— Sin--a distinguished Precipice Others must resist-Boys that "believe" are very lonesome-Other Boys are "lost"— Had but the Tale a warbling Teller — All the Boys would come-Orpheus ' Sermon captlvated-It did not condemn — The terms "antique" and "faded" suggest her belief that the Bible is in many respects no longer relevant to modern man. Thoreau likewise advised that men should not limit themselves to one Bible: Most men are satisfied if they read or hear read, and perchance have been convicted by the wisdom of one good book, the Bible, and for the rest of their lives vegetate and dissipate their faculties in what is called easy reading. And elsewhere he says That age will be rich indeed when those relics which we call Classics, and the still older and more than classic but even less known Scriptures of the nations, shall have still further accumulated, when the Vaticans shall be filled with Vedas and Zendavestas and Bibles, with Homers and Oantes and Shakespeares, and all the centuries to come shall have successively deposited their trophies in the forum of the world. By such a pile we may hope to scale heaven at last." %enry D. Thoreau, "Reading," from Walden (New York, 1961), pp. 80-81.

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100 To say that the Bible's authors wrote "At the suggestion of Holy Spectres" Is to cast faint doubt on the claim of divine inspiration. The whole tone of the poem, especially the list of Biblical "Subjects," is irreverent and iconoclastic, but at the same time so whimsical as to cut unnoticed. The chief characters are more like actors than serious historic figures. Even sin and belief are hardly taken seriously. Most of all, the poet seems to deplore the heavy tone of condemnation and the discouraging rhetoric that make it unpalatable; "Had but the Tile a warbling Teller," a minstrel poet like "Orpheus," it would at least be captivating literature. "Tale" seems to rule out its acceptance as truth. She seems to say that the Bible is like other poetic fictions--only more crude or primitive, and less artistically rendered. Poem 1557, very probably referring to Wadsworth's recent death (April, 1882), once more reveals her lack of confidence in a life after death: Lives he in any other world My faith cannot reply Before it was imperative Tx-jas all distinct to melt is Important to notice the marked contrast between the distinctness of past faith and the blank uncertainty of present skepticism. Two previous themes are combined in poem 1601: rejection of hereditary guilt and the heaven of this earth. She seems to spurn the Calvlnlstic contention that man must be forgiven for a "Crime" he has not personally committed and must scorn the "Happiness" of earth in order to qualify for the uncertain bliss of heaven.

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101 Of God we ask one favor. That we may be forgiven-For what, he is presumed to know— The Crime, from us, is hidden-Immured the whole of Life Within a magic Prison We reprimand the Happiness That too competes with Heaven. Poem 1623, four lines that may have been planned as an elegy for Judge Otis P. Lord, makes a distinction between "spirit" and "Gods" that helps us to understand how she could embrace mysticism while rejecting religion: A World made penniless by that departure Of minor fabrics begs But sustenance is of the spirit The Gods but Dregs. The "sustenance" of the spiritual life was essential to her, but the anthropomorphic conception of "Gods" was an unnecessary by-product of man's spiritual consciousness. Poem 1657 offers what may be a psychological explanation of the myth of "Eden": Eden is that old-fashioned House We dwell in every day Without suspecting our abode Until we drive away How fair on looking back the Day We sauntered from the Door Unconscious our returning But discover It no more Various modem novelists and poets have equated Eden with the innocence that seems forever lost after one reaches maturity. The essence of this poem Is similar, except that it stresses Eden's continued presence if we are capable of discerning it. It is a part of human nature, however, to become aware of such happiness only after It has passed. Thus Eden

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102 is actually a product of our retrospect and nostalgia. It is any state of bliss to which we cannot return. An unfinished poem, number 1646, was evidently written for but never sent to the wife of an Amherst professor of mathematics and astronomy, Mrs. William C. Esty (see variorum, p. 1127). The poem is appropriately cosmic in setting: Why should we hurry— why indeed When every way we fly We are molested equally by immortality no respite from the inference that this which is begun though where its labors lie A bland uncertainty Besets the sight This mighty night The poet peers into the sky at night and hence is surrounded by "immortality." Since we evidently have no choice but to be immortal, we need not hurry to be finished with this life. Three words would have completed the poem, "Can never end," but significantly they were not added"perhaps an indication that the poem can never end either. If the ending can be assumed, however, the last six lines plus the added one might be paraphrased as follows: Though we are dooned to "uncertainty" about the source of the "labors" to which we owe life — the question of God, we cannot escape the "inference," as we gaze into infinite space, that what has "begun" can never end. Man's uncertain sojourn in the cosmos is rendered as a voyage in poem 1656: Down Time's quaint stream Without an oar

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103 We are enforced to sail Our Port a secret Our Perchance a Gale I-Jhat Skipper would Incur the Risk VThat Buccaneer would ride Without a surety from the Wind Or schedule of the Tide-Without direction, without certain locomotion, without even a known destination, and in the face of a possible storm, no "Skipper" would willingly assume such a journey, but our situation is equally desperate, and we have no choice but to go. While she spoke of being "molested ... by immortality" in poem 1646, she asks in poem 1728, Is Immortality a bane That men are so oppressed? The mystical conception of imnortality, making it ever-present and available, differs from that of conventional religion in that the fear of punishment is removed. Immortality is an achievement of consciousness and not heavenly reward or infernal damnation. Reward and punishment are human considerations based on man's limited earthly sense of Justice and are irrelevant to transcendent spirit. The silence of nature in the face of man's questions about origin and destiny has brought some Inquirers, such as Melville, to the brink of despair. The gradually evolving awareness that a sympathetic relationship does not exist between man and nature has led av7ay from the pathetic fallacy of romanticism toward the scientific objectivity of naturalism. Though she is in many ways a romantic in her early poetry, Emily Dickinson lived through this period of transition or evolution in thought, and

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104 she anticipates naturalism in some of her later poems. The transition apparently was not as painful for her as for some of her contemporaries. Why? It seems probable that her initial and continuing skepticism, evident throughout the poems, helped to give her stability and balance. Her response to nature's silence, in poem 1748 for example, is not despair but acceptance--even admiration: The reticent volcano keeps His never slumbering plan; Confided are his projects pink To no precarious man. If nature will not tell the tale Jehovah told to her Can human nature not survive Without a listener? Admonished by her buckled lips Let every babbler be The only secret people keep Is Immortality. In contrast to nature, man is a precarious "babbler" who apparently must speculate and talk about his place in the universe to survive. Yet he has no choice but to remain silent before the unknovm territory of "Immortality." The words the happy say Are paltry melody But those the silent feel Are beautiful— (Poem 1750) Important as words were to her, Emily Dickinson realized that the only true response to the awe of immortality is silence. In addition to resulting in a rejection of orthodoxy and providing a setting for ecstasy, cosmic uncertainty has yet another function in Emily Dickinson's poetry. She notes in poem 1658 that while our

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105 modesty urges us not to believe so, the danger implicit in uncertainty heightens our interest in the drama of life: Endanger it, and the Demand Of tickets for a sigh Amazes the Humility Of CredibilityRecover it to Nature And that dejected Fleet Find Consternation's Carnival Divested of its Meat If we felt secure in our destiny, if we were certain of the benevolence of nature, the unique savor of human existence would be lost. A part of the reason for this quirk in our nature may be implied in the remarkable epigrammatic expression, "Consternation's Carnival." Is this taste for danger perhaps a remnant of man's basically carnivorous nature, revealing that in spite of his long evolution, he is still hunted and still a hunter at heart? This may be a more sanguinary but none the less accurate view of man's fundamentally uncertain and dangerous situation. Poem 1678 is a very crisp and clear statement of the value of danger: Peril as a Possession 'Tls Good to bear Danger disintegrates Satiety There's Basis thereBegets an awe That searches Human Nature's creases As clean as Fire Danger removes all masks and brings us face to face with our naked selves, searching out hidden presumption, leaving us purged. It stimulates and sharpens the senses. It brings us down to the solid substance

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106 of being. It demands cold courage. It "Begets an awe." In all, it prepares for the growth of mystical awareness. The most stimulating of all uncertainties and dangers is death. Ho^* the sense of death Intensifies the joy of life Is the subject of many of her poems, Including five of the last hundred she wrote: 1682, 17 lA, 1717, 1760, and 1773. Some of these are concerned with the swiftness of time and fleeting happiness, but It Is the very uncertainty of time remaining, the constant danger that death will Intervene, that instill the sweet sense of urgency. Thus the poet sees uncertainty as a positive value. In 1682 "Sumner begins to have the look" of lateness, and "Autumn begins to be inferred." The eye becomes greedy of every sight, and speech Is chastened, as all moves toward conclusion. Again in poem 1773, "The Simmer that we did not prize/ . . . Instructs us by departing." In poem 171A the emphasis is on "departing light" and the "something in the flight/ That clarifies the sight." In poem 1717 the poet suggests that our very sanity would be threatened by excessive joy If we became fully aware of the shortness of life and the sweetness surrounding us dally: Did life's penurious length Italicize its sweetness. The men that dally live Vould stand so deep in joy That It would clog the cogs Of that revolving reason T'Those esoteric belt Protects our sanity. If joy is heightened by 'life's penurious length," then nearness to death instills an awareness of "Elysium":

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107 Elysium is as far as to The very nearest Room If in that Room a Friend await Felicity or Doom — (Poem 1760) That so much of Emily Dickinson's poetry is concerned with death is not surprising in view of the stimulus, the wonder, the sense of drama she found in it. It was the sublime moment of uncertainty and peril. It was the most eloquent teacher and hence the constmrnate subject for poetry. It is the subject that combines the uncertainty of time with the uncertainty of eternity. Uncertainty gives way to doubt, and urgency gives way to exhilaration in poem 1741: That it will never come again Is what makes life so sweet. Believing what we don't believe Does not exhilarate. That if it be, it be at best An ablative estate— This instigates an appetite Precisely opposite. If there should be another life, it must be "at best" a deprived "estate," a shadowy existence such as Achilles describes, and "This" only sharpens our "appetite" for the banquet of mortal life. She has given up what was for her a false and pretended belief in favor of the exhilaration of the present that comes from accepting the irrevocableness of life. Bertrand Russell's remarks about the "irrevocableness of the past" tend to ring in the ear. Emily Dickinson was determined to feel death, change, and irrevocableness as intensely as possible, and the spiritual edifice she constructed on the base of doubt was a way of conquering them. Her skepticism and doubt about the afterlife did not preclude a

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108 belief In immortality, which for her meant something quite different. What it did mean the remainder of this study is an attempt to describe. It is appropriate to conclude this survey of Emily Dickinson's skeptical poems by re-emphasizing two fundamental values that skepticism allowed her to affiirm and that helped to provide a basis for mysticism. One of these is suggested in poem 1768, the first line of which may be an echo from Byron: Lad of Athens, faithful be To Thyself, And Mystery-All the rest is Perjury-The value she stresses is faithfulness to one's own integrity, one's own sense of truth, and to the "Mystery" that is beyond our understanding. These were indeed the elementn that shaped her own spiritual quest. Her skepticism had confirmed that "All the rest is Perjury." The other value, which was surely her chief "Deity," is love. Poem 1771 intimates the contrast between serving love and serving the God of orthodox Christianity: How fleet--how indiscreet an one-how always wrong is Love-The joyful little Deity We are not scourged to serve-From the point of view of the orthodox, "Love" doubtless if often considered "indiscreet." If it is "always wrong," it is because the vision of righteous men has become distorted. Unlike the accountant, banker God who numbers our sins, love is a "joyful . . . Deity" that does not scourge man for hereditary crimes. If her skepticism resulted in the rejection of all religious motives except love, it simultaneously paved

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109 the way for mysticisia, for as Evelyn Undcrhill declares, "the business and method of Mysticism is Love" (p, 85). Before turning to the various phases of Emily Dickinson's deepening mystical consciousness, we should perhaps place skepticism and mysticism together in perspective. Skepticism is primarily an intellectual attitude based on objective experience, mysticism chiefly an emotional attitude based on or providing for extrasensory experience. One tends to balance the other, preventing the decay of either the intellectual or the emotional half of being. A balance of the two is necessary for the poet, or for any artist, but it is not often achieved through the cultivation of two such extremes as skepticism and mysticism. It could be argued that they are incompatible, since a rigorously skeptical Intellect cannot permit itself to be Influenced by the emotional, but such a contention would imply that the emotions have no proper place in man's being, that man is unfortunately formed. Even if original sin is an allegorical way of suggesting man's divided nature, it is still a basically meaningless position since man cannot be other than he is. The fact that he has traditionally allowed his emotions to rule his intellect does not invalidate them as a source of human energy or fulfillment. The very basis of truth in art, as opposed to science or religion, is the balance of intellect and emotion, the wholeness of vision, that it seeks to achieve. Such wholeness for Emily Dickinson was the product of a mystically expanded consciousness balanced by a skeptically ironic intellect.

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CHAPTER III ECSTASY: THE AWAKENING OF THE SOUL I The poems that describe ecstasy in sensory terms constitute the first part of this chapter. To the ear bliss may be experienced as music, the sound of singing birds, the buzz of a bee. To the eye it may be the sight of an opening flower, a sunset, a flash of lightning. These sensory impressions are not necessarily ecstatic in themselves, but they may be the occasion of ecstasy, or ecstasy may be remembered as having been initiated by them. Most of the poems of sensory ecstasy are also poems of nature. Albert Gelpi has related Emily Dickinson's delight in the sensory world to Transcendentalism, especially to Thoreau's interpretation of nature: Thoreau eliminated the clumsy labels and abstractions of Brownson and Parker to catch the smack and sting of the concrete experience: "I see, smell, taste, hear, feel, that everlasting Something to which we are allied, at once our maker, our abode, our destiny, our very Selves . . ."; "I explore, too, with pleasure, the sources of the myriad .-rounds which crowd the summer noon, and which seem the very grain and stuff of which eternity is made." His celebration of "a natural Sabbath" was the prayer "for no higher heaven than the pure senses can furnish, a purely sensuous life." For "may we not see God? ... Is not Nature, rightly read, that of which she is commonly taken to be the symbol merely? . . . What is it, then, to educate but to develop these divine germs called the senses?" When the senses operated freely, heaven took place all around us, and multiplicity blended into the one divine articulation of Nature. There was in Emily Dickinson a similar inclination of mind and heart . Whether or not she derived it from reading Brownson and Parker and Thoreau, her response to her own religious dilemma had much in common with theirs, (pp. 78-79) 110

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Ill What Thoreau says about "the sources of the myriad sounds which crowd the summer noon, and which seem the very grain and stuff of which eternity is made" suggests a very special group of Emily Dickinson's poems in which summer and noon seem to become synonyms for ecstasy. Still another group of the poems of sensory ecstasy describe bliss as a kind of drunkenness. Music is the dominant element In the first four poems we shall consider. Describing as It does a music that seems to gather In the silent air before dawn, poem 157 provides an appropriate beginning to the poems of sensory ecstasy: Musicians wrestle everywhere-All day-among the crowded air I hear the silver strife-And — waking — long before the morn — Such transport breaks upon the town I think it that "New Life"! The first three lines suggest a familiar concept of Heraclltus: the Concordia discors . The harmony of this strange music paradoxically is the result of "strife" or wrestling musicians. Heraclltus said, "We must know that . . . strife is justice, and that all things come into being and pass away through strife," and again he says, "Men do not know how what Is at variance agrees with itself. It Is an attunement of opposite tensions, like that of the bow and the lyre." The harmony of music, then, is basically the result of tension; it is a "silver strife" that causes transport in the hearer: Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy . I, part 1 (Garden City, N. Y., 1962), 56.

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112 It is not Blrd--lt has no nest— Nor "Band"— in brass and scarlet — drest-Nor Tamborin— nor Man-It is not Hymn from pulpit read — The "Morning Stars" the Treble led On Time's first Afternoon.' The source of this transporting sound is obscure. As in our attempt to define God, we can only say what it is not. It seems to have no natural or human origin; rather, as the last two lines above imply, its origin is cosmic: Some— say— it is "the Spheres"— at playl Some say — that bright Majority Of vanished Dames--and Men.' Some— think it service in the place ^'Hiere we— with late — celestial facePlease God--shall AscertainI More explicitly, it is perhaps the cosmic harmony that Pythagoras is said to have called the music of the spheres. It may come from that "celestial" place inhabited by those who have 'Vanished," that place we too "shall Ascertain." But whatever its origin, we are here concerned with its effect, and that the poet has described as a feeling of "transport" so grand as to suggest "that 'New Life."' Poem 183 describes the effect of a more earthly music. It nevertheless leaves the poet with a breathless and perhaps beatified feeling, as the word "Bernardine" suggests: I've heard an Organ talk, sometimes— In a Cathedral isle. And understood no word it said— Yet held my breath, the while-And risen up--and gone away, A more Bernardine Girl— Yet--know not what was done to me In that old Chapel Aisle.

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113 "Bemardine" is generally taken as pertaining to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the French monastic reformer and patron of the Cistercian order. The Cistercians, especially the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, otherwise known as the Trappists, are contemplatives who live a life of isolation and silence, following the Rule of St. Benedict. As some of the writings of Thomas Merton (Brother Louis) indicate, the Cistercian life, perhaps more than any other formalized existence, provides for mystical fulfillment." To have chosen the word "Bemardine," the poet must have been to some extent aware of these implications. I doubt, however, that the Catholic overtones of the cathedral setting or of the suggested monasticism have any particular relevance. In fact, she affirms in line 3 that she "understood no word" the organ spoke — an indication that the literal aspects of the religion (or perhaps any religion) held little meaning for her. It is only the music that touches, but it touches so profoundly that she knows "not what was done to me." In poem 653 Being is compared to a bird of the finest do\7n that floats upon "The General Heavens": It soars--and shifts--and whirls— And measures with the Clouds In easy--even--dazzling pace-No different the Birds— Except a W ke of Music Accompany their feet — As did the Down emit a Tune-For Extasy--of it 407-423. 2 See Epilogue to The Seven Storey Mountain (New York, 1948), pp.

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114 Here the relationship of ecstasy to music is reversed. It is not music that produces ecstasy; rather, the ecstasy of soaring produces music. This description of Being as something birdlike and divorced from the earthbound or physical suggests a feeling of transcendence. Though similar to ecstasy, transcendence will be taken up separately. All that needs to be noted here is that the liberation of pure being allo\7s it to soar above the heavens in a kind of ecstasy that produces music. The poet seemed particularly fond of the period of silence just before dawn. In poem 157, discussed above, it was a time filled with celestial music of no knovm origin. In poem 783 it is the natural music of singing birds, but the effect is equally mystical; The Birds begun at Four o'clock-Their period for Dawn-A Music numerous as space — But neighboring as Noon-I could not count their Force Their Voices did expend As Brook by Brook bestows itself To multiply the Pond. This adding of single voices, one by one, to form a greater one, like the merging of waters "To multiply the Pond," is again reminiscent of Heraclitus' concept of unity in diversity. As considered in my final chapter, the mystic's ultimate aim is unity, which he can achieve only through the dissolution of individual identity. Here the voices of the many birds, creating "A Music numerous as space," have achieved such a unity. Their Witnesses were not— Except occasional manIn homely industry arrayed-To overtake the Morn--

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115 Nor was it for applause— That I could ascertain-But independent Extasy Of Deity and Men— What is their reason for uniting to create such music? There are hardly any "Witnesses," and it is not for "applause." It is apparently proinpt
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116 Morns lil«> these V7e partedNoons like these — she rose-Flutterlng first--then firmer To her fair repose. Never did she lisp it-It was not for tne-She--was mute from transport-I--froin agony-Till — the evening nearing One the curtains drew — Quick! A Sharper rustling.' And this linnet flew! The vague references make various interpretations possible. Does the parting at morn imply ecstatic closeness during the night? This is made uncertain by the fact that the bird apparently flies away at evening. Is the bird's rising looked upon as a kind of ascension, bringing it in contact v;ith a level of bliss that leaves it dumb? If so— and this seems likely — the poet experiences agony because she is unable to share it. The bird's silence is all the more remarkable ^*hen we consider that it is a noted singer. It may be significant that the bird rises at noon, a term with connotations of ecstasy that will be considered later. The mention of "transport" and "agony" here are the first hints in her poetry of a mystical conception of nature. In a poem called "The Green Linnet," written some fifty-five years earlier than Emily Dickinson's, Wordsworth has also seen the linnet as a spiritual "Presence" capable of "ecstasies": One have I marked, the happiest guest In all this covert of the blest: Hail to thee, far above the rest In joy of voice and pinion! Thou, Linnet! in thy green array. Presiding Spirit here today. Dost lead the revels of the May; And this is thy dominion.

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117 While birds, and butterflies, and flowers. Make all one band of paramours. Thou, ranging up and down the bowers. Art sole in thy emplojmient: A Life, a Presence like the Air, Scattering thy gladness without care. Too blest with any one to pair; Thyself thy own enjoyment. The linnet is apparently the "Presiding Spirit" because of its singularity and self-dependence. "Too blest with any one to pair," it prefers to scatter "gladness without care." If Emily Dickinson knew this poem, one cannot help wondering if she saw in it a reflection of her own reluctance "to pair." The next lines might have stirred in her a desire to share the linnet's weightless, airlike existence as well: Amid yon tuft of hazel trees. That twinkle to the gusty breeze. Behold him perched in ecstasies. Yet seeming still to hover; Emily Dickinson's conception of the linnet in poem 27 becomes clearer in light of Wordsworth's poem. The bird is possibly a symbol of ecstasy itself, an ecstasy that the poet is not yet able to grasp. It flutters near and departs too quickly, and "It was not for me." She is thus left 3 in agony; she can perceive but cannot partake. Flowers are very often the occasion of ecstasy for the poet. In poem 137 she declares that she would give all the daisies on the hill to anyone who could define the "ecstasy" and "transport" provided men by flowers. The poem implies that it is equally impossible to name the source ("fountain") of their effect. The butterfly's "aesthetics" is 3 In poem 1723 the poet describes another bird that, as "His remedy for care," finds transport in flight.

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118 more capable of it than hers. In poem 155 she affirms rather clearly that "The Murmur of a Bee," "The Red upon the Hill," and "The Breaking of the Day" all have an ecstatic effect upon her, and she warns that "If anybody sneer—/ Take care--for God is here," an indication that she regards it as a religious experience. In poem 211 "Eden" seems to be another name for Ecstasy. One not used to it can only partake slowly, as the bee hesitates before erotically entering the flower, where he is "lost in Balms." The brevity of ecstasy is implied in another poem of the flower and bee, number 682, where she tells the flower, I would rather be Thy moment Than a Bee's Eternity — She prefers the ecstatic moment of blooming or unfolding to the humdrum life of the bee, even though the flower eventually fades: Content of fading Is enough for me-Fade I unto Divinity — In poem 1118 "Exhilaration" is apparently still another name for ecstasy. It "lifts us from the Ground" and "Returns us not." After a while "We soberly descend" and ever afterward remain "Upon Enchanted Ground." The poem seems to allude to an experience that is capable of changing one's life. Of all the poems that describe ecstatic experience in sensory terms, the most coherent and richly connotative group is that formed by the poems of noon and summer. Summer and noon are both metaphors of time; mid-year and mid-day, the ultimate moments of creative energy and light. They

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119 also have Implications of brilliance, warmth, and intensity. They are thus her most pOT^erful symbols of ecstasy. She clearly describes their effect on her in poem 122: A something in a summer's Day As slow her flambeaux burn away Which solemnizes me. A something in a summer's noon-A depth— an Azure--a perfume-Transcending extasy. And still within a summer's night A something so transporting bright I clap my hands to see-Then vail my too inspecting face Lest such a sub tie --shimmering grace Flutter too far for me-She now seems to experience what "was not for me" in poem 27. It "solemnizes" her and transcends ecstasy. It is "so transporting bright" that she must veil her face lest it "Flutter too far for me," as did the linnet. It seems fairly certain that Emily Dickinson experienced what she considered to be a moment of ecstasy at least once in her life. She felt it to be a life-changing experience, and it may well have been a determining factor in the course she set for herself. It may help to explain the withdrawal from society that some of her biographers and wouldbe devotees have sensed to be the result of a disappointed love affair. Evidence for the experience is very strong also in poem 322, which tends to establish the meaning of summer as it occurs in various other poems :

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120 There came a Day at Summer's full. Entirely for me-I thought that such were for the Saints, Where Ressurections--be-The Sun, as common, went abroad, The flowers, accustomed, blew. As If no soul the solstice passed That maketh all things new-On this day, such as she thought only a saint might experience, her soul evidently passed a solstice and was renewed. It was like a transfiguration or, as she suggests, a resurrection. She goes on to speak of the experience in religious terms, comparing it to the sacrament of communion In the next two stanzas. Thus it tends to suggest the mystical sense of union with God. Of course, there are also references, in the last three stanzas, to a parting, a "troth," and finally a "new Marriage,/ Justified— through Calvaries of Love." These terms might encourage an interpretation based on the departure of a lover"Wadsworth perhaps. Whatever the source of inspiration, however, the clear fact remains that the poem affirms an occurrence that had momentous spiritual meaning for the poet, and the terms used to describe it are mystical. Hereafter "summer" becomes synonymous with ecstasy. The two terms are again linked in poem 1353. Written much later in life, this poem seems to view the ecstasy of summer as a past experience that is viewed in "Retrospect": The last of Summer is DelightDeterred by Retrospect. 'Tis Ecstasy's revealed Review-Enchantment ' s Syndicate. To meet it--nameless as it is-Without celestial Mail—

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121 Audacious as without a Knock To walk within the Vail. Whereas she once veiled her own face from the brilliance (poem 122), the ecstasy itself is now generally veiled from the audacious viewer. The last line suggests the veil of the temple within which she is no longer permitted to enter. Ecstasy now seems remote and unavailable, except perhaps for a forbidden glimpse. She awaits the armor of immortality to face it. The various levels of understanding summer are noted in poem 1386: Summer^--we all have seen-A few of us--believed — A few— the more aspiring Unquestionably loved — Everyone has experienced the sensations of summer, the vibrant sense of life and growth, but few have believed in it as an expression of divinity. Still fewer, the mystics perhaps, have actually embraced it and sought it as an object of love. In spite of the range of attitudes toward her, however, summer remains aloof; "She goes her spacious way," embodying her mystical secrets: The Doom to be adored-The Affluence conferred-Unknown as to an Ecstasy The Embryo endowed--^ The wealth of mystical fulfillment and the sacrifice ("Doom") it demands are implied in the first two lines, the uncertainty of one's election for such privileges in the last two. Since this poem survives only in a very unfinished state, the text must be formed by editorial selection from many alternative readings. This is the version in Johnson's one-volume edition.

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122 When we consider siimraer a sjmonym for ecstasy, poem 1422 becomes an Illuminating description of the two distinct kinds of experience that, from Emily Dickinson's point of view, were fraught with ecstatic potentiality: Summer has two Beginnings-Beginnirg once In June-Beginning in October Affectingly again-Ihe beginning in June implies the kind of ecstasy she found in the vibrating life force that moves through every insect, plant, and bird, the rapture she felt through contact with physical nature. It is this that links her to Wordsworth, Emerson, and Thoreau, The beginning in October is the ambiguous beginning of departing--or of death: Without, perhaps, the Riot But graphicer for Grace-As finer is a going Than a remaining Face-It is this second conception of summer or ecstasy that links her to the great mystics, for the mystic knows that the Way of Death is the only road to enduring rapture, which is usually called unity in contrast to the more or less momentary states called ecstasy. ". . . the term Ecstasy has long been used both by psychologists and ascetic writers to define that short and rapturous trance ... in which the contemplative ... is caught up to a brief and Immediate enjoyment of the Divine Vision." Just as there are two beginnings of summer, or two kinds of mystical experience, there are also two conceptions of forever: one ^Underbill, p. 170.

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123 temporal and one eternal. Departing then-forever— Forever--until May-Forever is deciduous-Except to those who die-The temporal forever lasts until "May" and is "deciduous"; by analogy, forever "to those who die," or who follow the mystical Way of Death, is evergreen. Their rapture is permanent in contrast to the fleeting and momentary ecstasy based on nature. In siimmary, then, the beginning of life (June) and the beginning of death (October) are the two great experiences filled with ecstatic potentiality. The implications of summer, noon, and the linnet are all brought together in poem 1634: Talk not to me of Summer Trees The foliage of the mind A Tabernacle Is for Birds Of no corporeal kind And winds do go that way at noon To their Ether ial Homes Whose Bugles call the least of us To undepicted ilea 1ms The lack of punctuation, even the familiar dashes, makes interpretation more difficult. For example, does the second line stand in apposition to the first, calling for a full stop after "mind," or should the periods come at the ends of the first and fourth lines? The latter seems more likely. If so, there is a contrast between the "Summer Trees," which the poet now apparently rejects, and the "foliage of the mind," which she now regards as the only fitting tabernacle "for Birds/ Of no corporeal kind." This seems to indicate a passing beyond the fleeting

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124 ecstasy of "Summer Trees" and the linnet, a corporeal bird. The deciduous ecstasy of "Sunmer Trees" will no longer satisfy (see poem 1422). In noting that the "winds do go that way at noon," she seems to say that in their breathless exaltation youth follow this route to ecstasy, but they are only on the way "To their Etherial Homes," and they call us to the "undepicted lealms" of enduring and complete unity, the ultimate mystical state. Though poem 1056 in some ways belongs more properly to the last chapter of this study, it is almost necessary to mention it here to complete the evolution of the poet's noon-summer symbolism: There is a Zone whose even Years No Solstice interrupt-Whose Sun constructs perpetual Noon Whose perfect Seasons wait-Whose Summer set In Sunmer, till The Centuries of June And Centuries of August cease And Consciousness--is Noon. Here the passage of time is suspended; it is "perpetual Noon" and "Summer set in Summer." Both the day and the year are frozen at mid-point. The sun pauses, and June and August no longer mark the birth and death of summer. This is the fadeless "Zone' of permanence, like the static scene on Keats' "Urn." Consciousness has reached the zenith or noon of understanding through identity with the One. The evolution of the noon-summer poems that has been traced here reveals a microcosm or prototype of the poet's development in mystical consciousness: from breathless moments of youthful ecstasy, through the

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125 Way of Death or October, to the zone of tlmelessness and unity. Closely related to sensory impressions of ecstasy through nature are the poems that describe bliss as a kind of drunkenness. The drunkenness itself, in fact, usually results from contact with nature. In the best known of these poems, "I taste a liquor never brewed," the poet describes herself as a "Debauchee of Dew--/ Reeling— thro endless summer days." When one considers this line in light of the foregoing discussion of summer, there is little doubt that this is another, but rather special expression of ecstasy. Unlike the bee and the butterfly, she cannot give up the ecstatic liquor Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats-And Saints — to windows run-To see the little Tippler From Manzanilla come I (Leaning against the--Sun — ) (Poem 214) One might interpret the last two stanzas to mean that the poet will not give up the temporal ecstasy she has found until she is observed by angels and saints, who might then--out of embarrassment perhaps--admit her to their abode of timeless rapture. In poem 230 the poet and the bee get drunk together. As the line There are several other poems concerned with noon and/or summer that will not be taken up here: 611, 638, and 1316 are mentioned elsewhere, 180 describes an arctic flower that drifts down to latitudes of summer, 916 indicates the poet's longing for the bee's experience of noon, 960 equates noon with life, night with death, 1191 also links summer with ecstasy, 1363 links summer with awe, 1540 describes summer passing "Into the Beautiful," 1673 questions our opportunity for other summers, 1675 speaks of noon as the "gay unknown."

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126 "Do we 'beat' our 'Wife'" suggests, both are given a masculine persona, probably in deference to the more common custom of males drinking together than females. The last stanza gives us the best clue to the meaning of the drunkenness: While runs the Rhine-He and I--revel-First--at the vat — and latest at the Vine-Noon--our last Cup-"Found dead"— "of Nectar"— By a humming Coroner-In a By-Thyme! In their search for an ever more satisfying drink, they move from vat to vine, or from product to source--and finally to "Noon." Here again the rich meanings of this word are called upon, and we see it as an analogy for the ultimate in ecstatic drinking. If the vine is the source for the contents of the vat, then noon (the sun) is a still more primary source--the source of the vine itself. After partaking they are "Found dead" of the effects of this potent "Nectar." Thyme, an aromatic herb of the mint family, may suggest the exotic source of their spell, but it also curiously implies the meaning of its homonym, time. A "ByThyme," by some little strech of the imagination, may thus be a "bye and bye time" when God, the Coroner, may find them after death. If so, the ending is similar to that of the preceding poem (214) where the "little Tippler" is found by saints. In neither poem is it stated that the inebriate is admitted to greater bliss, but the ending is such that one might assume it. The curiously intoxicating effect of "joy" is described in poem 252:

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127 I can wade Grief — Whole Pools of it-I'm used to that-But the least push of Joy Breaks up my feet — And I tip — drunken — Let no Pebble--sinile-'Twas the New Liquor — That was all.' Richard Chase finds the poem incoherent, but it seems to me that when it is viewed as a description of mystical ecstasy, it becomes quite plausible. In comparison to the rare experience of ecstatic "Joy," "Grief" is the ordinary condition of human life, and she is "used to that." Chase feels that "Breaks up my feet'' is inconceivable, but if one considers the familiar poetic notion that our feet are made of clay, then it is quite conceivable that the "least push" of the spiritual would tend to disintegrate them. This is an indication of what the mystic understands as the annihilation of self. As these earthly feet break up, one would naturally be inclined to "tip" like a man drunk with new wine, and he would be conscious of the smiling ridicule of earthly pebbles that did not share and hence did not understand the ecstasy. The second stanza would be even more unclear without mystical considerations: Power is only Pain-Stranded, thro' Discipline, Till Weights--will hang-Give Balm — to Giants — And they'll wilt, like Men-Chase also calls it "an exceptionally bad poem, an examination of which will indicate a fundamental weakness of her work" (p. 201). Later he declares that "though few of her poems are so bad in detail as this one, perhaps two thirds of her work is flawed by the weaknesses this poem so graphically displays" (p. 203).

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128 Give Hinmaleh— They'll Carry— Him.' The poet understands that ordinary men seek power, but just as the ordinary world is grief to her, so "Power is only Pain." To gain power is only to be "Stranded" from the spiritual by means of a "Discipline" that weights us with the obligations of the physical world. Giants, like men with clay feet, would wilt under the influence of "Balm," but given the mountainous weight, the day-to-day obligations, of the world— "Give Himmaleh" — they could easily carry it. In poem 383 the poet is more explicit about the kind of intoxication she prizes most highly: Exhillration — is within — There can no Outer Wine So royally intoxicate As that diviner Brand The Scul achieves--Herself — To drink--or set away For Visiter — Or Sacrament-'Tis not of Holiday To stimulate a Man Who hath the Ample :^ine Within his Closet— Best you can Exhale in offering. The word "achieves" is noteworthy as an indication of the effort required to gain this ecstasy that is like intoxication. In some of the earlier poems ecstasy seemed more spontaneously available. After the first illumination, the mystic usually finds that rapture must be gained through sacrifice and suffering. This awareness, of course, places more emphasis on the sacramental nature of the experience, which is visible in this poem. The soul does not drink its whole achievement now, but is more

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129 temperate. It may prefer to "set away/ For Visitor--Or Sacrament." Moreover, it is not a wine for holiday or revelry, as in poem 230, nor a vintage to interest a man with an ample wine cellar. It is rather a wine for communion, a means of receiving grace for a greater fulfillment. Ecstasy is now understood as an experience that is meant to lead to something— namely, the mystic's tempering and purification. It is not a pleasure to drown in but rather to be baptized in, and then the mystic must arise to a new life. As Underbill says, "The mystic does not enter on his quest because he desires the happiness of the Beatific Vision, the ecstasy of union with the Absolute, or any other personal reward. . . . By one of the many paradoxes of the spiritual life, he obtains satisfaction because he does not seek it; completes his personality because he gives it up" (p. 92). The mystic is not a pleasure seeker. He must move from the early experience of ecstasy to the rigors of sacrifice, and this poem seems to suggest that route. Poem 1316 gives further affirmation to the value of rigorous sacrifice. If summer is synonymous with ecstasy, then we might expect that winter would stand for the sobering counteraction to summer's intoxication: Winter is good— his Hoar Delights Italic flavor yieldTo Intellects inebriate With Summer, or the World-It is interesting to note the distinction the poet makes in the last line. Winter serves as counter to two kinds of pleasure: worldly pleasure as well as the pleasure of ecstasy. This line should serve to demonstrate that Emily Dickinson did not regard the two as the same. If winter

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130 stands for sacrifice and deprivation in contrast to ecstasy, it seems to stand for death in contrast to worldly, physical pleasure. In either case it is the necessary balance~the opposite--that makes recognition of pleasure possible. And both of its meanings were important to her. Death is doubtless her most pervasive subject, and some feel that her genius is primarily visible in poems dealing with it. But death is not always meant in the literal or physical sense. In a later chapter we shall see that many of the poems are concerned with the mystic death of the self, the death of the eager pleasure seeker that must precede the mystic rebirth. Here the meaning is not yet quite so profound as that. She merely observes that after the initial experience of ecstasy, which leaves the intellect reeling, winter or deprivation is good in that it sobers and sharpens one's sensitivity to ecstasies yet to come. In poem 1628 the stress is on remembrance of the unforgettable ecstasy, and the metaphor of drunkenness is again used in conjunction with the metaphor of summer: A Drunkard cannot meet a Cork Without a Revery-And so encountering a Fly This January Day Jamaicas of Remembrance stir That send me reeling in-Winter (or January) now seems to be the more or less constant condition. Time and the cold have almost obscured the summer ecstasy. And in accord with the other metaphor, the "little tippler" has been a long time without a drink. But just as the odor of a cork brings forth "a Revery" of alcoholic delight, so does a fly in winter stir "Jamaicas of Remembrance." Without actually using either the word "summer" or "ecstasy,"

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131 the poet suggests both with the tropic connotations of "Jamaicas." Whether V7inter will give way to spring and ultimately to further summer ecstasy seems somewhat In doubt. The moderate drinker of Delight Does not deserve the spring-Of Juleps, part are in the Jug And more are in the joy— Your connoisseur in Liquors Consults the Bumble Bee-Perhaps her timidity. New England sense of propriety, or Puritan temperance prevented her from drinking deeply enough when once she v/as offered the cup of ecstasy, and perhaps she does not deserve to receive it again. But then not all delight is in the drinking (the Jug); more is In the joy of the effect or of remembrance. Perhaps, then, one draught is enough for a lifetime and she is to live on the memory it has provided. As always, the lines are so spare as to give us only the barest skeleton of the argument that seems to be progressing In the poet's mind, but these speculations seem consistent with her rather extensive and connotatlve uses of simmer and drunken delight. The final suggestion of this poem--the btmible bee as consultant connols6eur--prlcks us to recall that most of the ecstasy poems thus far considered can be grouped under the heading of nature. The bee is perhaps the focal figure in Emily Dickinson's poems of nature, and it serves to link the rich connotations of summer, liquor, and even noon. The bee is a creature of summer. It takes nectar from the flo;>rers in an action that suggests both sexual ecstasy and intoxication. And it is active primarily in the noontime heat of the day. In its ability to sajnple so many delights, it is surely a connoisseur of ecstasy.

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132 The last poem that describes bliss in terms of drinl:, 1720, ends in oeaningful uncertainty: Had I knov7n that the first was the last I should have kept it longer. Had I knovm that the last was the first I should have drunk it stronger. Cup, it was your fault. Lip was not the liar. No, lip it was yours. Bliss was most to blame. The punctuation and structure have become conventional, perhaps an indication that the poem is written in sober reflection. And this impression is matched by the content. Had she known that the first taste of ecstasy was to be the last, she would have held on to it, or else, as in line four, she would have "drunk it stronger." I take it that lines one and three really mean the same thing, that the latter is merely a reversal of the equation stated in the former. The attempt to fix blame is futile. Was it the deceptive liquor or the deceived senses that prevented recognition of the great value of the experience? In the final statement that "Bliss was most to blame" there is some suggestion that she would have been better off without the experience. She would have been more at peace. The poet looks back with longing on a lost and irrecoverable moment that filled her with rapture and then left her empty, an experience of youth, perhaps, that changed her life and left her a seeker. The idea of a quest or pilgrimage is one of the most prevalent in mystical literature, and Evelyn Underbill notes that it appears "under two different aspects": One Is the search for the "Hidden Treasure which desires to be found." Such is the "quest of the Grail" when regarded in its mystic aspect as an allegory of the adven-

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133 tures of the soul. The other is the long, hard journey towards a known and definite goal or state. Such are Dante's "Divine Comedy" and Bunyan'i? "Pilgrim's Progress"; each in their manner faithful descriptions of the tfystic Way. (p. 129) Mention of the Grail encourages us to take a second look at the poet's charge, "Cup, it was your fault." It seems quite probable that she may have looked upon her one-time experience of ecstasy as an intoxicating draught from the Grail--hence a sacrament. And if so, it is possible to see much of her mystical poetry in light of the quest this single drink prompts. Though 1721, the poem that follows the one just considered, does not belong strictly tc the poems of ecstatic drink, it is illuminating to look at it in connection with the ideas just expressed: He was my host--he was my guest, I never to this day If I invited him could tell. Or he invited me. So infinite our intercourse So intimate, indeed. Analysis as capsule seemed To keeper of the seed.^ In speaking of the Lart Supper or the Communion service, Christ is often described as the host. Of course, the term may refer to the wafer, but one should not lose sight of the other meaning, and this is what the poet seems to imply here. God is both host and guest at the ceremonial communion uhere the poet has drunk from the cup mentioned in the preceding poem, and she cannot determine whether she asked for the boon or was one g Compare poem 1744, p. 135.

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134 of the elect invited to partake of his "infinite" knoT'jledge. In either case the experience can be viewed as a capsule or "seed," containing a microscopic paradigm of infinity. To view her drink of ecstasy in such a sacramental context is to expand its meaning to the widest possible limits. Just as Christ, according to transubstantiation, is contained whole and entire in every particle of the bread and wine, so all "analysis" is contained "as capsule" in this seminal experience. To recover such a moment would be worth the effort of a lifetime. But the poet seems increasingly aware that the experience cannot be recovered in this lifetime, and she comes to feel that she has paid an entire existence for a single moment: I took one Draught of Life-I'll tell you what I paid— Precisely an existence-The market price, they said. They weighed me, Dust by Dust-They balanced Film with Film, Then handed me my Being's worth-A single Dram of Heaven.' (Poem 1725) But perhaps existence is not too high a price to pay. The incongruity of values bet^^^een physical and spiritual life is evident here. "A single Dram of Heaven" is worth one's whole physical being and more. Thus the poem is finally not one of regret. The "Dram of Heaven," which may well mean a single ecstatic glimpse of meaning, rather than any part of the conventional Idea of heaven, was worth the price. The capsule of spiritual fulfillment was well worth the great physical deprivation that it required, even though Its value cannot be '5hown. It is a seed that cannot germinate and thus Is not destroyed. It remains forever in pod:

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135 The joy that has no stem nor core. Nor seed that we can sow. Is edible to longing, But ablative to show. By fundamental palates Those products are preferred Impregnable to transit And patented by pod. (Poem 1744) If it cannot be brought to fruition, neither can it become stale to us. Though its duration may be only a moment, its effect can last a lifetime. Such, Emily Dickinson must have understood, was the value of her own removal from the world. She could continue as a mystery and apparition to those who knew her only if she deprived them of her presence, allowing only an occasional glimpse of her white form as she glided past a doorway or down the hall. In short, the effect of her presence was enhanced by its rarity, like the effect of a moment's ecstasy. Richard Chase feels that this purposeful removal was the source of her power, that she knew it well and deliberately cultivated it: And if, in one of her letters, she calls herself Xerxes, it is because she shares with the oriental monarch the knowledge that a hierarchy and one's place in it can be vivified and reaffirmed by keeping one's person invisible, unapproachable, and mysterious, (p. 266) II The last part of this chapter is concerned with the transformation or transfiguration that is brought about in one who experiences ecstasy. Included are poems that describe an awakening, a new sense of peace, and a sense of status, privilege, or wealth. Some of these could be called poems of the white election, a term used in poem 52S, which is

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136 discussed in a later chapter. Since immortality, eternity, and unity are all conceived as white, to devote oneself to their pursuit is to make the white election. Dedication to such a pursuit is part of the transformation that follows ecstasy. Most of the poems considered here also concern what Richard Chase calls "status": In very general language, the queenly or upper status meant to her the following things: 1) the condition of being blissfully "domestic," of enjoying a redemptive sense of fulfillment or vitality of spiritual health, a condition which may be achieved through immediate visitations of grace; 2) the achievement of mature womanhood or the involvement of oneself in the sacramental occasions of a woman's life through love and "marriage"; 3) accession to the absolute ground of immortality through death; 4) the achievement of seerhood and the station of prophetic poet, and ultimately of immortality, through beauty and truth. The lower status is simply the opposite of the upper. When one is not regal or an "Empress of Calvary," one has either missed the great transmuting experiences or, having had them and achieved regality, one has had to renounce them. Renunciation is the condition of earthly life, since the only absolute status is immortality, (p. 147) Though Chase later says that Emily Dickinson "was surely not a mystic in any closely defined sense of the word" (p. 184), he does admit that she "was capable of the ecstatic experience of grace" (p. 148). His summary of status is quoted here because it provides what seems to be a skillful delineation of the range of meaning the "transmuting experiences" came to have for her. His last sentence, stating that "Renunciation is the condition of earthly life," points to the fact that earthly life cannot sustain the high pitch of ecstasy for long periods of time, and that one who has been privileged to experience it ultimately comes to renounce the world as a means of preparing for a second and greater fulfillment. The experience leaves its mark, however, and confers a new sense of one's

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137 place in the hierarchy of being. Poem 199 is apparently the earliest one concerned with status: I'm "wife"— I've finished that— That other state— I'm Czar— I'm "Woman" now— It's safer so— How odd the Girl's life looks Behind this soft Eclipse— I think that Earth feels so To folks in Heaven— now-This being comfort»-then Tliat other kind— was painBut why compare? I'm "Wife"'. Stop there'. In some respects this poem might seem to belong more appropriately among those concerned with divine love in the final chapter, but there we will be concerned primarily with ravishment whereas here we are concerned with status. Implied in the terms "wife" and "Woman" is that "redemptive sense of fulfillment" that Chase mentions in his first definition of status above. Tliere is also the sacramental aspect of "love and 'marriage'" that he mentions in the second. The maiden status of unfulfillment looks "odd" to her now, as earth niust appear to "folks in Heaven." Though she was not aware of it, her former status must have been "pain" in comparison to the "comfort" of her new estate. Poem 535 speaks clearly enough for itself, again emphasizing the peaceful and sacramental aspects of her new condition: She's happy, with a new ContentThat feels to her— like SacramentShe's busy— with an altered CareAs just apprenticed to the Air—

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138 She's tearful— if she weep at all— For blissful Causes— Most of all That Heaven permit so meek as her»» To such a Fate— to Minister. Is it perhaps true, then, that "The Meek shall inherit the earth"— because they have seen heaven? Poem 544 is significant particularly for the statement made in the last line, "Some seek in Art— the Art of Peace." She has already, in the poem, mentioned the example of "The Martyr Poets" and "The Martyr Painters," and it seems very likely that for her, too, poetry may have offered a means of achieving status and peace. The sudden achievement of new wealth or status may induce in one who has been so favored a subtle sense of shame or embarrassment, as she notes in poem 551: There is a Shame of NoblenessConfronting Sudden Pelf— A finer Shame of Extasy— Convicted of Itself— A best Disgrace— a Brave Man feelsAcknowledged— of the BraceOne More— "Ye Blessed"— to be told— But that's-Behind the GraveOne is somewhat ashamed and hesitant to acknowledge the experience of ecstasy to those less privileged, and paradoxically, one actually feels disgrace in being called "Ye Blessed," but since "that's— Behind the Grave," we are spared that disgrace here. In poem 579 she seems to compare the state of grace to plenty: I had been hungry, all the Years— My Noon had Come— to dine— I trembling drew the Table near— And touched the Curious Wine—

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139 'Tv7as this on Tables I had seen-liJhen turning, hungry, Home I looked in Windows, for the Wealth I could not hope— for Mine-I did not know the ample Bread— 'T\;as so unlike the Crumb Tixe Birds and I, had often shared In Nature's— Dining Room— The Plenty hurt me— 'twas so new— M/self felt ill— and odd— As Berry— of a Mountain BushTransplanted— to the Road— Nor was I hungry— so I found That Hunser--was a way Of Persons outside Windows— The Entering— takes away— This poem is richly suggestive yet tantalizing in its ambiguity. Of a few things we can be reasonably certain. Between the first and last stanzas there is clearly a change of status. She is at first hungry, and at the end she is not. Secondly, there seems little doubt that the hunger is spiritual and that the wine and bread are spiritual food. Finally, it is apparent that this food represents such great wealth that the poet once felt she "could not hope" to possess it. Beyond these points there are several uncertainties. Does the food represent the faith and salvation of conventional religion, or does it represent her own new found spiritual status? If the former, then we must somehow argue that she does not partake, even though she is no longer hungry at the end. Then there is the all-important question of whether she does, in fact, partake of the food. She learns that "Hunger— was a way/ Of Persons outside Wiodo\*s— / The Entering takes away," but she never actually declares that she eats. One wonders if

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140 the entering alone deprived her of appetite, "Nor was I hungry" could be read as a loss of appetite resulting from revulsion rather than as an indication that she had eaten and found satisfaction. Considering "Noon" iu the first stanza in light of its earlier identification with ecstasy, one roust assume that this too is a moment of ecstasy— or is expected to be. Since it is here also the time "to dine," it has an ingenious double significance. The "Curious Wine," moreover, harks back to the poems of ecstatic intoxication, suggesting even more strongly that it is a moment of expectant rapture, l^at, then, is meant by "Windows" through which she had seen the "Wealth"? And who might have possessed it before her She probably alludes to a church and its members, and it is true that she once looked longingly on the apparent peace 9 of those who had "found hope." The "Crumb" shared with "The Birds" recalls early experience of sensory ecstasy occasioned by nature. She intimates a comparison between these momentary flashes of bliss and the "ample Bread" that is "so unlike" them, A new and more plentiful food, a more enduring status perhaps, is now before her, but it is a status she seems unable to accept. The fact that "The plenty hurt me," making her feel "ill— and odd," surely points to a sense of revulsion, and it would fit well with accounts of her rejection of church nembership, Thomas Johnson says, "Emily Dickinson struggled with the orthodoxies as they were preached, and valiantly tried Q Speaking of the girls at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary where Emily attended, Johnson, in his biography, says, "They were either professing Christians, or 'had hope,' or were 'without hope'" (p. 13). Emily Dickinson continued to place herself in the category of those "without hope."

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141 to find them acceptable, though she was never able to do so," It is hard to escape the conclusion that Emily Dickinson looked upon herself "As Berry— of a Mountain Bush," that is, one nourished by a wilder and more remote spirituality, one who could never feel at home "Transplanted —to the Road" of traditional belief. Though we can be reasonably sure it is concerned with a change in spiritual status, the poem must remain essentially ambiguous, but the ambiguities themselves may well be informative. They seem to suggest the painful dilemma Emily Dickinson faced in the winter of 1847-43 at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. In his biography George Whicher gives a detailed account of the experience, which he prefaces with this excellent assessment of her religious sentiments: The first of the huge negations that separated her from the accepted forms of action in her time, and by so doing forced her into individual activities of her own, occurred while she v/as at the Seminary. There she discovered, finally and irrevocably, that she could not share the religious life of her generation. One outlet was forever closed to her, not because she lacked religious feeling, but because she could not confine her religious feeling to the channels that were marked out for her. For better or worse, she felt impelled to turn aside from the way of truth as her contemporaries understood it, and gropingly seek out her own path. Hers was to be a career of exploration, not of far-off islands, but of the desert places in the human soul. (p. 70) In the Congregationalist belief deriving from Calvinism, one was supposed to sense that he had been touched by grace before making a profession of faith that joined him to the church. In her severe intellec10 Johnson, An Interpretive Bio,n;raphy , p. 18.

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142 tual honesty Emily Dickinson apparently could never bring herself to believe that she had been so touched, even though, as she told Abiah Root, she sometimes felt remorse because of it: "I regret that last term, when that golden opportunity was mine, that I did not give up and become a Christian." In an earlier letter to Abiah she had used a 12 similar expression: "I have not yet given up to the claims of Christ." \Jhat had she been so unwilling to "give up?" Her own private spiritual understanding probably. Even at a fervent and culminating meeting in Mary Lyon's room on the evening of January 16, 1858, called for the benefit of seventeen giJ^ls who had reached an acute state of anxiety for conversion, Emily Dickinson still could not feel "the call." Almost a year later she was able to place the experience in some perspective and to offer a reason for her continuing reluctance. Again writing to Abiah Root, she says, "The shore is safer, Abiah, but I love to buffet the sea— I can count the bitter wrecks here in these pleasant 13 waters, and hear the murmuring winds, but oh, I Iwe the danger'." In poem 579 one can hardly avoid the impression that she also loved the hunger. Just as she refused a harbor, she would surely have refused the "ample Bread" if by that metaphor she meant the sacrament of orthodox Christian communion. She comes to see that "Hunger—was a way/ Of Persons outside Windows—/ The Entering— takes away." One senses that she had come to love the sensation of being outside looking in, just as she Letter 23. ^ better 20. Letter 39.

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143 loved the danger of the storm. To enter would be to accept a haven of intellectual rest, perhaps to achieve the kind of satisfaction that leads to satiety or even atrophy. It would mean giving up the quest, and like most of the world's sincere skeptics, she found the quest very exciting. The quest, the danger, the uncertainty-these, she knew, were the unavoidable and even stimulating ingredients of life. It could not be otherwise, and she would not want it othertrf.so. Emily Dickinson's renunciation probably had more to do with the religious and intellectual crisis in her life than it had to do with any roi:iantic crisis. She reached an intellectual impasse in which she realized that she had the choice either to join, and thus become a participant in the traditional life of her time and place, or else to renounce that life in favor of an interior one of her own cultivation. To join would have been to give up the quest in favor of contentment. Against this the skeptic in her rebelled. Worse still, it would have been to sacrifice her own spiritual understanding based on ecstatic experience. Against this the mystic in her rebelled. Emily Dickinson's renunciation is not really a renunciation of the world. It is a renunciation of the Calvinistic renunciation of the world, Ifliereas Calvinism, at least in its ultimate effect, wished to reject the world because it was sinful, Emily Dickinson wished to embrace the world because it afforded her momentary glimpses of reality that she could not find in religion. "I find ecstasy in living— the mere sense of living is joy enough," she told Higginson during his visit in 1870. To embrace the world, paradoxically, she had to renounce the ordinary way

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144 of living in it that her time and circumstances afforded her. The only path open to her was to exclude the social world around her in order to open the valves of her attention to the vrorld within herself and within the microcosm of her father's house and garden. As Chase says, "Renunciation is the condition of earthly life, since the only absolute status is immortality" (p. 147). Though Emily Dickinson may have hungered for absolutes, as all men do, she ultimately realized that they were not to be honestly found in this life. VJhen she was led to that table containing the "ample Bread" of Christian salvation, she was sorely tempted, but fearing the "plenty" through which some seemed to find absolute status —and stasis— she could not eat. She chose instead to renounce it in favor of her private feast. If we should accept "Nor was I hungry" as an affirmation that she has entered and accepted satisfaction, then we must assume that it is inr deed a private feast, a new found state of grace or plenty that has effected a transformation in her diet from the "Crumb" of momentary ecstasy to the "ample Bread" of mystical status. One of the longest and most interesting poems of transformation is number 593 : I think I was enchanted Vlhen first a sombre Girl— I read that Foreign Lady— The Dark— felt beautiful— The poet may here refer to a first reading of an actual author, or she ^^In his biography, Johnson says "that Foreign Lady" is probably Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

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145 may be using "Foreign Lady" figuratively to suggest the supernatural. It is, in any event, a first encounter with the mysterious. It seems to excite an aesthetic appreciation for "The Dark" of death and ni,:;ht. And whether it was noon at night»Or only Heaven— at Noon— For very Lunacy of Light I had not power to tell-The ecstatic connotations of "noon" are here combined with the mystery of "night." The light seems to beguile the senses, transforming the shapes before her. The Bees— became as Butterflies-The Butterflies— as SwansApproached— and spurned the narrow Grass— And just the meanest Tunes Tliat Nature murmured to herself To keep herself in Cheer— I took for Giants— practising Titanic Opera— To a modern reader this apparent magnification of sensory impressions will suggest the visual phenomena described by persons who have been under the influence of LSD or other hallucinogenic drugs. Alan Watts, who has written of his own experiments with LSD, describes the visual effects in terras strikingly similar to the stanza above in which bees become butterflies and then swans : Gestures of the gesture, waves of the wave— leaves flowing into caterpillars, grass into cows, milk into babies, bodies into worms, earth into flowers, seeds into birds, quanta of energy into the iridescent or reverberating labyrinths of the brain. Within and swept up into this endless, exulting, cosiaological dance are the base and grinding undertones of the pain which transformation involves. . . .^^ 15 Alan Watts, Tlie Joyous Cosmology (New York, 1962), p. 75.

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146 Watts even compares to a microscope the drug's ability to sharpen perception, ^fost Important, he compares the e:£panslon of consciousness to mystical experience: ... I can find no essential difference between the experience induced, under favorable conditions, by these chemicals and the states of "cosmic consciousness" recorded by R, M. Bucke, William James, Evelyn Underbill, Raynor Johnson, and other Investigators of mysticism. ^"^ One may graphically note examples of such visual impressions in the Septeniber 9, 1966, issue of Life magazine, which contains pictures of psychedelic art. Not only have sights been magnified for the poet, but sounds have been amplified, too. The slightest sounds of nature assume the volume of "Titanic Opera" for one who has experienced ecstatic transformation. As all sensory impressions become enlarged, the routine days themselves seem gloriously "adorned": The Days— to Mighty Metres stept— The Homelie8t~adorned As if unto a Jubilee 'Twere suddenly confirmed— I could not have defined the change-Conversion of the Mind Like Sanctifying in the SoulIs witnessed— not explained— 'Tvvfas a Divine Insanity— The Danger to be Sane Should I again experience— 'Tis Antidote to turnTo Tomes of solid WitchcraftMagicians be asleep— But Magic— hath an Element Like Deity— to keep-^^Ibid., p. 17.

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147 Tlie transforraation cannot be defined or explained; it can only be termed "Divine Insanity," a designation given it by Plato in the Ion. Even if it is insanity, the poet seems to regard it as a condition she will protect at all cost against "The Danger to be Sane," The religious connotations of the transformation are evident in the last line. Though "Witchcraft" and "Magicians" can no longer be taken seriously, a certain element of magic (Chase calls it the dramatic and demonic, pp. 75-76) is necessary "to keep" the idea of God meaningful to us. The Calvinism of Emily Dickinson's time may well have lost that element of magic or the dramatic, an element that she was able to recapture in her own private experience. The themes of enchantment and magnification, again as metaphors for transformation, are repeated in poem 756; One Blessing had I than the rest So larger to ray Eyes That I stopped guaging—satisfied— For this enchanted sizeTwo additional points ought to be noted here: the sense of election or of being blessed above "the rest," and a sense of satisfaction similar to that which may be implied at the end of poem 579, It was the limit of my Dream— The focus of my Prayer-A perfect--paralyzing BlissContented as Despair— The new status seems to fulfill her highest expectations, in spite of the evident paradox of its effect. Neither paralysis nor the contentment of despair are states normally associated with bliss, but one must remember that mystical language is full of such paradox. Moreover, the ambiguity

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148 may represent a merging of raysticlsm with skepticisa. One of the world's most eloquent skeptics, Bertrand Russell, asserts that "only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built." The despair he describes is one which recognizes that man is without purpose and without destiny, "that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms." Emily Dickinson may never have reached a point of despair quite comparable to this, but she could hardly have es" caped an awareness of the doubts that plagued Melville, Arnold, and other eminent writers of her century. As indicated by the phrase in question, she even seemed orare of a deeper conception of despair: the contentment that may come from resignation to it. Russell e:cplains it thus: "From that awful encounter of the soul with the outer world, renunciation, wisdom, and charity are born; and with their birth a new life begins" (pp. 54-55). It would be fruitless to speculate that Emily Dickinson's renunciation was based on such an intellect! al encounter with the meaninglessness of existence, but it helps to sound the depth of her intellect to see that she apparently understood such a concept of despair. It carries the discussion of her skepticism, in the previous chapter, a step farther. Returning to poem 756, one may note how these ambiguous feelings give way to a clearer understanding of her new status: I knew no more of Want--or Cold— Phantasms both become ^^Russell, "A Free Man's Worship," pp. 47-43.

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149 For this new Value in tha Soul— Supr ernes t Earthly Sum— The Heaven below the Heaven above-Obscured vjith ruddier BlueLife's Latitudes leant over— full— The Judgment perished— too— Why Bliss so scantily disburse«Ii/hy Paradise defer— Wiy Floods be served to Us-»in Bowls-I speculate no moreThrough "this new Value in the Soul" all sensation of privation is lost. Tliere is only the "Supremest Earthly Sum" of experience, and it is so vivid that "the Heaven above" is obscured by "The Heaven below." There is no longer any thought of "judgment" or of bliss to be gained later. It is here now, in the fullness of flood, and she will "speculate no more" why, as in conventional religion, it is measured out "in Bouls." This seems to express clearly her disregard for traditional ideas of judgment and heaven bye and bye, both of which were so strongly emphasized by Calvinism. Like the mystic, she has found heaven immediately available in her new and transformed status. Poem 800 again attests to the availability of heaven: "Tlie privilege of few—/ Eternity— obtained— in Time." Poem 302 comments further on the idea: Time feels so vast that were it not For an Eternity— I fear me this Circumference Engross my Finity-To His exclusion, who prepare By Processes of Size For the Stupendous Vision Of His Diameters—

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150 Here she recognizes the need for a dimension greater than the "Circumference" of this earth. "Were it not/ For an Eternity" beyond this life, her finite eyes would be too engrossed to look upon Gk)d, "who prepare/ By Processes of Size/ For the Stupendous Vision/ Of His Diameters." The poet understandably wavers from laoments when the insnediate "heaven" seems all sufficient to times when she realizes that there nust be something beyond. Tlie much discussed word "Circumference" seems here very clearly to imply the vast earthly heaven she has claimed as sufficient. Yet "Eternity," as she uses it here and elsewhere, is the greater boundlessness beyond. Thus the ambiguity of her cosmology. The universe bounded by circumference is x^ole and entire, like the solar system, yet there is space beyond, and that is eternity. To eiitend the geometric metaphor, one may then say, as implied in the last line, that God's "Diameters" extend far beyond the circumference of any world we may seeso far, in fact, that they never reach a circiomferential boundary. The straight line of diameter going on forever would preclude any curved line of finity. Whereas such a curved line circumscribes the extent of man's vision, only God can conceive of the endless diameter. In poem 839 she affirms that the "Term of Light this Day begun" will never fail. The beginning of light may well mean the beginning of a new status, for she refers to it as "Grace" in the second stanza. The tone of the poem is again one of transformation: Always I line 1 No more Vacation I Term of Light this Day begun 1 Failless as the fair rotation Of the Seasons and the Sun.

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151 Old the Grace, but new the SubjectsOld, indeed, the East, Yet upon His Purple Progranme Every Da\«i, is first. The status cannot be taken from her; it is as constant as the cycle of the "Seasons and the Sun." Tliough the "Grace" may have been conferred on others before, it is new and brilliant to her. This examination of the various aspects of transformation and status may be concluded v/ith two late, brief poems. The first, poem 1640, is almost prose, and its statement is so simple and forthright as to place beyond all doubt her claim to ecstasy and its legacy of spiritual wealth: Take all away from me, but leave me Ecstasy, And I am richer then than all vxy Fellow Men-111 it becometh me to dwell so wealthily \Jhea at my very Door are those possessing more. In abject povertyHow far above the mere consolations of ordinary religions she considers her boon to be is evident from her declaration that "those possessing more" are nevertheless "In abject poverty" by comparison. It might be supposed that she is only comparing their greater physical possessions to her spiritual wealth, but since the Dickinsons were people of means in Amherst, her neighbors xTould not have possessed more in that sense. The last poem, 1772, is only a couplet, and it is one of the very last she wrote— an indication that she remained convinced of her unique wealth and status to the end of her life: Let me not thirst with this Hock at my Lip, nor beg, with Domains in ray PocketHere the metaphors of nourishment, noted in poem 579, are combined with

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152 those of wealth used often. Tlie wine is inanediately available, an indication of constant status, but she seems content to leave it untasted. The "Domains" are hers, bat she does not seek to exploit them. Perhaps it is this that insures their permanence. These, then, are the poems of ecstasy. What is the import of their combined meaning? Clearly the earlier poems denote breathless delight in the sensory world: bird, bee, and butterfly seem to share with her a partnership in air. >k)reover, it is air filled with the music of the spheres, unheard except by those most gifted. Her sense of harmony with the natural world, its elements, its rhythm, and its creatures, is not unlike the transcendentalism of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Emerson, and Thoreau. As the rich connotations of noon and summer begin to accumulate, however, it becomes evident that there is more here than a romantic obsession with nature. The terms "ecstasy" and "rapture" are not being used loosely to describe a coranon sensory delight. They convey an unquestionable awareness of divine election, manifested in an experience of such intensity that it can only be endured momentarily. As one of God's elect— in a sense far removed from Calvinist theology— the poet enjoys a status and a wealth in comparison to which all else is "abject poverty." Her transformed status requires renunciation of the rich poverty of the external world, but it gives her the strength to endure the desolation of loss and even the purgative Way of Death. Not only does it require renunciation; it demands dedication to the quest for new conceptions of reality, and ultimately for wholeness.

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CHAPTER IV DESOLATION: THE PARADOX OF LOSS AND GAIN The desolation left in the wake of rapture is the subject of a considerable body of poetry almost as intense in describing the loss of ecstasy ae were the previous poems in describing its discovery. Yet paradoxically, hunger and desolation can become cherished emotions in themselves. Pain is not without unaccountable bliss; loss is not without gain. Through the interaction of opposites they sharpen the faculties that allow rapture to be experienced. The awareness of initial ecstasy and its transformation lingers, adding depth to the desolation as well as hope for new illumination. Having once been overwhelmed by a sense of divine election, the poet can no longer feel at home in human society. She has no choice but to regard life henceforth as a quest, though the goal is not clearly understood. The first part of this chapter concerns the loss of bliss and the desolation that results from that loss. The poems included reveal an anguished longing for a past experience or state that seemingly cannot be recovered. Some of the poems in the previous chapter may have also expressed such a longing, even though they were chosen for their description of the ecstatic experience itself. Likewise some of the poems included here, though selected to illustrate desolation, may provide brilliant descriptions of ecstasy. It is obviously not always possible to set up exclusive categories of poems J" there is bound to be overlapping. The last part of the chapter describes the ambiguity of feeling that is often expressed poetically as paradox. In ways that are 153

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154 intuitively felt but not rationally explicable, pain is contradicted by bliss, and loss is surmounted by gain. This phenomenon naturally suggests the identification of opposites, a concept that has a long literary tradition, in drama as well as in poetry, and that has rich mystical connotations also. It doubtless appealed to Emily Dickinson on both counts, which helps to explain why paradox v;as, for her, a favorite poetic device. It satisfied her artistic instincts and allowed her to draw on the reservoir of Renaissance mystical poetry. At the same time it expressed the ambiguity in the anguish and desolation of loss. Of so divine a Loss Ue enter but the Gain, Indemnity for Loneliness That such a Bliss has been. (Poem 1179) I One of the earliest expressions of loss is poem 231: God permits industrious AngelsAfternoons— to play-I met one--forgot my Schoolraates-All— for Him— straightwayGod calls home-the Angels--promptly-At the setting Sun— I missed mine--how dreary -I'larbles -After playing Crown I In her customary way of understating the momentousness of an extraordinary event, she here describes the privilege of heavenly contact as a king of angelic game. "I met one" seems to affirm a brief feeling of supernatural experience, one so compelling that she is willing to abandon all society to give place to it. It does not last beyond the "Setting Sun," however, and she is left with only the memory of having played

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155 "Crown" for a moment, rather than the "dreary" games of other youth. "Crown" is a familiar term in her poetry, expressing the sense of divine election. An even simpler statement of having once been chosen and then lost is poem 256: If I'm lost— now~ That I was found-Shall still my transport be-That once--on me--fchose Jasper Gates Blazed open— suddenly-That in my awlcward— gazing— face-The Angels— softly peered-And touched me with their fleeces. Almost as if they cared-I'm banished— now-you know itHow foreign that can be— You'll know— Sir— when the Savior's face Turns so— away from you-It is tempting to read this poem as a lament on the loss of salvation, but such expressions as "those Jasper Gates/ Blazed open— suddenly" and "The Angels— softly peered—/ And touched ne" refer to an experience far more dramatic than a religious conversion. They are clearly reminiscent of descriptions of ecstasy. Furthermore, as we know from the record of her year at Mount Holyoke, she was unable to accept salvation even though her rejection tended to isolate her. It seems fairly certain, then, that the religious experience that is remembered here was a strictly personal one— Christian perhaps, as implied by "the Savior's face," but in no sense orthodox. Although Calvinistic sermons had provided ample demonstrations of the terror of being "banished," from the Garden as well as from God, there is little indication that Emily Dickinson's feeling of being lost was instilled in her by Calvinism.

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156 The theme of banishment is repeated in poem 262: The lonesome for they know not Vftiat-The Eastern Exiles— be— Who strayed beyond the Amber line Some madder Holiday— And ever since— the purple Moat They strive to climb--in vain-As Birds— that tumble from the clouds Do fumble at the strain— The Blessed Ether— taught them— Some Transatlantic Morn-When Heaven— was too common--to miss-Too sure--to dote uponl Like "Exiled' from a mythical Garden of Eden, those who have breathed the "Blessed Ether" of ecstasy look back with nostalgia and desolation. To have "strayed beyond the Amber line" is perhaps to have wandered out of the Intensity of ecstatic noon. In the lenten season purple is regarded as the color of penance; thus both the color and the "Moat" suggest the painful struggle to regain the state of bliss. Suffering appears to be the only route home. The second stanza of poem 257 may help to illuminate some of the metaphors used in this poem: "If it would last" I asked the East, When that Bent Stripe Struck up my childish Firmament-And" I, for glee. Took Rainbows, as the common way. And empty Skies The Eccentricity— A similar feeling about the "East" seems to prevail in both poems. The traditional location of the Garden of Eden is probably one explanation. More generally, it may be an allusion to the source of all the world's great religions. Then too, the wise men are said to have come from the

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157 East. She thus appeals to the East, as a seat of wisdom or divine knox^ledge, to inquire whether the "Bent Stripe," the rainbow of celestial promise, will endure. Just as she had once thought that "Heaven — was too common--to miss," as noted in the previous poem, she also "Took Rainbows, as the common way," but now her loss has left the skies empty. In spite of the loneliness of loss, she seems to understand why ecstasy must be of short duration: Did Our Best Moment last-*v 'Twould supersede the Heaven-A few— and they by Risk--procure-So this Sort— are not given-Except as stimulants--in Cases of Despair-Or Stupor— The Reserve— Tliese Heavenly Moments are-A Grant of the DivineThat Certain as it Comes— Withdraws— and leaves the dazzled Soul . In her unfurnished Rooms— ^^°^ ^^^^ "This Sort," that is, the enduring periods of ecstasy, "are not given—/ Except as stimulants— in/ Cases of Despair" lest we lose all desire to reach for that which is beyond our grasp. The brief glimpses we may be granted are allowed "by Risk," for as Emily Dickinson has declared on other occasions, the heaven here is sufficient bliss, and if it lasted, there would be no need for another. The poet leaves no doubt as to the source of ecstasy; it is "A Grant of the Divine" that leaves the soul "dazzled," She also affirms the certainty of its withdrawal and the emptiness it leaves in its wake. She poignantly feels that emptiness in the "unfurnished. Rooms" of her soul. Whereas those rooms seem spacious in the immediate wake of ecstasy.

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158 it is possible to grow so accustomed to the loss that they become constricted: It might be lonelier Without the Loneliness-I'm so accustomed to my Fate-Perhaps the Other— PeaceWould interrupt the Dark— And crowd the little RoomToo scant--by Cubit8--to contain The Sacrament— of Him— Linked by the imagery of rooms, the two poems provide an interesting range of attitudes toward the desolation of loss. The anguish has seemingly passed, and she has achieved a kind of reconciliation. She has become so used to "Loneliness" and "the Dark" that she now fears interruption. Tlie statement may apply to her reluctance to experience ecstasy again, because of the emotional strain, but it is even more crucial to her reluctance to allow human society to interrupt her isolation. Perhaps the two went hand in hand, or one may have contributed to the other. Certainly in the history of mysticism this is often the case; after initial ecstasy one has little taste for society. The remainder of the poem serves to encourage the supposition: I am not used to HopeIt might intrude upon— Its sweet parade— blaspheme the placeOrdained to Suffering-It might be easier To fail— with Land in Sight— Than gain— Ity Blue Peninsula-To perish— of Delight— (Poem A05) She has, in a sense, made a ritual of suffering, and the place of her isolation is "Ordained" to that purpose. The sacramental aspects of

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159 suffering are explored fully in the chapter on purgation, but they cannot be ignored entirely here. A life dedicated to suffering is a common part of the Catholic monastic tradition, of which she has sho\m an awareness in using the word "Bernardine" in poem 183, but it is there considered a means of expiating sin~either hereditary or incurred—and of helping to remove the burden of man's guilt. Calvinism also encouraged a feeling of guilt and sorrow for sins, as well as stern self-discipline to ward off temptation, but it did not foster systematic asceticism. Man was to pay for his sin in hell, not here. \Jhatever influence Calvinism may have had on her, or whatever interest she may have had in Catholicism, it is not likely that Emily Dickinson regarded suffering as a means of reparation or a burden that man must bear as a result of original sin. It is far more likely that her apparent paradoxical delight in suffering was part of an understanding of the value of opposites, and perhaps even part of an effort to construct her own private "religion," one that depended very little on a sense of sin and even less on a concept of natural depravity. Hopelessness and suffering are merely facts that the poet can live with, states that make up the texture of this life and keep it active, whereas to gain complete happiness or permanent ecstasy, "My Blue Peninsula," would be "To perish— of Delight." She seems to realize that suffering and failure are dynamic, whereas attainment, peace, and bliss are static. A moment of ecstasy can be a tremendous motive force, allowing one to tolerate repeated failures and a lifetime of suffering so long as they can be viewed as a means of attai.. ;3nt, of movement toward even greater and more enduring

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160 fulfillroent. The liay of Death, as we shall consider later, is made up of sacrifice and suffering, and though it may occasionally be regarded as a means of reparation, it is much more universally understood as a preparation of the soul for the reception of lasting bliss. In the third stanza of poem 627 she seems clearly to describe ecstasy as The Moments of Dominion That happen on the Soul And leave it V7ith a Discontent Too exquisite--to-tell— We look on the elements and creatures of nature for some further understanding: The eager look--on Landscapes— As if they just repressed Some Secret—that was pushing Like Chariots— in the Vest-The Pleading of the Suraner— That other Prank— of SnowThat Cushions Jfystery with Tulle, For fear the Squirrels--laaow. Their Graspless manners--mock us-Until the Cheated Eye Shuts arrogant ly--in the Grave-Another v>ay»-to seeUncertainty and skepticism, such as that described in the second chapter, again become evident. The "Cheated Eye" that found momentary illumination in ecstasy must now await death "to see" what was cut off from sight too soon. "Summer" ecstasy seemed to plead for renewal, but the "Prank— of Snow" or death "Cushions" the "Mystery" and makes it silent. To the seeker after a rebirth of bliss, nature offers only mockery. Tlie singularity of ecstatic experience and the inability to recover it are emphasised in poem 840:

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161 I cannot buy it— 'tis not sold— There Is no other in the WorldMine was the only one I was so happy I forgot To shut the Door And it went out And I am all alone— If I could find it Anjrwhere I would not mind the journey there Though it took all my store But just to look it in the Eye— "Did'st thou?" "Thou did'st not mean," to say. Then, turn my Face away. The third stanza recalls the type of quest Evelyn Underhill describes as "the long, hard journey towards a known and definite goal or state" (p, 129). The poet is here willing to sacrifice everything to make the journey "just to look it in the Eye." In poem 978 the moment of ecstasy is described as a flower that blooms once and is seen no more: It bloomed and dropt, a Single Noon— The Flower— distinct and Red— I, passing, thought another Noon Another in its stead Will equal glow, and thought no More But came another Day To find the Species disappeared— The Same Locality— The Sun in place— no other fraud On Nature's perfect SumHad I but lingered YesterdayWas my retrieveless blame— The significance of noon as a synonym for the intensity of ecstasy has been amply illustrated. Here the singularity of that noon is emphasized. Though the sun may be "in place," the noon of the blooming flower does not recur. The extent of her search and the depth of her loss are force-

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162 fully expressed in the last two stanzas: ^&lch Flowers of this and further Zones Have perished in my Hands For seeking its Resemblance-But unapproached it stands-That single Flower of the Earth, That I, in passing by Unconscious was— Great Nature's Face Passed infinite by Me— She now blames herself for not being fully conscious of the meaning of the experience, which evidently offered insight into the significance of "Great Nature's Face." Its passing by may have meant the loss of "infinite" knowledge. In poem 1057 she observes in herself two psychological reactions to the loss of bliss: I had a daily Bliss I half indifferent viewed Till sudden I perceived it stir-It grew as I pursued Till when around a Hight It wasted from ray sight Increased beyond my utmost scope I learned to estimate. We are unable fully to appreciate great happiness until it has ended, and the dimensions of an experience tend to increase as it recedes and we eagerly pursue it in hope of recovery. Tliese two results of loss begin to suggest its paradoxical gain. Loss magnifies the vision and opens all the pores of perception. It thus prepares for a fuller reception when bliss shall come again. In poem 118S she uses a favorite Renaissance metaphor as she describes the divine conquest of the interior self:

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163 *Tx-7as fighting for his Life he was— That sort accomplish well— The Ordnance of Vitality Is frugal of its Ball. It aims once— kills once— conquers once— There is no second War In that Campaign inscrutable Of the Interior, At this point she apparently feels there will be no second chance to experience the conquest of ecstasy, but then, in a sense, there is no need since one remains forever conquered thereafter. This may help to explain her inability to choose an exterior life once she had herself been chosen to receive the "Interior" boon of ecstasy. Being conquered by the experience, she is coEKaitted to the pursuit of mystical fulfillment. A kind of ambiguity exists in poem 1231 that would prompt some to call it a love poem. Indeed it is a love poem, but that it reflects love of a person is doubtful. It is far more probable that the poet expresses yearning for a bliss that now seems lost: Somewhere upon the general Earth Itself exist Today— The Magic passive but extant That consecrated me-This seems to place beyond reasonable doubt the poet's affirmation of a magical experience that left her with a sense of consecration. She herself has no doubt but ihat the "I-Iagic" is still "extant" and thus capable of touching her once more. Indifferent Seasons doubtless play UTiere I for right to be— Would pay each Atom that I am But Inmiortality— Reserving that but just to prove Another Date of Thee—

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164 Oh God of Width, do not for us Curtail Eternity! Supposing bliss to have location is only figurative, but she longs to achieve the status tliat would allow her to visit it once more. Her only reason for refusing to gamble "Iimaortality" is that it provides the best hope of "Another Date of Thee." It clearly is the "God of Width" she addresses and no earthly lever. The use of a dimension suggests the expansion of consciousness the encounter afforded her. Despite her desolation, she does not ask that eternity be shortened in exchange for another moment of earthly bliss. In coming to seek the more enduring state of unity, the mystic gradually comes to realize that momentary ecstasy will not suffice. In poem 1382 she makes it quite clear that bliss is v;ithout location: In many and reportlcss places We feel a Joy— Reportlcss, also, but sincere as Nature Or DeityIt cones, without a consternation-Dissolvcs--the sane— But leaves a sumptuous Destitution— Without a NameProfane it by a search— we cannot It has no home— Nor we who having once inhaled it-Thereafter roam. In the first stanza she associates ecstatic "Joy" with both "Nature" and "Deity." In the second she again observes that ecstasy cornea and goes unexpectedly. The wonderful expression "sumptuous Destitution" emphasizes the paradozv of loss, suggesting the richness implicit in suffering.

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165 Though she has tried in the past to rediscover bliss, in the final stanza she realizes that she can no longer "Profane it by a search," In fact, it "has no home," and those \^o experience it, themselves become homeless wanderers. To one for whwu home meant so much, the statement is particularly significant. Thougli Emily Dickinson cloistered herself at home in the physical sense, she was apparently homeless spiritually. Her refusal to join a church is further evidence of this. Tlius home involved its ovm pecular paradox:. In the following poem, 1333, the poet declares that time does not dim or cool the intensity of ecstatic experience. It only waits to be fanned into new life: Long Years apart— can make no Breach a second cannot fill— TIiG absence of the Witch does not Invalidate the spell— Tlie embers of a Thousand Years Uncovered by the liand Tliat fondled thcra when they were Fire Will gleam and understand The use of fire imagery is familiar in mystical literature as a means of expressing the splendid pain of ecstasy. Summarizing the metaphors in St. Teresa's Exclamations . E. Allison Peers says Its images are fevj and conanonp lace— wars, storms, fire and water, the Divine Eagle— and it contains nothing that can be called e:cpository. To quote P. Silver lo, it is a collection of "white-hot embers from the fire of the Saint's love, which despite the centuries that have passed since they were first vnritten in the sacred moments after her Coninunions, can still enkindle the hearts of those who read them.'f ^E. Allison Peers, Mother of Carii^l (New York, 1948), p. 106.

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166 Of course, fire metaphors, like those of war and water, are associated with erotic as well as nystical passion, but in her chapter on "Mysticism and Symbolism," Evelyn Underhill quotes J. B, Pratt as saying that 2 mystics use the language of human love because they have no other. She herself says, "Tlie phases of mutual love, of wooing and combat, awe and delight— the fevers of desire, the ecstasy of surrender--are dra^m upon and made to contribute something to the description of the great and secret drama of the soulV (p. 135). In looking back over the poecis that have been cited in this and the previous chapter, one may note the use of nearly all of these familiar love metaphors. The metaphorical use of seed, in poem 1744, was also discussed in the previous chapter. Tliere ecstasy was compared to a seed that remains in pod and is thus "Impregnable to Transit." In poem 1436 the poet reveals that heaven is the source of that seed : Than Heaven more remote. For Heaven is the root. But these the flitted seed. More flown indeed Than ones that never were. Or those that hide, and are. There is little doubt that the poet sees ecstasy as a momentary glimpse of some permanent bliss that may ultimately be enjoyed, but now ecstasy seems more remote and unavailable than heaven itself. The seed is more unreal than it \rould be if it had never e:cisted, more invisible even than those hidden sights of heaven. ^See footnote in Underhill, p. 138»

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167 IThat niadness, by their Bide, A vision to provide Of future days ISiey cannot praise. The vision of heaven that may have been provided by ecstasy now seems no more than madness since we cannot follow up that vision with deeper undcvstanding and praise. Hy soul, to find them, come. They cannot call, they're dumb. Nor prove, nor woo. But that they have abode Is absolute as God, And instant, too. She calls upon her soul to find the seeds of bliss that are now dispersed and cannot come to her. She is certain of their e::istence, and she Icnows that their appearance may be unexpected and instantaneous. As suggested in poem 1468, ecstasy is A speck of Rapture--first perceived By feelins it is gone— Again the parade?: of loss and gain: through the desolate feeling of loss, perception is gained. It is appropriate to conclude this section with poem 1581. Many of the metaphors already mentioned are found here, as well as an important new conceit: The farthest Thunder that I heard Was nearer than the Sky And rumbles still, though torrid Noons Have lain their missiles by-The Lightning that preceded it Struck no one but myself— But I would not exchange the Bolt For all the rest of LifeIndebtedness to (hqrgen The Happy may repay. But not the obligation To Electricity—

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168 It founds the Homes and decks the Days And every clamor bright Is but the yleam concomitant Of that waylayins Light— The Thought is quiet as a Flake— A Crash without a Sound, How Life's reverberation Its Explanation found— The thunder rumbling in the distance is a vivid reminder of the "torrid Noons" of ecstasy that have passed. An even more emphatic sjnaonym for ecstasy is the lightning that "Struck no one but myself" and that she would not exchange "For all the rest of Life." This is perhaps the clearest of all her declarations of a sublime moment of rapture, and it is combined with the idea of being singled out— the divine election. Moreover, she will not give up the metaphor until she has exhausted other implications of lightning. 0:
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169 II Up to this point paradox has frequently been noted in the poems that describe loss of ecstasy. Thus the einphasis has been on loss, and parado:: has been incidental. In what follows the emphasis is on paradoxical feelings in general, and loss will be treated incidentally. Before turning to the poems that e;ipress paradoxical feelings, a few comaeatB need to be made on the method of paradox itself and its relevance to mysticism. The language of the mystic is rich in paradox; it is perhaps the most common figure of speech. Tragedy, of course, is also steeped in paradox. Recognition of this common ground between mysticism and tragedy encourages some speculation as to the cause. One wonders if the source of the tv;o may not be the same, and it is soon obvious that this is so. Both touch upon something very fundeunental in human experience: the dichotomy between real and ideal, flesh and spirit, the temporal and the timeless, that is the basis of religion. Both tragedy and mysticism grow out of religion, vjhich is the broad term we give to that earliest hunger of man to transcend his real world, his transient flesh, and his temporal life. The essence of paradox is visible in those very dichotomies just mentioned: real and ideal, flesh and spirit, the temporal and the timeless. Paradox is built on the proposition that opposites sometimes give way to each other, or even become each other: the concept of Heraclitus knovm as Concordia discors or the identification of opposites, already mentioned. All things, he says, come into being and pass away by strife.

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170 by the tension of opposites. In his system all things came from the world fire, an ever-burning source of energy, which seems to correspond to the sun. IJhat seems solid and unyielding in its temporal state becomes fluid or vaporous when touched by fire. Thus solid is transformed into its opposite, and later in the cycle returns to its original state. We cannot, then, trust the impression given by the senses. It is not necessary to accept the system of Heraclitus to find the identification of opposites a persuasive principle. VJe have all observed that tears at times turn to laughter, that tragedy slips into comedy, and that life emerges out of death. The nr^stic is even more intimately acquainted with this phenomenon because his mind is a crucible lAiere two worlds merge. What is nourishment in one world may mean starvation in the other; Tirtiat is sacrifice in one may be fulfillment in the other; what is wealth in one may be poverty in the other; what is renunciation in one may be c:diilaration in the other; and what is agony in one may be ecstasy in the other. This is the kind of parado:c to be observed in Emily Dickinson's poetry. Ac evident in some of the poems just cited, what was loss to the emotions ultimately became a gain in spiritual understanding. The metaphysical poets, particularly John Donne, IMMt alntost obsessed with paradoxes of this kind; "Love's riddles are, that though thy heart depart,/ It stays at home, and thou with losing savest it" CLovers' Infiniteness"); "Therefore that he may raise the Lord throws down" ("Hymn to God liy God, in My Sickness"); "That I may rise and stand, o'er throw me" and "Take me to you, imprison me, for 1/ Except you

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171 enthrall me, never shall be free,/ Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me" (Holy Sonnet XIV), Basil Willey sums up the importance of paradox to Donne, the other Metaphysicals, and to Christianity itself: Perhaps the most important source of Donne's conceits (and this applies also to other poets of his time and type, such as George Herbert and Crashaw) is his sense of underlying and all-embracing paradox: Oh, to vex me, contraries meet in one . . . Tliis sense he owed chiefly to his training in Christian doctrine, which is based upon profound paradoxes. In the teaching of Christ himself there is a continual reversal of the ^rorld's values and expectations: the child, the prodigal son, the publicans and sinners are nearer the kingdom of Heaven than the self-righteous and the Pharisaical; to gain your life you must lose it; the first shall be last, and the last first. But above all there are the most tremendous of all paradoxes— the union of God and man in the Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us; and the paradox of the cross, where victory and redemption are snatched from death itself. The habit of mind which comes from continual dvjelling upon these and other meaningful contradictions is responsible, I believe, for much that is distinctive of "Metaphysical" poetry. . . .^ Critics have observed the similarity between Emily Dickinson's verse and that of the Metaphysicals, and some have assumed her indebtedness to Donne in particular. The most striking similarity is perhaps their capacity for intense and dramatic spiritual experience. That capacity, combined with the poetic genius both possessed, is sufficient basis for their similar use of paradox. If Christian doctrine, as Willey says, is "based upon profound paradoxes," it is largely because that doctrine derives from Greek philosophy wherein dualism and monism came into conflict. Paradox Is a linguistic device that tries to reconcile dualism and monism. Perhaps it is ^Basil Willey, Introduction to John Donne in Major British Writers. ed. G. B. Harrison (New York, 1959), p. 363.

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172 more accurate still to say that paradox is a method within language of trying to counteract the dualism inherent in language itself. We tend to see the vorld dualistically because the mind is largely shaped by a linguistic logic that can account for only half of the nature of phenomena at a time. Thus we come to assume that the nature of reality is dual and hence separable, yet intuition nilitanes against such a conception. Mysticism, whether Christian or non-Christian, is concerned above all with dissolving the barrier of dualism. (This point is taken up in greater detail in chapters V and VII.) Thus paradox is typical of mysticism, wherever and in whatever religious setting it may be found. It is not peculiarly a Christian device but more generally a mystical device. Mysticism tends to override the limits of any given religion or culture. The single aim of the true Zen follower is so to train his mind that all thought processes based on the dualism inseparable from "ordinary" life are transcended, their place being taken b, that Intuitive Knowledge which, for the first time, reveals to a man what he really is. . . . Those who have actually achieved this tremendous experience, whether as Christians, Buddhists or members of other faiths, are agreed as to the impossibility of comcainicating it in words. . . . It will noxij be clear that Zen Masters do not employ paradoxes from a love of cheap mystification, though they do occasionally make humorous use of them when humour seems needed. Usually, it is the utter impossibility of describing the Supreme Experience which explains the paradoxical nature of their speech. To affirm or deny is to limit; to limit is to shut out the light of truth; but, as v/ords of some sort must bo used in order to set disciples on to the right path, there naturally arises a series of paradoxes-sometlmes of paradox within paradox within paradox.^ "The Zen Teaching of Huang Po on the Transmission of Mind" in The World of Zen, ed. Nancy Wilson Ross (New York, 1960), p. o7.

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173 Emily Dickinson' c fondness for paradox may or may not have derived from a Christian background, but it is fairly certain that it was part of her inclination toward mysticism. The paradox of pain and bliss or anguish and ecstasy is one of the most familiar in mystical writing, and it is perhaps the one Emily Dickinson uses most frequently. It has three basic levels of meaning. The first suggests that an emotion or sensation is rendered more acute after one has been exposed to its opposite. It may, in fact, depend on its opposite to be recognized. We know and appreciate sunlight, for example because we have been long in darkness. Sx;cetncss is sweeter because we have tasted the sour. We comprehend the good because we have witnessed evil. At the second level pain is looked upon as a necessary preparation or payment for bliss: the traditional principle of sacrifice. The most ample expression of the idea is referred to in literature as the paradox of the Fortunate Fall, which refers specifically to the Fall of Adam in the Garden that prepared for and made necessary the coming of Christ. The tradition, however, is much more xd.despread and the application much broader. In nature we obsei-ve that the death of winter prepares for the rebirth of spring, that the death of all living organisms is necessary to the nourishment of new life. In the Old Testament the doctrine or motif of the Remnant, a recurring pattern in the boolcs of prophecy, is a manifestation of the principle, and so is the story of the Suffering For extensive treatment of the subject see Herbert Weisinger, Tragedy and the Paradox of the Fortunate Fall (Mchigan State College Press, 1953).

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174 Servant. In the New Testament the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and even baptisn are illustrations of the paradox that a death and burial must take place before there can be a rebirth. There must be a going down into flesh before flesh can be transcended, a period of sufferins before reward, a Good Friday before an Easter Sunday. The third level of meaning is more profound and more specifically mystical in character. Here pain and bliss are actually identified. The sensation of pain is itself described as blissful; ecstasy is sometimes felt as anguish. St. Teresa, for e::ar5>le, in a vision described in my last chapter, declares that her heart was pierced by a golden spear with a tip of red-hot iron, causing a "greater bliss than any that can come from the wiiole of creation."^ Bernini's sculptured impression of the ecstasy can be seen in the Vatican. The range of these meanings can be traced in Emily Dickinson's poetry. In an early poem, number 63, she gives examples of the painful dark that prepares for the ecstasy of noon: If pain for peace prepares Lo, what "Augustan" years Our feet await I If springs from winter rise. Can the Anemones Be reckoned up? If night stands first— then noon To gird us for the sun, \^iat gazel Peers, p. 28,

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175 IJhen fror.1 a thousand skies On our developed eyes Noons blase i In the first stanza she seems to see pain as necessary preparation for the "Ausustan" pa:; Rotaana of heaven. In the second she cites the exaiuple of life emerglns out of the death of winter, perhaps the niost primitive suggestion in nature of the concept of the Fortunate Fall. In the last two stanzas she stresses that our eyes are "developed" by darkness for the amazement of the moment when "Noons blase." "Developed" is a highly suggestive word in this context; it becoraes obvious that pain is the vital experience in developing our capacity for ecstasy. Poem 125 states the theme of compensation even more clearly: For each extatic instant We must an anguish pay In keen and quivering ratio To the extasy. For each beloved hour Sharp pittances of years — Bitter contested farthings-And Coffers heaped with Tearal It is an incredibly uneven "ratio" : not merely the exchange of instant for instant, but "For each beloved hour/ Sharp pittances of years." As indicated earlier, an entire lifetime of sacrifice may be required in exchange for a single moment of ecstasy. Poem 135 again illustrates the principle of preparation through which pain teaches us to appreciate pleasure: Water, is taught by thirst. Land— by the Oceans passed, Transport--by throe-Peace— by its battles told-Love, by Memorial MoldBirds, by the Snox/.

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176 By being deprived, we are taught to savor each of those values we might otherwise take for granted. Among them is "Transport" or bliss, which we are taught by "throe" or pain to perceive more poignantly. It is death that teaches "Love." The second level of meaning in the paradox begins to appear in poem 165: A Wounded Deer— leaps highest-I've heard the Hunter tell— •Tis but the Extasy of death — And then the Brake is still*. The Smitten Rock that gushes'. The trai.ipled Steel that springs'. A Cheek is always redder Just where the Hectic stings'. Mirth is the Llail of AnguishIn which it Cautious Arm, Lest anybody spy the blood And "you're hurt" exclaiml Pain is not merely a preparation or payment for bliss here; the experience of pain is itself "Ecstasy." The italicized "Wounded ." "Smitten ." and "trampled " recall the first few lines of Donne's famous Holy Sonnet XIV: Batter my heart, three-personed God; for, you As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend; That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new. In both poems violent punishment is looked upon as a means of tempering and bringing out the finest qualities. Just as the steel is " trampled ," Donne asks God to "burn" him. In some paradoxical way extreme pain forces us to the very limits of capability, releasing a reservoir of unIcnown energy, a second wind, as it were. Death, being the ultimate pain.

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177 is the ultimate ecstasy. Yet, as noted in the last stanza, the value of the suffering may be lost through sympathy if "Anguish" does not "Arm" itself in "Mirth." Tlie theme of preparation and learning is again stressed in poem 167. She defines the "Sovreign Anguish" that is received on high as a hymn of praise: To learn the Transport by the PainAs Blind Men learn the suni To die of thirst— suspecting That Brooks in Meadows run'. To stay the homesick— homesick feet Upon a foreign shore-Haunted by native lands, the while— And blue— beloved air I This is the Sovreign Anguish I This— the signal wol These are the patient "Laureates" Whose voices— trained— below-Ascend in ceaseless CarolInaudible, indeed, To us-"the duller scholars Of the Ifysterious Bard! Pain is the radiation the "Blind" feel, and ecstasy the sun's center. As one approaches the center, the physical sensorium dissolves, leaving only pure flame. Thus to feel pain is to know that bliss is near, so much a sign of one is the other. "To die of thirst" is all the more excruciating because wo suspect "That Brooks in Meadows run," that relief and fulfillment lie just beyond our reach. To cling to the "foreign shore" of the earth is to remain homesick, tantalized by the blue of heaven and the bodiless buoyancy of air. Yet our patience in bearing these woes is like a poem or hymn that ascends "Inaudible" to God. The voices must be

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178 "trained— below" if they are to be heard above; the idea that this life is a place of training or testing is, of course, a common one in Christian theolosy. In tho absence of a formal profession of faith, which she could not in conscience make, Emily Dickinson may well have looked upon her life as a poem, as well as her work, hoping that her voluntary solitude and sacrifice might be accepted as a "ceaseless Carol" to "the Mysterious Bard." T^jo of the three levels of paradox are brought together here. Pain is not only preparation for bliss and a poem to God; to feel pain is to come as near to absolute bliss as we dare in this physical frame. Similarly, in a choice couplet from poem 207, "Agony" itself is depicted as a savory brew: Transporting must the moment be— Brewed from decades of Agony I To return good for evil, one of the highest of ethical principles, is so much a turning upside down of the world's mode of revenge that it too may be considered a paradox. Poem 238, like 165, illustrates this paradoxical response: Kill your Balm— and its Odors bless you— Bare your Jessamine— to the storm — And she will fling her maddest perfume — Haply--your Sumuer night to CharmStab the Bird— that built in your bosom— Oh, could you catch her last RefrainBubble I "forgive"— "Some better"— Bubble' "Carol for Him — when I am gone" I Instead of deer, rock, and steel, as in poem 165, here it is balm, jessamine, and bird that give their utmost in return for pain. In an act of love they give praise in return for punishment. The bird's last request, in fact, recalls the conclusion of poem 167; "Carol for Him" echoes the

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179 "ceaselesG Carol" to tho "Mysterious Bard." The bird forgives as it dies. In this as in its return of love for punishment, it re-enacts the paradox of the Crucifixion. Two of the three levels of paradox are juxtaposed in a pair of poeras that are very similar in structure and length: 771 and 772. In the first the poet states the general principle of dependence whereby a feeling is recognized by contrast with its opposite: None can experience stint \^o Bounty--have not Icno^m-The fact of Famine--could not be Except for Fact of Corn-Want— is a meagre Art Acquired by Reverse— The Poverty that was not Wealth-Cannot be Indigence In the second poem the theme of payment is stressed. The extent of pain necessary to buy the ultimate bliss is estimated: Tlie hallowing of Pain Like hallo\;invi of Heaven, Obtains at a corporeal cost— The summit is not given To Him wlio strives se\'ere At middle of the HillBut He who has achieved the TopAll— is the price of All— The "Sumnit" or the "All" is obtained only at the ultimate "corporeal cost," which is apparently nothing short of death. In poem 984 the subject, though not named, is apparently a vision of the Resurrection described in paradoxical terras: 'Tis Anguish grander than Delight 'Tis Resurrection Pain— The meeting Bands of smitten Face We questioned to, again.

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180 'Tis Transport wild as thrills the Graves I'lhen Cerements let go And Creatures clad in Miracle Go up by Two and Two. The first line of each stanza describes a kind of rapture inherent in agony itself. Such may be the poet's vision of mystical fulfillment. In poem 1297 the anticipation of an ecstatic meeting arouses such paradoxical feelings that they can only dictate frustrating and contradictory demands: Go slow, ray soul, to feed chyself Upon his rare approach-Go rapid, lest Competing Death Prevail upon the Coach — Go timid, lest his final eye final/testing/blazing Determine thee amissGo boldly— for thou paid'st his price Redemption— for a Kiss— Redemption/ Thy Total/ Thy Being As suggested by the religious paradoxes that illustrate the Fortunate Fall, the requirements of the divine lover are such that the soul must remain in perpetual but breathless dileniiia. The variant readings help to illustrate the intense scrutiny of his "testing" eye and the payment of total being that is exacted. In the chapter on ecstasy two poems were cited that describe the transporting music of biids before dawn. This phenomenon must have had a special effect on the poet, for it is mentioned again in poem 1420, this time in terms of paradox: One Joy of so much anguish Sweet nature has for me I shun it as I do Despair Or dear iniquityWhy Birds, a Summer morning Before the Quick of Day

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181 Should stab my ravished spirit With Dirks of Melody Is part of an inquiry That will receive reply When Flesh and Spirit sunder In Death's Immediately— This poem illustrates several themes that are explored throughout this study. It could be included among the poems that describe ecstasy e:cperienced through nature, more specifically those that identify ecstasy with summer. Moreover, it illustrates the sensory ecstasy of music, the "Dirks of Melody" that "stab my ravished spirit." These vaguely erotic terras prefigure the poems of ravishment discussed in the last chapter. Finally the poem illustrates the third level of meanin;^ in the paradox of pain and bliss, wherein the two opposites--here "Joy" and "anguish""are actually identified. The use of paradox is abundant in Emily Dickinson's poetry, but the poems mentioned here exemplify the range of those with mystical connotations. Most are concerned with the paradox of pain and bliss, at its various levels of meaning, or with the paradox of loss and gain. A few others may be briefly summarized that contain at least one paradox with mystical or skeptical overtones. Poem 689 offers five illustrations of what opposites teach us, concluding with the couplet: "Paralysis— our Primer— dumb--/ Unto Vitality I" Poem 1133 declares that "We buy with contrast," and 1168 notes that bliss and woe "are of equal years," both incredibly ancient inhabitants in human nature. Poem 1334 seems to describe the grave or coffin paradoxically as a soft prison, "Incarceration— Home," but poem 1503 looks more skeptically and despairingly upon the grave and the eternity

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182 that "adheres" to It: More than the Grave is closed to rae— The Grave and that Eternity To which the Grave adhercs-I cling to nowhere till I fall— The Crash of nothino, yet of allHow similar appears— The paradox of all and nothing is not uncommon to the skeptic. Unable to cling to any theological support, Emily Dickinson must at times have felt that even though all depended on her acceptance, she could profess faith in nothing. Poem 1562 is a fitting conclusion to the poems of paradox in that it so exemplifies Emily Dickinson's attitude toward pain, loss, and the other apparent punishments of fate. Like the previous poem, it shows something of the emptiness she must occasionally have felt, both In her cloistered life and in the lonely religious position she had taken and maintained throughout the years: Her Losses make our Gains ashamed-She bore Life's empty Pack As gallantly as if the East Were STJinginj at her Back. Life's empty Pack is heaviest. As every Porter knows-In vain to punish Honey-It only sweeter grows . In spite of the weight of enq)tine8S, Emily Dickinson's life was surely filled with the rich treasures of bliss available through mystical contradiction. TThatever punishment fate decreed, she was able to translate it into the houey of language that "only sweeter grows" as we reach deeper into the hive of meaning.

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CHAPTER V ILLUMINATION: TRANSCENDENT CONCEPTS OF REALITY This chapter concerns the poems that touch upon Emily Dickinson's conceptions of being and reality. The attenq)t here is not to find or try to produce a fully worked-out system. Emily Dickinson possessed a poetic and not a philosophical cast of mind, though the two are not entirely incompatible. The term "Metaphysical" applied to such poets as Donne and Herbert implies that in them a marriage of poet and philosopher was consummated, but even here it is doubtful. If Samuel Johnson, who called them that, intended the term to be taken seriously, he probably had in mind the combined effect of dialectical, philosophical, and religious elements in their poetry rather than any systematic concern with cosmology or ontology, the two branches of metaphysics. Emily Dickinson was even less philosophical and systematic than they were, but even she has left us memorable poetic expressions of her unique conceptions of being. In the beginning of her book on mysticism, Evelyn Underbill discusses "the great classic theories concerning the nature of reality": naturalism, idealism, and philosophic skepticism. For the naturalist the real world is that revealed by the senses. The idealist, on the contrary, considers that "all life, all phenomena are the endless modifications and expressions of the one transcendent Object, the mighty and dynamic Thought of one Absolute Thinker." The skeptic says, "The external world . . . is--80 far as I know it— a concept present in my 183

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184 mind. If vay mind ceased to exist, so far as I know the concept which I call the world would cease to exist too" (pp. 8-15). It Is easy to see that Idealism Implies belief In the principle of cosmic unity. The apparent diversity of the sensory world can be explained by constructing an absolute and considering all forms to be manifestations of it. The urge to do so can be traced at least as far back as the Milesian School of pre-Socratic philosophy. Thales considered water to be the unifying substance; Anaxlmander, the boundless; Anaximenes, air. A modern echo of the effort can be seen in Einstein's attempt to develop a unified field theory. Underbill says that Christianity and Buddhism are also idealistic in their conception of being. However, as Henry Adams humorously makes clear in his account of Abelard's debate with William of Champeaux, the theory of universals, implied by idealism, has always had to follow a circuitous course to avoid falling into the pit of pantheism— once considered heresy and still regarded as unorthodox. In spite of this problem, it is certainly true that a deep sense of the unity of all things and a compulsion to seek identity with the One has long been regarded as one of the distinctive marks of the mystic. Bertrand Russell states both the fact and its implications: "One of the most convincing aspects of the mystic illumination is the apparent revelation of the oneness of all things, giving rise to pantheism in religion and to monism in philosophy." 1 Russell, "Mysticism and Logic," p. 18.

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185 Since Emily Dickinson seems at times to share with the mystic the idealist conception of reality, it is well to ask some of the unanswerable questions posed by this conception. Does the physical world have any substantial reality, or is it mere illusion, as Parmenides declared? The question is ultimately raised by the skeptic as well as by the idealist. Do man and God exist separately or does man's mind merely participate in the mind of God, in the way the Stoics conceived of the Logos? In short, is God immanent in the world, as pantheism assumes, or is he a transcendent being to whom man's spirit must ascend? Is God active and dynamic energy, pervading the world, as the Vitalists hold, or is he eternal essence, perpetually at rest, as the metaphysician be2 lieves? The questions are indeed unanswerable, but a study of Emily Dickinson's relation to the intuitions of mysticism would not be complete if they were not brought to light. They focus our attention on what Evelyn Underbill calls "the two extreme forms under which both mystics and theologians have been accustomed to conceive Divine Reality: that is to say, the so-called 'emanationtheory' and ' imiianence-theory' of the transcendental \rorld." According to the emanation theory, "the path of the soul's ascent to union with the divine must be literally a transcendence: a journey 'upward and outward'." The inraanence theory, on the other hand, holds that "the Quest of the Absolute is no long journey, but a realization of something which is implicit in the self and in the universe: an opening of the eyes of the soul upon the reality in which ^See Underbill, pp. 35-36.

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186 it is bathed." The apparent opposition of these two philosophies is deceptive. They need not be mutually exclusive. In fact. Underbill believes that both theories "convey a certain truth; and ... it is the business of a sound mystical philosophy to reconcile them" (pp. 96101). It seems to me there is a certain incongruity in the words "sound mystical philosophy." The mystical temperament is not often complemented by an intelligence oriented toward philosophical speculation, and one wonders by what standard the soundness of a mystical philosophy might be judged. "Sound" is a standard term of the scientist and the logician, and a mystical philosophy is hardly likely to be pronounced sound frcnn the point of view of science or logic. One is inclined to believe that the mystic is probably unaware of or unconcerned with the conflict between immanence and emanation, even though his words may at times give an impression of one theory or the other. To communicate, the mystic must use a vocabulary that is based on a conception of reality comprehensible to his readers, and his own apparent concern with a particular conception of reality may well be an unintentional linguistic side effect. Underbill later contends that "the artist, the poet, every one \^o looks with awe and rapture on created things, acknowledges in this act the Immanent God" whereas the ascetic and the metaphysician, "turning from the created, denying the senses in order to find afar off the uncreated, unconditioned Source, is really--though often he knows it not— obeying that psychological law which produced the doctrine of Emanations" (p. 103).

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187 These assertions. It eeeius to me, are valuable only so long as we see that we are talking about an area of theoretical knowledge and understanding that lies beyond sensory experience and hence beyond purely denotative linguistic expression. Since this is so, it seems somewhat presumptuous to categorize and limit the artist, the poet, and the metaphysician. What is to prevent any one of the three from being also a mystic? And as Underbill herself contends, the mystic should be able to incorporate and reconcile both points of viev;, both the imma» nence and the emanation theories. She emphasizes the point by stating that the Vitalist, man-oriented conception of dynamic becoming, which is pantheistic, is but "half a truth" to the mystic, the other half being the metaphysical, God-oriented conception of Pure Being or essence, which Is transcendental (p. 35). Thus the mystic sometimes seeks reality within, through self-knowledge, and sometimes without, through self-annihilation. Again it needs to be emphasized that these considerations cannot be applied systematically to Emily Dickinson's poetry. Even so it may be possible to find poetic evidence to show that her conception of reality was as rich and varied as that of the mystic. The purpose of exploring various concepts of reality in these opening paragraphs is to provide a context within which selections from the poetry may be me«mIngf ul . In the early poetry, as might be expected, the conception of reality is typically dualistic. Poem 24 is a fairly lucid statement of belief in an unseen reality. The first and last stanzas are sufficient

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188 to illustrate it: There Is a morn by men unseen-Whose maids upon remoter green Keep their Seraphic May-And all day long, with dance and game. And gambol I may never name— Employ their holiday. Like thee to dance— like thee to sing-People upon the mystic green— I ask, each new May Morn. I wait thy far, fantastic bells-Announcing me in other delis-Unto the different dawn*. The last stanza is a plea that the poet may ultimately transcend to "the mystic green," vrtiose great distance fr<»n the physical earth is implied in such terms as "thy far, fantastic bells" and "the different dawn." It is an "unseen" world, a "mystic" world, a "different" world, and one of perpetual life or "green" that she envisions. In all these respects it is unlike this temporal existence, which must be transcended if the other is to be reached. In poem 172 she describes in terms of celebration the sense of victory she will surely feel upon reaching it: And if I gain*. Oh Gun at Seal Oh Bells, that in the Steeples bel At first, repeat it slow! For Heaven is a different thing. Conjectured, and waked sudden in— And might extinguish mel Again the poet stresses that "Heaven is a different thing." It can only be "conjectured" in this life, and to attain it "might extinguish" our very being. This seems to affirm the distinction between temporal and

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189 eternal being, as opposed to the monistic Parmenidean principle of changeless being. Perhaps it is only in that transcendent world that one achieves true being and identity. Poem 174 points to this possibility: At last, to be identified'. At last, the lamps upon thy side The rest of Life to seel Past llidniglitl Past the Itorning Star'. Past Sunrise I Ah, IJhat leagues there were Between our feet, and Dayl Unlike the separation implied in the preceding poem, "The rest of Life to see" suggests the continuity of being. Yet, as the next stanza tells us, there is still a great distance "Between our feet, and Day," That distance is marked in terms of time more than space. Number 306 is the first of the metaphysical poems with clearly mystical connotations. He gain the definite impression here that the transcendent state of being is not so much a matter of future time and distant place as of spiritual cultivation: The Soul's Superior instants Occur to Her— alone — VThen friend— and Earth's occasion Have infinite withdrawn— Or She--Her self —ascended To too remote a Right For lower Recognition Than Her Omnipotent — Necessary to the soul's transcendence are solitude and withdrawal from "Earth's occasion." Under such conditions, the soul may "Herself" ascend to a "remote"height; the ascent is not dependent on the involuntary

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190 occurrence of death. At such a height the soul is recognized only by "Her Omnipotent"— a suggestion of Deity. This Mortal Abolition Is seldoia--but as fair As Apparition — subject To Autocratic AirEternity's disclosure To favorites-a few— Of the Colossal substance Of Iraoortality "Mortal Abolition" surely means the momentary transcendence of the flesh. Though "seldom," it does occur in this life "To favorites— a few," and the poet uses a barrage of powerful adjectives, including two of what Chase calls her "broad" words. Eternity and Immortality, to signify its momentousness. Can there be any doubt that the "disclosure" described here is considered an emanation? Tlie poet's unwillingness to name God as the source of the vision may be a significant aspect of her skepticism, or it may be merely her acceptance of the namelessness of Yahweh. The source she does name, "the Colossal substance/ Of Imnortality," is perhaps more honest and no less convincing as an affirmation of mystical experience. Poem 378 is an impressionistic description of transcendence. The terms are ambiguous but tantalizing; the scene is cosmic and filled with upwardstruggling motions : I saw no Way— The Heavens were stitched— I felt the Columns close— The Earth reversed her Hemispheres— I touched the Universe— And back it slid— and I alone— A Speck upon a Ball—

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191 Went out upon Circumference— Beyond the Dip of Bell— The terms "stitched" and "close" convey a sense of momentary frustration in the attempt to surmount the terrestrial. Then we are given a curious picture. The poet seems to be below the surface of the earth, ^ose clam-shell halves slide into aach other, opening and exposing her to the universe. Tlien the halves slide back into place, leaving her on the "Circiimference," another "broad" word, here indicating the outer limits of human comprehension. The picture of being "alone—/ A Speck upon a Ball" conveys an eerie sense of man's insignificance and solitude in the vast universe. Tlie experience is not only transcendental but frightening. It is by no means a comforting transcendence to the bosom of God, such as might be found in a religious poem or in the mystical \jriting of Christian saints. Instead, it is an awesome transcendence into the silent expanse of space where the poet seems to grasp what she previously called the "Colossal substance/ Of Inmortality." Though the word "Judgment" may suggest a more conventional religious expectatioii, poem 524 is really another description of the soul's escape into solitude: Departed— to the Judgment-A Miglity AfternoonGreat Clouds— like Ushers— leaningCreation-looking on— The Flesh— Surrender ed--Cancelled— The Bodiless-'begun— Two Worlds— like Audiences— disperse— And leave the Soul— alone— Again we are shown the scene of an awesome cosmic drama. All creation

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192 is the audience. The conception of reality is that of Platonic dualism: "The Flesh— Surrendered— Cancelled— / The Bodiless— begun." But the soul does not find a home in either vrorld, the physical or the bodiless. Both worlds "like Audiences— disperse," leaving the soul in the vacuum between. Here again, though it is clearly a poem of transcendence, there is no religious consolation. The soul does not find comfort in the next v;orld: only silence and solitude and the splendor of its vast domain. The impression of transcendence itself is mystical, but the destiny envisioned, in regard to the hopes of conventional religion, is skeptical. In poem 552 the conception of reality is quite different. Here the poet, like Parmenides, seems to deny the reality of change. The apparent changes xreought by death ("Sunset") are only illusion, contributing to our ignorance of the real: An ignorance a Sunset Confer upon the Eye— Of Territory— ColorCircumference— DecayIts Amber Revelation Exhilirate— Debase— Omnipotence' inspection Of Our inferior face— And when the solemn features Confirm— in Victory— We 8tart--as if detected In Inmortality— "Sunset" is symbolic not only of death but of the changing light by vrtiich reality is revealed. In either sense it distorts. It gives the impression of "Territory" and boundary ("Circumference") when there is really only one eternal substance. Its fading "Amber" light creates an illusion of color when there is really only the white. And as death, it

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193 gives the deceptive image of decay. These Illusions exhilarate in that they heighten the sense of urgency that makes us cling to the sensory world. But they also "Debase" by convincing us of our transient weakness and vulnerability to time. They are really a means of God's ("Omnipotence'") testing and "inspection/ Of Our inferior face" to determine our soul's resistance to the false hazards of change. And when our steadfastness confirms us "in Victory" over time, we find ourselves "In Immortality." Even here the gaining of immortality is more a matter of spiritual cultivation, of passing the test of illusion, than it is a reward conferred after death. Death, in fact, is unreal. Still clearer affirmation of the endlessness of being is found in poem 565. The last two stanzas illustrate an interesting comparison of body and being: A Small Leech— on the Vitals— The sliver, in the Lung— The Bung out— of an ArteryAre scarce accounted— HarmsYet mighty— by relation To that Repealless thing— A Being— impotent to endWhen once it has begun— The leech, the sliver, and the uncorked artery "Are scarce accounted— Harms" in themselves but are "mighty" in that they can bring death to the body, whereas nothing can bring death to "Being." By any one of the means mentioned we could terminate our own physical existence, but we are "impotent to end" our own being. In poem 661 the bee is like a bodiless being. It has liberty to ride, visit, dwell, run away, and "jump Peninsulas." The poem concludes thus :

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194 I said "But just to be a Bee" Upon a Raft of Air And row in Nowliere all Day long And anchor "off the Bar" What Liberty 1 So Captives deem Who tight in Dungeons are. The "Captives" are like the prisoners in Plato's cave who look upon the physical world as real. Plato again and again refers to the body as the prison house of the soul. Here Emily Dickinson seems to conqpare the bee's freedom to that ideal life in which the soul will be released. Thus her conception of reality apparently conforms once more to Platonic dualism. Poem 675 seems inconspicuous at first. Once "the gift of Screws" is understood to mean a press, the meaning breaks through delightfully: the perfume made from rose petals outlasts the rose itself and even "the Lady" who uses it to scent her drawer. This should be enough for a poem to say, but then such words as "Essential" and "Suns" and "Summer" want to say more: Essential Oils— are wrung-The Attar from the Rose Be not eicpressed by Suns— aloneIt is the gift of Screws— The General Rose— decayBut this— in Lady's Drav/er Make Sunner— liBien the Lady lie In Ceaseless RosemaryCould it be that another of Plato's conceptions of reality is hidden here: the theory of Essences? I*at is true of the rose may be true of any other essence. In each case it outlasts the vehicle which contains it. The essence is not brought out "by Suns— alone," that is, by the daylight of earthly life. "It is the gift of Screws," the pain of death. The body.

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195 like "The General Rose*decay, " but the essence is released by the body's death to dwell in perpetual summer or ecstasy. The "Ceaseless Roseoary" that perfumes the lady's s^^ave compares to "The Attar from the Rose" that scented her drawer. Both are ceaseless odors, both disembodied essences. The coffin is even a kind of drawer tdiere the lady herself is put away. Poem 721 expresses the poet's concept of her place in time: Behind Me—dips EternityBefore Me— Immortality— Myself--the Term betvjeen-Death but the Drift of Eastern Gray, Dissolvins into Dawn away. Before the XVest begin— Eternity and immortality compose the only ultimate reality. Death is merely a momentary gray mist on the dawn of immortality. The second stanza, not quoted here, describes the kingdoms of "pauseless Monarchy" and the "Dateless Dynasty" of the prince who rules in iranortality. The last stanza contrasts the tv;o ways one may view the ax^esomeness of this cosmic scene, either as a miracle or as a frightening whorl: 'Tis Miracle before Me— then-'Tis Miracle behind— betweenA Crescent in the Sea— With Midnight to the North of Her— And Midnight to the South of Her— And Maelstrom— in the SkyLife is surrounded on all sides by endlessness and covered by storm, Conibining the first and third stanzas, v/e see it as a "Crescent," an unfulfilled circle, between eternity and immortality. In one guise they appear as the womb giving birth to the "Miracle" of creation, but they may also be seen as the "Midnight" void of chaos. The poet finds

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196 exhilaration in this awesome concept of time and the cosmos that seems so frightening to others. As she had told Abiah Root, she loved the danger. The contrast of "Crescent in the Sea" to "Maelstrom— in the Sky" suggests the calmness of her own cosmic acceptance beside the turbulence and fear felt by some. The themes of inmortality and eternity recur in poem 327. They are the primary concerns of her isolated life: The Only News I know Is Bulletins all Day From Immortality. The Only Shows I see— Tomorrow and TodayPerchance Eternity— These lines again tell us that, for her, immortality and eternity constitute the only reality, ^k)reover, her ability to receive "Bulletins" from immortality and to witness "Shows" in eternity suggests the perceptions of the mystic. In poem 974 the poet becomes quite literal about the value of danger in revealing to us the awesome reality of immortality: The Soul's distinct connection With inanortality Is best disclosed by Danger Or quick Calamity— As Lishtning on a landscape E:diibits Sheets of Place-Not yet suspected— but for Flash— And Click— and Suddenness. Danger, here compared to "Lightning," is like the sudden blinding light of the mystic vision. The mystic's ability to see beyond the ordinary landscape of earth, to discern the outlines of eternity and immortality, may well be tied to an acceptance of danger. This is another point at

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197 which Emily Dickinson's mystical and skeptical tendencies meet. The skeptic too is willing--even eager--to accept the danger of an untried opinion, to base his hopes and destiny on the hard stones of his own intellect rather than on the more comfortable planks of orthodoxy. When she told Abiah Root that "the shore is safer . . . but I love to buffet the sea," one wonders if she did not find there both the stimulation of a slightly heretical skepticism and the mystic lightning that revealed a cosmology her contemporaries could scarcely imagine. Not only does danger relate us to immortality, but so does want: Satisfaction--is the Agent Of Satiety— Want--a quiet Comissary For Infinity. To possess, is past the instant We achieve the Joy-Immortality contented Were Anomaly. (Poem 1036) This is clearly a dynamic conception of immortality. It is not something at rest like Plato's Pure Being; instead, it is continuously unfolding, like Aristotelian Becoming. Emily Dickinson could never rest in the satiety of "right" religious thinking. The entelechy that moved her toward comprehension of infinity and immortality was identical with want and wonder. One of the finest poetic descriptions of awakening, of transcending the dichotomy of being, is poem 1039: I heard, as if I had no Ear Until a Vital Word Came all the way from Life to me And then I knew I heard.

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198 I saw, as if my Eye were on Another, till a Thing And now I know 'twas Light, because It fitted them, came in. One line of philosophical thought traces being through a series of cumulative steps. At the most primitive level one can say that a stone has being because it occupies time and space. At the next level a plant has being because it occupies time and space, and receives nourishment. The amoeba not only has these attributes but moves. Higher forms of life, such as the monkey, possess consciousness in addition to all the other qualities just mentioned. To all of these lower claims to being, man adds the distinctive feature of self-consciousness. The two stanzas above seem to distinguish a merely conscious level of sensation from a fully self-conscious level where one not only hears but becomes aware of having an ear. Whether the poet conceived of the poem in such philosophical terras is doubtful, but she surely intended to convey some sort of awakening to a new level of being. We know that when the "Vital Word" is spoken, the faculty of hearing becomes selfconscious, for "then I knew I heard" indicates an awareness of mind. In short, being is wedded to knowing; we not only are , we know we are. Much the same can be said of seeing and the eye in the second stanza, but here it is light, rather than the "Vital Word," that makes seeing a self-conscious faculty. Sight, of course, is impossible without light; it is light that gives color and outline to every object the eye beholds. It is perhaps more than a coincidence that the poet has constructed these two stanzas around the focal elements in the two Biblical accounts of origin. In Genesis the first element separated from the void is

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199 light. In the New Testament St. John opens his Gospel by declaring "In the beginning was the Word." In speaking of Emily Dickinson's sources, Thomas Johnson says, "Basically the words and phrases by which she makes one idea denote likeness to another are cast from the images which she absorbed from the Bible. It was the primary source, and no other is of comparable importance." He indicates that among the books "that echo most persistently in her poems and letters," Genesis stands 3 third and John fourth. What do these rich connotations of light and the Word add to our understanding of the poem? First it must be clear that ontology quite naturally involves theories of origin. This is evident \i7hen we glance once again at the pre-Socratic search for basic substance. By the time we come to Parmenides, and more fully still in Plato, eternal substance has become identified with being. Thus theories of creation and primary substance ultimately raise the question of the origin of being. t^en we consider the primitive connection of God with the sun and vriLth light, it is hard to avoid the assumption that God or Pure Being is identified with light in Genesis. Hence the origin of being seems to be signaled by the command, "Let there be light." In John the word that is translated "Word" is the Greek Logos , which has no exact equivalent in English, but which involves the principle of reason, creative intelligence, and being. Here too, then, the primacy of being is affirmed. Emily Dickinson has quite possibly proposed in this poem her own ^Johnson, An Interpretive Biography , p. 151.

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200 interpretation of the meaning of the Beginning. While the men of her century wrestled with the apparent conflict between evolution and a literal reading of the Biblical account of creation, she was perhaps in her own way seeking new meaning in the verses that were so familiar to her. Her rejection of orthodoxy would seem to indicate that she had long ceased to view the Bible as literal and historical truth, but like other poets and intellectuals of her time, she doubtless sought its mearr ing as a work of art and spiritual insight. Goethe had caused Faust to puzzle over the same passage in the Gospel of John: It is vnritten: In the beginning was the Word. Here I am stuck at once. Who will help me on? I am unable to grant the Word such merit, I must translate it differently If I am truly illumined by the spirit. It is written: In the beginning was the Mnd. But why should ray pen scour So quickly ahead? Consider that first line well. Is it the Mind that effects and creates all things? It should read : In the beginning was the Power . Yet, even as I am changing what I have writ. Something warns me not to abide by it. The spirit prompts me, I see in a flash what I need. And write: In the beginning was the Deed'.^ Admittedly it is a far cry from Faust's laborious, pragmatic interpretation of the "Word" to Emily Dickinson's modest poetic suggestion that the origin of human being may be related to the awakening of self -consciousness, yet both represent a poetic attempt to deal with a philosophical question. That question is. When did man begin, and what is the distinctive quality of his being? The poet suggests that man begins when he becomes self-conscious, that his unique humanity consists in the mind's 4 Goethe, Faust , trans. Louis MacNeice (New York, 196 0), p. 44.

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201 awareness of Itself as an entity distinct from the body. The last two stanzas of poem 1039 carry us beyond the point of dualistic being to a higher level still: I dwelt, as if Myself were out. My Body but within Until a Might detected me And set my kernel in. And Spirit turned unto the Dust "Old Friend, thou laiowest me,'* And Time went out to tell the News And met Eternity. The first two lines here clearly convey the concept of Platonic dualism. Self and body are separate; it is the fragmented frustration that constitutes the lot of humanity. But then through the miraculous intervention of "Might," the dichotomy is transcended. The "kernel" of the self becomes one with the whole of being. Mystical unity is achieved. In the last stanza spirit is mentioned for the first time--purposefully, I believe, for only now is it clearly understood to be transcendent being. It looks back on the flesh that has now become dust. The attitude is no longer that of imprisoned being looking upon its cell, but rather one of benevolence for an "Old Friend" and remembrance of a former home. From the temporal point of view the event is momentous, but it is immediately discovered that time ends and eternity begins at the same instant that the unity of being is achieved: "Time went out to tell the News/ And met Eternity." The poem as a whole could be looked upon as a kernel of Emily Dickinson's attitude toward reality. It embraces a concept of being and its origin, of death, destiny, and eternity. In its essential points

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202 it is a view echoed in mystical writing. The mystic, more than others, senses the frustration and agony of man's divided being; seeks more earnestly than others to overcome it. The ultimate aim of the mystic is unity. Alan Watts has investigated various modes of achieving mystical fulfillment, ranging from the teachings of the oriental guru to primitive and sophisticated uses of various drugs. He is probably best known for his popular books on Zen Buddhism. In his prologue to The Joyous Cosmology he discusses man's divided being in general terms. A few excerpts may provide a fitting summary of the dilemna and its relation to mysticism: Slowly it becomes clear that one of the greatest of all super stiti6ns is the separation of the mind from the body. • • • The realization that mind and body, form and matter, are one is blocked ... by ages of semantic confusion and psychological prejudice. . . . The dualism of mind and body arose, perhaps, as a clumsy way of describing the power of an intelligent organism to control itself. . . . This radical separation of the part controlling from the part controlled changed man from a self-controlling to a self-frustrating organism, to the embodied conflict and self-contradiction that he has been throughout his known history. Once the split occurred conscious intelligence began to serve its own ends instead of those of the organism that produced it. . . . ... a person who finds his identity in something other than his full organism is less than half a man. He is cut off from complete participation in nature. Instead of being a body he "has" a body. . . . What we call self-consciousness is thus the sensation of the organism obstructing itself. . . . My own main interest in the study of comparative mysticism has been to cut through these tangles and to identify the essential psychological processes underlying alterations of perception which enable us to see ourselves and the world in their basic unity, (pp. 3-11)

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203 Poem 1046 occupies that savory zone of ambiguity where the poems of death seem to merge with the poems of mystic trance, which is itself a kind of death. The pain of death here is paradoxically also the strain of birth— or as the poem says, the "strain/ To Being" : I've dropped my Brain— My Soul is numb— The Veins that used to run Stop palsied— 'tis Paralysis Done perfecter on stone. Vitality is Carved and cool. My nerve in Marble lies-A Breathing Uoman Yesterday— Endowed with Paradise. Not dumb— I had a sort that moved— A Sense that smote and stirred-Instincts for Dance— a caper part— An Aptitude for Bird— Who wrougjht Carrara in me And chiselled all ray tune Were it a Witchcraft— were it Death-I've still a chance to strain To Being, somewhere— Motion--Breath— Though Centuries beyond, And every limit a Decade— I'll shiver, satisfied. Whether the poem describes death's encroachment upon physical vitality, as images of paralysis, stone, and marble seem to say, or whether it merely denotes a stillness preceding a great awakening, the important point is that in feither case "I've still a chance to strain/ To Being." Whether it is "V/itchcraft," meaning perhaps mystical transformation, or \^ether it is "Death," it is surely a prelude to a new level of understanding and satisfaction. "A Breathing Woman/ Yesterday— Endowed with Paradise," she now awaits the realization of that paradise, either heaven or the achievement of unity. One wonders if unity is not what

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204 heaven means to Emily Dickinson anyway. The "Instincts for Dance" and the "Aptitude for Bird" may suggest the gaiety and the rapport with nature that distinguished her earlier life and that contrast with the deathlike quiet of her present life of withdrawal. The still, white solitude of this present life may thus be viewed as a marble preparation for pure being. It is questionable whether poem 1047 helps to clarity or only further obscures the meaning of 1046. Yet both are concerned with being, and their juxtaposition suggests a close relationship: The Opening and the Close Of Being, are alike Or differ, if they do. As Bloom upon a Stalk. That from an equal Seed Unto an equal Bud Go parallel, perfected In that they have decayed. There is reinforcement here for the contention above that the pain of death is also the strain of birth. "The Opening and the Close," birth and death, "are alike." Both involve effort, fear, uncertainty, and agony. Both emerge "from an equal Seed" and move toward "an equal Bud," an indication that both require cultivation and produce fulfillment. One may provide physical fulfillment whereas the other offers spiritual realization. Finally, the poet affirms that perfection comes only through decay. This completes the seed symbolism, to be sure, since the seed must germinate to produce, but what does it mean in terms of being? The implication is that being, like life itself, is cyclical and evolutionary, that each successive stage prepares for the next higher level

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205 through its gradual disintegration and decay. To see being in this light is to break dovm a strict dualism between physical and spiritual levels. Moreover, it is to combine what was then recent scientific understanding of the evolutionary process with religious insight concerning the soul's destiny. Perhaps physical evolution is only the visible half of a cosmic plan that extends to higher levels of being as well. At each turning of the giant wheel, death is only the dark passage through which being must crawl before emerging into light. Such a conception does not deny the unity of being; it only helps us to see how it is possible. We come to look upon it as a vast cosmic drama in which we play different roles at various stages of readiness. If our lines are scant at first, still we may ultimately play the principal parts. The struggle toward new being is vividly depicted as the butterfly's emergence from the cocoon in poem 1099: My Cocoon tightens--Colors tease-I'm feeling for the Air— A dim capacity for Wings Demeans the Dress I wear-A power of Butterfly must be-The Aptitude to fly Meadows of Majesty concedes And easy Sweeps of SkySo I must baffle at the Hint And cipher at the Sign And make auch blunder, if at last I take the clue divine— The gradual appearance of color, the "feeling for the Air," and the "dim capacity for Wings" all express the thrill and expectation of coming into being at a higher level. No more perfect metaphor could be found to illustrate the emergence from a lower form into a higher. The worm which

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206 clinss to the earth must spin its coffin before being permitted, as butterfly, to enter the new environment of air. One may, in human blindness, "baffle at the Hint/ And cipher at the Sign," as he tries to puzzle out the meaning of the riddle. One may "make much blunder" before taking "the clue divine" to the meaning of the Way of Death. Yet follow it he must, whether in ignorance, by instinct, or through knowledge. To follow it in ignorance is to go in fear, but to "take the clue divine" is to see death ultimately as a harmless transformation necessary to the continued realization of being. I stress continued because in the newly posited cyclical conception of being, the Platonic ideal of Pure Being is no longer in order. A poem that could have been included in the poems of ecstasy, but that also adds fo our understanding of the poet's concept of being, is number 1101: Between the form of Life and Life The difference is as big As Liquor at the Lip between And Liquor in the Jug The latter — excellent to keepBut for extatic need The corkless is superior-I know for I have tried Our attention is first drawn to the clear affirmation of ecstatic experience in the last line. Ecstasy is "Liquor at the Lip." It is "The corkless," inmediately enjoyed nectar that is equated with "Life" itself as opposed to "the form of Life." What she means by the form can best be discovered if we consider its opposite, the substance. The antithesis she has drawn suggests that life itself, or ecstasy, is the vital substance whereas the form may compare to the shadowy figures on Plato's

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207 cave: the unreal world of shapes and images that we in the physical world blindly take for reality. Again we are left with the conclusion that ecstasy, which implies contact with the divine, with essence itself, is the only reality. Several thoughts we have been pursuing converge in poem 1315: I-ftiich is the best— the Moon or the Crescent? Neither— said the MoonThat is best which is not— Achieve it— You efface the Sheen. Not of detention is FruitionShudder to attain. Transport's decomposition follows— He is Prism born. Does the poet say that non-being is better than being? Or that light alone can be encountered and not the source of light? Not quite, perhaps, and yet these potential interpretations may help us get to the core. The poem sets up a comparison similar to that in the poem just discussed. There it was the form of life compared to life itself; here it is the crescent and sheen compared to the moon itself. The conclusions seem different at first; the earlier poem seemed to favor the reality one can partake of, while this seems to favor the unattainable. Yet there is common ground between them. Life, which was there equated with "Liquor at the Lip," was surely a fleeting thing, just as any draught is momentary. The "Sheen," which is here better than moon or crescent either one, is more graspless still. If actually achieved, it is effaced. It is the intangible that is meant when the poet says, "That is best which is not." It is "not" only in the sense of having no solid substance. There are overtones of Browning here too: "A man's reach should

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208 exceed his grasp." We are warned that sheen cannot be achieved in any permanent sense, that fruition cannot be detained, that transport is decomposed by attainment. It is born of refraction (Prism), for we cannot look directly at the source of light, just as man cannot look on the face of God. All of this points to the tenuity of the real, the vivid, the most valuable. VJe are not meant to grasp the real but only to be drawn toward it as an ideal. The eye can delight in the sheen but not follow it to its source. Fruition, for men, can be only tentative, never final. Transport is the "Shudder" of a stidden thrill that cannot be sustained. The image of light sums up the meaning for each of these and seems to symbolize the real. It is intangible and hence, as substance, it is not. It comes to us not directly but only through the prismatic refraction of our heavy atmosphere, or perhaps, like sheen, by reflection on the water. Finally, its source is the same as that of being itself; to encounter the source and look on it directly would be to lose identity and merge with the formless intangibles. After explaining the allegory of the cave to Glaucon, Socrates tells him that the philosophers will be compelled "to have a care and providence of others." Having been allowed, through education, to come up out of the darkness, they would be reluctant to return and participate in the foolish games of the prisoners, but Socrates explains v^y they must: Wherefore each of you, when his turn comes, must go doim to the general underground abode, and get the habit of seeing in the dark. T'Jhen you have acquired the habit, you will see ten thousand times better than the inhabitants of the den, and you V7ill Icnow what the several images are, and what they represent, because you have seen the beautiful and just and

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209 good in fcheir truth. And thus our State which is also yours vjill be a reality, and not a dream only, and will be administered in a spirit unlike that of other States, in which men fight with one another about shadows only and are distracted in the struggle for power, which in their eyes is a great good.^ Emily Dickinson recognizes in poem 1348 that the mystic too has such an obligation: Lift It— with the Feathers Not alone we flyLaunch it— the aquatic Not the only seaAdvocate the Azure To the lower EyesHe has obligation \Jho has Paradise— "To the lower Eyes" the mystic must "Advocate the Azure" of the higher realms of being. He must uplift those not so fortunate, teaching them to fly, to escape the confines of mundane being. If Emily Dickinson felt this to be the duty of him "Who has Paradise," one might ask \diy she chose to isolate herself from others. The answer should be iimnediately clear when we consider her "letter to the world," namely her poetry, which unquestionably lifts and launches the sympathetic reader into a rarer atiTiosphere. Though Emily Dickinson has xnritten much about the ecstatic heights and the vision of immortality, there is seldom found the corresponding disdain for the flesh that often accompanies such idealism. Poem 1431 provides at least one exception, however : ^Plato, The Republic . Book VII, trans. Benjamin Jowett, in Great Books of the Western IJorld (Chicago, 1952), VII, 390-91.

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210 VJith Pinions of Disdain The soul can farther fly Than any feather specified in OrnithologyIt wafts this sordid Flesh Beyond its dull-^control And during its electric gale— The body is a soulinstructing by the sameHow little work it be— To put off filanents like this for immoiLtality Tlie soul's ability to fly, though it lacks feathers, harks back to the poem just mentioned. Both poems are concerned with instruction but in different ways. In 1348 he "Who has Paradise" was obliged to teach those with "lower Eyes"; here the soul's own flights of ecstasy are themselves a means of teaching one the ease of shedding flesh for immortality. In the "electric gale" of ecstatic flight the body itself becomes like a soul; such is the feeling of freedom from the encumbering "filaments" of earth. One of the most economical expressions of the poet's concept of the afterlife and its relation to this life is poem 1454: Those not live yet Who doubt to live again— "Again" is of a tv7ice But this — is one-The Ship beneath the Draw Aground— is he? Death— so— the Hyphen of the SeaDeep is the schedule Of the Disk to be— Costuneless Consciousness-That is he— Those "IJho doubt to live again" are not yet really alive, but "'Again' is of a twice," a dualistic conception of reality, and it is this she now rejects. "But this— is one"; being is not divided. She asks if

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211 the ship that passes under the draw runs aground. The answer is obviously no. It sails in safe water through channel to sea, but the water is all one, and the going is smooth. Death is likewise only a "Hyphen" in the one great "Sea" of being. The depth of the life to come will nevertheless be greater than this, for in it consciousness will be unburdened of its fleshly costume. If the sea metaphor is retained, one might think of consciousness as a diver who can swim deeper when relieved of the burden of clothes. As the paraphrase reveals, this poem is a significant and certain reaffirmation of a monistic conception of being. How does one reconcile this with the expressions of dualism that have been pointed out? By the mystic's ability to incorporate two or more seemingly conflicting theories of reality. The conflict may indeed be only seeming. Accordingly, it should be clear by now that Emily Dickinson's poetic statements on reality are rich in the variety that might be expected in mystical writing. In a brief poem, number 1474, aesthetics and ontology come together : Estranged from Beauty— none can be-For Beauty is Infinity — And power to be finite ceased Before Identity was creased. (leased) This recalls another poem (449) in which Keats' fairous "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" is echoed. The link with infinity here adds another dimension, however, to the famous equation. To say that beauty is truth seems to place art on a level with revelation so that one may be measured

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212 against the other. To say that beauty is infinity seems to identify it with being itself. It is like saying that a hidden harmony or music of the spheres pervades the universe, and that all harmony loiown to man is an imitation of this. If beauty is being, and being beauty, then all "leased" portions of being come closest to fulfilling their nature by living beautifully. Human identity, called a lease on infinity in the variant reading for the last line, is such a portion of being— and hence of beauty. The poem thus establishes a three-way identity: beauty, infinity, and being are all one. The first line assumes a deeper meaning once this is unfolded: none can be, who do not share in beauty. The possibility of numerous realms of being is again suggested in poem 1543: Obtaining but our own Extent In x^at soever Realm-'Twas Christ's own personal Expanse That bore him from the Tomb-The idea has overtones of the Pythagorean teaching concerning the transmigration of souls. According to that doctrine one might move up the scale of succeedingly higher forms of animal life to that of man, the philosopher, and ultimately to the level of gods. Of course, one might also stagnate or descend. The idea is reiterated by Empedocles and later by Plato. Similarly the poet says that our release from any one of the levels of being depends on the extent to which we are able to seek out the limits of that level. Christ's escape from the tomb is tantamount to his transcendence of this human level of being, and he was able to accomplish it because of his expansion of the laws and bounds of physical being.

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213 The relation between body and spirit is explored in the first half of poem 1576 j The Spirit lasts— but in what mode— Below, the Body speaks. But as the Spirit furnishes— Apart, it never talks— Tlie Music in the Violin Does not emerge alone But Arm in Arm with Touch, yet Touch Alone--is not a Tune— The Spirit lurks within the Flesh Like Tides within the Sea That make the Water live, estranged Uhat would the Either be? Spirit and body seem nmtually dependent on each other if they are to have being. The body does not function except as it is moved by the spirit, yet the spirit is like "Music in the Violin." It cannot "emerge alone"; it depends on the touch of flesh. The comparison of spirit to tides In the sea is perhaps the most fitting of all. The force that moves the tides cannot be perceived, but our knowledge of the moon's influence suggests that spirit, like tides, may be moved by an outside source, perhaps what Aristotle called the Prime Mover. Though spirit may be dependent on body, it nevertheless continues to seek release, as indicated in poem 1630: As from the earth the light Balloon Asks nothing but releaseAscension that for which it was, Its soaring Residence. The spirit looks upon the Dust That fastened it so long With indignation. As a Bird Defrauded of its song. These last two poems taken together give expression to the paradox of

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214 human being. The spirit, like "The Music in the Violin/ Does not en«rge alone"; it requires the vehicle of flesh. Yet it ever seeks to rid itself from that which has "fastened it so long." Tied to the body, it is "Defrauded of its song." Even the musical metaphors in the two poems convey the eiinbivalcnt attitude. The spirit emerges through flesh only to be fettered by flesh. If being is singular and monistic, if death is no more than a hyphen in the sea of being, then we do not have to await death to gain eternity. It is here--and so she says in poem 168A: The Blunder is in estimate Eternity is there We say as of a Station Meanwhile he is so near He joins me in my Ramble Divides abode with me No Friend have I that so persists As this Eternity Calling it a "Blunder" to look on eternity as something "there" like a station is strong evidence of the poet's rejection of dualistic metaphysics, at least for a time. The sense of an ever-present eternity seems to attest to two things: belief in the continuity of being, unbroken by death, and accordingly, a mystical view of existence. Moreover, the realization of ever-present eternity suggests the similar realization of ever-present and implicit deity, the theory of inmanence as opposed to that of emanation. Also related to transcendence is poem 1695, eight stately lines that help to explain why Emily Dickinson valued the solitary life: There is a solitude of space A solitude of sea A solitude of death, but these

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215 Society shall be Coiapared with that profounder site That polar privacy A soul admitted to itself-Finita Infinity. Solitude apparently had the seime value for her that it has for the monastic . Thomas Merton describes his own desperate attempt to gain solitude on first entering the monastery: By this time I should have been delivered of any problems about my true identity. I had already made my simple profession. And my voxvs should have divested me of the last shreds of any special identity. But then there v/as this shadow, this double, this xrtiter who had followed me into the cloister. He is still on my track. He rides my shoulders, sometimes, like the old man of the sea. I cannot lose him. He still wears the name of Thomas Merton. Is it the name of an enemy? He Is supposed to be dead. He generates books in the silence that ought to be sweet with the infinitely productive darkness of contemplation, (p. 410) What is the aim of this much sought after solitude and silence that should be sweet with the productive darkness of contemplation? What j^ the product of contemplation? The poet has answered in the simplest and clearest terms In the last two lines of this poem: "A soul admitted to itself—/ Finite Infinity." There is a world of meaning in these seven words, especially when we bring to bear all that has gone before it on the subject of being. The soul's admission to Itself is the transformation that men hope lies beyond death, but death is not necessary, according to these lines and according to the mystic tradition, to achieve it. To subsume the soul into the self is to lose external identity, to overcome the frustrated dichotomy of body and spirit, and to achieve unity

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216 of being. It is to blend the finite with the infinite, the temporal with the eternal. It affirms in different terms what the poet means v*en she suggests, as she does in the previous poem, that eternity is here. Poem 1727 gives another kind of reinforcement to this impression of the soul's consummated assumption into oneness: If ever the lid gets off my head And lets the brain away The fellow will go where he belonged— Without a hint from me. And the world— if the world be looking on— Will see how far from home It is possible for sense to live The soul there— all the time. The soul may be at home, presumably in eternity and infinity, "all the time," even though "sense" lives in the finite world. Emily Dickinson once said that when she felt physically as if the top of her head were taken off, she knew that was poetry. We may conclude from this that poetry itself was a means of transport for her, and this poem shows us the transcendent implications of the curious sensation. Here the lid getting off the head will allow the brain to return home. Ifliat does she mean by the brain? Possibly what Whitman called the actual me as opposed to the real me. R. W. B. Lewis says that in "Song of ^fy8elf" Whitman "celebrated a perfect union between the actual Me and the real Me: between the here-and-now VJhitman and that timeless being, that Over-Soul 7 or genius that he addressed as the Me myself." One might assume, then. Johnson, An Interpretive Bioaraphy . p. 151. 'Introduction to Walt Whitman. Major iTr iters of America, I, 982.

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217 that the brain here means the deepest part of individual being, yet not the same as "soul," v^ich, for Emily Dickinson, comes more and more to mean being itself, undifferentiated and without individual identity. t-Jhat does she mean by home? Probably the abode of soul outside time and place. This poem reveals a curious merging of dualism and monism. The brain and the soul are temporarily different-^d. thin time~but ultimately one. Thus the brain may dwell in the finite world of sense even though the soul is simultaneously at home in infinity. These may be ambiguities, but for the mystic they are meaningful ambiguities and possible realities. The ambiguity may be occasionally resolved by changing perspective, as is evident in poem 1730: "Lethe" in my flower. Of XJ'hich they who drink In the fadeless orchards Hear the boblinkl Merely flake or petal As the Eye beholds Jupiter', my father! I perceive the rosel "As the Eye beholds" from man's limited point of view, there is "Merely flake or petal," that is, the little world of physical parts. From the transcendent point of view of the niystic, it is possible to "perceive the rose," that is, the macrocosm into which the parts fit. This sudden vision or revelation is signified by the exclamation, "Jupiter I my father I" Being is whole, but the sensory world that falls within the brain's ken is a part of that whole, that part which is visible to the eye. To take in the whole by mystical intuition is to drink of "Lethe,"

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218 so that the parts are momentarily transcended and forgotten. Those who do so have another sense open to them. They "Hear the bobolink" singing "In the fadeless orchards." They perceive the eternal aspect of being and thus achieve wholeness. In considering the subject of transcendence we can hardly ignore the term "God" altogether. It has not often been used in this discussion for the excellent reason that the poet does not often use it. At times it seems she makes an effort to avoid it, and I would guess that she does so for two reasons: its ambiguity resulting from the difference between her understanding of the term and that of her contemporaries, and its awesomcness. She sometimes alludes to the presumption and danger of naming God or beholding Him, as in poem 1733: No man saw awe, nor to his house Admitted he a man Though by his awful residence Has human nature been. Not deeming of his dread abode Till laboring to flee A grasp on comprehension laid Detained vitality. Returning is a different route The Spirit could not show For breathing is the only work To be enacted now. "Am not consumed," old Moses wrote, "Yet saw him face to face"— That very physiognomy I an convinced was this Though Emily Dickinson probably came nearer to seeing God than most men, she was more acutely aware than others of the great distance between herself and his awesomeness. Indeed she affirms here that "No man sax*

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219 awe," and there is little doubt that by "awe" she means as much as or more than most men mean by "God." As we try to construct her conception of being, it is perhaps useful to speculate on the meaning oi God in that conception. It would probably come as close as is possible for the imperfect medium of language, to say that Emily Dickinson understood God to be the center and matrix of being, but since it is impossible to visualize being as having a center, it is not a subject for the concrete idiom of poetry. VJhat, then, can poetry say about God, and how can we round out our discussion of Emily Dickinson's conception of being and reality? The poem just quoted is a sufficient answer. Poetry can concretize the way one feels about God even if it cannot deal with the awesome subject itself. Thus God is pictured as living in a haunted house: mystery is an essential part of a conception of God, just as it is of nature. She once wrote Higginson, "Nature is a Haunted House but Art— a House that tries to be haunted." Her art thus tries to convey some of the mystery of God, Human nature has been "by his awful residence," but no one has been admitted. If anyone had been admitted, the mystery would be dissolved, and God might no longer be God. I must confess that my sense of the mystery of Emily Dickinson herself was enhanced when I wallced around the imposing red brick structure on Main Street in Amherst but was unable to gain admission. She, of course, understood better than almost anyone the value of isolation and inaccessibility in creating mystery, and there is little doubt that she cultivated them at least partially for that reason. As Richard Chase says.

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220 Emily Dickinson's poetry strongly insists upon both the fact and virtue of separation. . . . Her seclusion is the practice of her preachment. . . . The rococo convention of Emily Dickinson's poetry finds its counterpart in the carefully cultivated and inviolable mannerisms of her life. ... A hierarchy and one's place in it can be vivified and reaffirmed by keeping one's person invisible, unapproachable, and mysterious. (p. 266) Human nature has been near enough the haunted house of God to comprehend the awesomeness of eternity and infinity, and the uncertainty of being's origin and destiny, but no one has seen that origin or destiny. No one has reached the center or core of being which, out of deference for its mystery, we have named God. The second stanza seems to indicate that we flee from "his dread abode" with all our energy because we fear comprehension almost as we fear the hand of death. To comprehend God would mean the end of physical vitality. We cannot return to God by the same route we have come. "Breathing is the only work/ To be enacted now," in life, but the spirit must seek God by the way of death . In the last stanza the poet is convinced it was "this," namely awe, that Itoses saw face to face. Thus she has clearly identified awe with Yahweh, the nameless God of Hebrew tradition. In Exodus 3:14, after Moses has asked God what name he shall give to the children of Israel, God answers: "I AM THAT I AMV and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Isreal, I AM hath sent me unto you." This is the King James Version that Emily Dickinson would have Icnown. Another translation known in her time, the Douay Version, reads, "I AM WHO AM. . . . HE WHO IS hath sent me to you," and it offers this annotation: "That is, I am beins itself, eternal, self -existent, independent. Infinite;

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221 without beginnins, end, or change; and the source of all other beings," The poetic evidence points to the conclusion that Emily Dickinson would have agreed essentially with this concept of God. Since the implications of such a definition are that God is nameless, the poet respected this anonymity, selecting the descriptive and unambiguous "awe" instead of a more limiting term. There are other poems containing at least a suggestion of transcendence, reality, or being, but their development is insufficient to justify explication, and they add little more than fresh phrases to what has already been said, A brief summary will be sufficient to illustrate their scope. Poem 352 is cosmic in theme but remains domestic in setting. The poet announces that she will "take— no less than skies" or firmaments, for "Earths, grow thick as/ Berries, in my native town," an expression of preference for transcendent reality over the imindane. In poem 679 she describes her consciousness of the presence of "a shapeless friend," without posture, word, or accent, that she finally, by instinct, esteems to be immortality. Poem 700, like 1630, describes the ascension of a balloon in terms that suggest the spirit's struggle to rise above the heavy atmosphere of the earth. Leonardo da Vinci, in his notebooks, attempted to define the soul physically by means of a very similar comparison. Just as a chamber of air, when immersed in water, seeks to rise to the surface, so does the soul, lighter than earth's atmosphere, also strain upward. Poem 859, in language that suggests Platonic Idealism, deals with the question of identity and reality. Perhaps we are only given "A

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222 merciful Mirage/ That makes the living possible." Poem 993 concerns the dichotony of mind and eye. The "superior Eyes" of stars "Include Us— as they go," but we are undisturbed because no mind records the image. Poem 1165 suggests that the more zealously we cling to the soul, the more eager it is to escape, just "As Children strictest kept/ Turn soonest to the sea." The dead are obviously antecedents of "they" in poem 1399, vAiich wonders if they "Perhaps come closer" to reality "for the lapse/ Of their corporeal clothes." Poem 1490 speculates that we surrender the earthly facade for one more distinct, just as the capsule dissolves to produce the flower. "Sheen," a word used in several poems with transcendent connotations, here descends "to enamor us/ Of Detriment divine," a paradox implying the splendid deprivation of death. Poem 1512 is a terse affirmation that spaciousness can be comprehended only in the absence of "things." "All things swept sole away/ This— is inmensity." Christ is not mentioned in poem 1584, but his transcendence is surely implied in these lines: The World that thou hast opened Shuts for thee. But not alone, We all have followed thee— Escape more slowly To thy Tracts of Sheen— •sheen" has acquired a significance in the poems of transcendence comparable to "noon" in the poems of ecstasy. One final image should be mentioned in this section: the volcanic mountain. It has double significance, implying as it does both a high place and a seething reservoir of energy under the surface. Primitive people have long believed that the gods dwell on mountains or other high

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223 places. This is evident in the construction of ziggurats in the ancient Near East, as it is in the Greek reverence for Mount Olympus. It is evident in the Polynesian attitude toward sacred volcanos. Jlount Horeb and Mount Sinai were holy places x^7here Moses received God's com* mands. All of these meanings should be brought to bear when we consider the moun ain as a symbol of transcendence. It is first of all a place of mystery. Second, it is a high place from which one can survey his life in perspective and rise above Lha mundane considerations of every day. Third, it is a solitary place of contemplation, and contemplation is a means of transcendence. Finally, it is a place of potential danger as well as potential exaltation. Its meanings are exploited in two poems, 1677 and 1705. In the first there is a significant break between the two stanzas: On my volcano grows the Grass A meditative spot— An acre for a Bird to choose Would be the General thoughtHow red the Fire rocks below— How insecure the sod Did I disclose Would populate with awe my solitude The solitary life appears at first to be a secure and quiet place of meditation, but the scene is deceptively tranquil. Beneath the surface is uncontainable energy that, like Leonardo's soul, must break through and rise. I-Jhen its presence is known, solitude is filled with awe. Poem 1705, vague at first, becomes clear in light of the preceding poem:

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224 Volcanoes be in Sicily And South America I judge from my Geography Volcanos nearer here A Lava step at any time Am I inclined to climb A Crater I may contemplate Vesuvius at Home The volcano "nearer here" is the poet's own deepest self, the individual soul. The "Lava step at any time/ Am I inclined to climb" is the pinnacle of solitude she has sought out for the purpose of contemplation, the soul's admission to itself. "Vesuvius at Home" is the sense of awe that populates her solitude, the awareness of potential eruption v;hen the self will seek its release into the sheen of being.

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CHAPTER VI PURGATION: THE WAY OF DEATH The poems in this section give credence to the value of suffering. An understanding of that value is not exclusively mystical, certainly, but In the mystic it is more fully developed; indeed it constitutes a significant part of what is often called the Mystic Way. The Mystic Way concerns the entire "life process of the mystic: the remaking of his personality; the method by which his peculiar consciousness of the Absolute is attained, and faculties which have been evolved to meet the requirements of the phenomenal, are enabled to do work on the transcendental, plane" (p. 94). Evelyn Underbill devotes the entire second half of her work on mysticism to the so-called Mystic Way, in which she considers the following phases of the process: awakening, purification, illumination, voices and visions, recollection and quiet, contemplation, ecstasy and rapture, the dark night of the soul, and the unitive life (pp. 169-70) . The second and next to the last of these both involve suffering as a means to an end. Here we shall consider both the nature and the end of suffering in the poetiry of Emily Dickinson. It would be quite pretentious to work out an elaborate scheme trying to shOTJ Emily Dickinson's development through various stages of the Mystic Way. In the first place, the uncertainty of chronology in her poems would be a formidable barrier. Then too, it must be recognized that there is no set pattern of development followed invariably by mystics. Underbill readily admits this: 225

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226 No one mystic can be discovered in whom all the observed characteristics of the transcendental consciousness are resumed, and who can on that account be treated as typical. Mental states which are distinct and mutually exclusive in one case, exist simultaneously in another. In some, stages which have been regarded as essential are entirely omitted: in others, their order appears to be reversed, (p. 168) The divisions of the present study have been chosen not so much to show development as to illustrate the presence of certain ingredients in the poetry that point toward mysticism. It has seemed appropriate to arrange these ingredients in an alternating pattern of pleasure and pain or light and dark, as they often appear in descriptions of mysticism. Thus the light of initial ecstasy was followed by the dark of desolation and then by the brilliance of illumination. The present section, involving renunciation, purification, sacrifice, suffering, and the mystic death or crucifixion, is the darkest phase of all. Emily Dickinson's affinity with the great religious mystics becomes most evident when v/e consider the abundance of poems in this category. It could be argued that many poets have written about breathless moments of ecstasy and spiritual transformation, have theorized about immanent and transcendent conceptions of reality. One might or might not consider Impressions of ecstasy and illumination sufficient to establish mystical tendencies. Certainly the extent to which such impressions can be found in the poetry of Emily Dickinson, as has been demonstrated, ought to affirm that her spiritual perceptions and capacities were quite out of the ordinary, that they were very like those of the great mystics. But the aspect of her poetry that is now to be illustrated is surely one of the most distinctively mystical aspects, and it reveals one of the most

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227 spiritually demanding experiences. Those with a less profound inclination toward mysticism can hardly endure the suffering and sacrifice entailed in what is appropriately called the dark night of the soul. As Underhill says. The great contemplatives, those destined to attain the full stature of the mystic, emerge from this period of destitution, ho^jever long and drastic it may be, as from a new purification. It is for them the gateway to a higher state. But persons of a less heroic spirituality, if they enter the Night at all, may succumb to its dangers and pains. This " "great negation" is the sorting-house of the spiritual life. Here we part from the "nature mystics," the mystic poets, and all who shared in and V7ere contented with the illuminated vision of reality. Those who go on are the great and strong spirits, who do not seek to know, but are driven to be. (p. 383) In the spectrum of states of pleasure and states of pain, as Underhill delineates them, this phase that I have chosen to call Purgation or the Way of Death, and that St. John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Soul, is the most poignant state of pain. The reason for its intensity is txjofold. The Dark Night is a period of deprivation wherein the mystic feels cut off from illumination and from the object of love. Then there is the sensation of waiting uncertainly for the state of unity that the mystic Way of Death prepares for. The ultimate aim of the mystic is unity, and hence the ultimate misery is the state wherein unity is uncertainly anticipated, the state of suffering for it without confidence of success. Madame Guyon comments thus on her past ecstasy, its loss, and the uncertainty of Its return: But how dear I paid for this time of happiness! For this possession . . . was but the preparation for a total deprivation, lasting many years, without any support or hope of its return. ^Quoted in Underhill, p. 384.

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228 The Intensity of the pain thus grows out of Heraclitus' principle of opposites. It is the meniory of ecstatic pleasure in the past and the uncertain hope of ineffable pleasure to come that combine to heighten the poignancy of this intervening state. Pain is both a payment for pleasure past and a preparation for bliss to come. One of the earliest poems to express this awareness, though it is not at this stage necessarily mystical in tone, is number 73: ^Tho never lost, are unprepared A Coronet to find.' Who never thirsted Flagons, and Cooling Tamarind.' Who never climbed the weary leagueCan such a foot explore The purple territories On Pizarro's shore? How many Legions overcome— The Emperor will say? How many Colors taken On Revolution Day? How many Bullets bearest? Hast Tliou the Royal scar? Angels.' Write "Promoted" On this Soldier's brow! This is perhaps the first use of crown or "Coronet" as a symbol of God's royal reward. It becomes one of her most frequent metaphors for favored spiritual status. Here too is found one of the first references to an exotic drink, "Tamarind," used to suggest a rare pleasure, an ultimate quenching of spiritual thirst. It foreshadows the extensive liquor symbolism that has been discussed in connection with the poems of ecstasy. The color "purple," which may be associated with royalty, penance, or even death and mourning, is here meant to suggest two characteristics of

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229 the unexplored land that has been won by an arduous ascent: its rare and unfamiliar beauty and its fabled regality. Both tamarind and Pizarro tell us it is a tropic land, which to a New Englander must have had connotations of paradise. The reader is momentarily jarred by an abrupt shift in metaphor to images of battle. Though disturbing in a context of tropical exploration, they nevertheless offer further examples of great effort and suffering that merit great reward. The "Emperor" promotes in proportion to the obstacles overcome and v/ounds endured. One must bear "the Royal scar" to be admitted to the royal ranks. Even in this early poem (dated 1859) there is full recognition of the necessity of suffering if one is to achieve spiritual rank, but there is little indication that the recognition has yet been proven by experience. Poem 85, \«ritten about the same time, nevertheless seems unmistakably to assert that the poet, like Christ, has already chosen the solitary way of sacrifice and death: "They have not chosen me," he said, "But I have chosen themi" Brave — Broken hearted statement — Uttered in Bethlehem I 1^ could not have told it. But since Jesus dared — Sovreignl Knov; a Daisy Thy dishonor shared! The "statement — / Uttered in Bethlehem" probably has a double meaning. Christ nay refer to the fact that he has chosen who should be his parents rather than they him, but more significantly it seems to refer to Pontius Pilate's asking the multitude which of the three prisoners they V7ish to have released to them for execution. Though they choose Christ, he in

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230 this passage affiras that in reality he has chosen them. In short, he has coioe into the world to be crucified, and the multitude could not do otherwise than choose him. IJhen the poet declares that she "Thy dishonor shared," she is surely saying that she too has chosen the Way of Death that Christ has taught, since it is the only route to immortality. It will become more and more evident as we proceed in these poems that death is not always intended to mean the end of physical existence. Paradoxically, death comes instead to mean a way of life: the way of renunciation, sacrifice, and suffering. It is the death to external things that for the mystic opens the interior life. For this reason it seems appropriate to speak not of death but of the Way of Death. Such a sought-after death is the subject of poem 120: If this is "fading" Oh let me immediately "fade"! If this is "dying" Bury me, in such a shroud of red I If this is "sleep," On such a night How proud to shut the eye I Good Evening, gentle Fellow meni Peacock presumes to die! The peacock, that proudly displays all the rainbow colors of a world whose deceptive light is refracted through the atmospheric prism, "presumes to die" and enter the real world of direct light. Death of this kind, then, is the greatest presumption. In seeking it we are seeking admission to the realm of absolutes. It is the ultimate pride to do so: "How proud to shut the eye!" One can only speculate on the meaning of the "One Life" in poem 270, but in view of what has been said about the poet's conception of

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231 reality, it seems probable that she means the mystic life that provides admission to immortality, even without the necessity of physical death. She equates this life with the pearl of great price : One Life of so much Consequence J Yet I--for it--would pay-My Soul's entire income — In ceaseless--salary-One Pearl --to me--so signal-That I V70uld instant dive-Although--! knew — to take it — Would cost me-just a life ! The Sea is full — I know it I That--does not blur my Gem .' It burns--distinct from all the row-Intact -in Diadem ] The life is thick--I know it I Yet--not so dense a crowd-But Monarchy-are perceptible -Far down the dustiest Aoad.' She realizes that it may cost a life, namely the external life of the world, to gain that " One Life of so much Consequence," but she is willing to pay the price. The image of diving for the pearl suggests the mystic effort to reach the depths of consciousness. Speaking of the mystic state of union with the One, Underbill says, "It is arrived at by an arduous psychological and spiritual process--the so-called Mystic Way--entailing the complete remaking of character and the liberation of a new, or rather latent, form of consciousness ..." (p. 81). Again the image of crown, now a diadem, is used to denote the royal status of the "One Life ." and it is reinforced by the sight of "Mon archs " in the distance, through the thick dust of the temporal life. The thick dust compares to the prism, the atmosphere, and other

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232 refracting materials that filter and distort the intense light of reality as it enters this lower life. Finally, the life that is thick, in the last stanza, contrasts with the "One Life " of the first, and in this context "one" assumes new significance. Unlike the "dense . . . crowd" that makes the lower life thick, the " One Life " is solitary and singular. It is solitary in the cloistered sense and singular in that it has achieved mystic unity with the One. It is enlightening to link the poem just quoted with the one that follows it, number 271. More than any other poem this one shows that Emily Dickinson thought of renunciation as a dedication to the Mystic Way. Rarely does the reading of alternate words make as much difference as in this poem. Because of their importance I have shown them here in parentheses: A solemn thing--it was--I said-A Woman--white--to be-And wear-if God should count me fit-Her blameless mystery-A timid (hallowed) thing--to drop a life Into the mystic (purple) well-Too plummetless--that it come back (return)-Eternity--until-I pondered how the blisa would look-And would it feel as big-When I could take it in my hand-As hovering (glimmering)--seen--through fog-And then--the size of this "small" life-The Sages--call it small-Swelled--like Horizons — in my breast (vest)-And I sneered— softly — "small"! She considers how "solemn" and "hallowed" an act it is to give up the worldly life but wonders about her fitness. The substitution of "hallowed"

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233 • for "timid"' indicates either ambivalence or a fundamental change of attitude. Probably she realizes that it is not a timid thing. "A Woman — white--to be" surely suggests the nun's renunciation of the world, and when the poet herself made the white election (see discussion of poem 528 to follow), there can be little doubt that she consciously compared the life she had chosen to that of a nun. Furthermore, the use of the actual word "mystic" leaves little room to doubt that she linked the cloistered life to mysticism and thus thought of herself as a mystic. The alternate word "purple" conveys her awareness that it is a life of penance. The last two stanzas reveal certain ambivalent feelings about such an ominous commitment. She seems to waver slightly before plunging into that well "Too plummetless — that it come back—/ Eternity--until." She knows that the "Sages" and probably mystics call this life small in comparison to "bliss,' whose size she ponders in the third stanza, but at the prospect of giving it up, it swells "like Horizons--in my breast" and she is reluctant to let it go. It seems very real and near, while bliss is seen glimmering "through fog," another thick refracting substance that compares to the dust of the preceding poem. In the worldly life our vision of bliss is thus clouded, and the will is likewise troubled by doubt as it attempts to make the white election. Nevertheless she does so elect to wear the white, as we know from biographical fact as well as from the poetry, and doing so must have symbolized her dedication to the mystic ideal of unity. White blots out all barriers and leaves only the oneness of being. Just as the nun becomes the bride

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234 of Christ, she becomes the Bride of Awe, an expression used In poem 1620 and clarified by 1733, where "awe" becomes quite obviously a synonym for "God." The next poem 272, provides still another description of the passage from breathing life to the Way of Death: I breathed enough to take the Trick-And now, removed from Air — I simulate the Breath, so well-That One, to be quite sure-The Lungs are stirless--must descend Among the Cunning Cells — And touch the Pantomime-Himself, How numb, the Bellows feels! The poet seems to say that she sampled enough of the "Air" of worldly life to Icnow what it had to offer, then "removed" herself. She may now "simulate the Breath," but it is only a "Pantomime," as one can discover by descending "Among the Cunning Cells" of the robot. She may seem to breathe and live like others, but in reality she now Inhabits another and rarer atmosphere. Poem 292 also concerns the need for air, but here the metaphor is reversed: If your Nerve, deny you— Go above your Nerve— Ke can lean against the Grave, If he fear to swerve-That's a steady postureNever any bend Held of those Brass arms-Best Giant made-If your Soul seesaw-Lif t the Flesh door— The Poltroon wants OxygenNothing more--

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235 It is now the soul that craves air lest it suffocate beneath the flesh, but the term "Oxygen" implies a purer element, rather than the coraposite mixture of the lower atmosphere. The first two stanzas recommend the Way of Death as a means of discipline. To "lean against the Grave" provides a "steady posture" in a world xjhere all that man tries to hold fast is threatened at every moment by the inexorable dissolution of time. In Emily Dickinson's acceptance of the VJay of Death there is very little morbidity or Gothic sentiment. Such acceptance is merely an aclcnowledgement of the vanity of worldly hopes, a resignation to fate, and a declaration of independence from all that enslaves the intellect, Emily Dickinson exemplifies the liberated consciousness that Bertrand Russell has written about in "A Free Man's Worship." "To abandon the struggle for private happiness, to expel all eagerness of temporary desire, to burn with passion for eternal things--this is emancipation, 2 and this is the free man's worship." At this point the mystic and skeptic in her temperament meet and agree. Tlie Way of Death, as has been sho^fli, is surely an indispensable part of the Mystic Way. There is no other route to unity. But, as Russell has explained, it is also necessary to the ideal of the free intellect, and nothing less is acceptable to the true skeptic. "'iJhen ... we have learnt both to resign ourselves to the outward rule of Fate and to recognize that the nonhuman world is unworthy of our worship, it becomes possible ... to transform and refashion the unconscious universe. ... In this way mind asserts its subtle mastery over the thoughtless forces of Nature" (p. 53). Russell, p. 55.

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236 Like Melville in "The Encantadas," Emily Dickinson at times did observe the thoughtless amorality of nature, and her response, also like Melville's, was resignation. But it did not lead her to a period of artistic stagnation as it did Melville. Instead, she seems to have discovered, with Whitman, "that 'death' is the source and beginning of •poetry'."-' Lewis says that this is the "plot buried" in the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass , where we find three poems expressing the new-found wisdom: "Scented Herbage of My Breast," "As I Ebb'd with the Ocean of Life," and "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." Selecting a passage from each and juxtaposing them provides a striking comparison, not only as they illuminate each other, but as they echo ideas to be found in the poetry of Emily Dickinson. The most specific statement is In the last lines of "Scented Herbage": Through me shall the words be said to make death exhilarating. Give me your tone therefore death, that I may accord with it, Give me yourself, for I see that you belong to me now above all, and are folded inseparably together, you love and death are. Nor will I allow you to balk me any more with what I was calling life. For now it is convey'd to me that you are the purports essential. That you hide in these shifting forms of life, for reasons, and that they are mainly for you. That you beyond them come forth to remain, the real reality. That behind the mask of materials you patiently wait, no matter how long. That you will one day perhaps take control of all. That you will perhaps dissipate this entire show of appearance. That may-be you are what it is all for, but it does not last so very long, But you will last very long. Then from "As I Ebb'd with the Ocean of Life": 3 Lewis, Introduction to Walt Whitman, p. 981.

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237 Aware not that amid all that blab whose echoes recoil upon me I have not once had the least idea who or what I am, But that before all my arrogant poems the real Me stands yet untouch'd, untold, altogether unreach'd, Withdrawn far, mocking me with mock-congratulatory signs and bows. With peals of distant ironical laughter at every word I have written, Pointing in silence to these songs, and then to the sand beneath. And finally from "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking": Whereto answering, the sea. Delaying not, hurrying not, iVhisper'd me through the night, and very plainly before daybreak, Lisp'd to me the low and delicious word death. And again, death, death, death, death. Hissing melodious, neither like the bird nor like my arous'd child's heart. But edging near as privately for me rustling at my feet, Creeping thence steadily up to my ears and laving me softly all over. Death, death, death, death, death. The first selection affirms that death is "the real reality" behind the "show of appearance." For Emily Dickinson it is the gateway to the real reality of mystic unity. The second selection implies that death is the key to self-knowledge, that "the real Me" must be identified with the "sand beneath," Emily Dickinson found in the Way of Death the key to the depths of self-consciousness, the courage and contemplation necessary to plumb them. And in the final selection the "delicious word death" is uttered out of the endlessly rocking (ebbing and flowing) cradle of all life— the sea. Emily Dickinson heard the word in the soft fall of snow, the boots of lead, and a hundred other sounds of nature and home. In the discovery of the wisdom of death, evident in poems written about the same time, Emily Dickinson and Walt l^itman have much In common. Poem 313 seems to express the alternative to a conditional clause.

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238 One might assume that the following condition should be prefixed to the poem: If I had been allowed to achieve bliss without payment, without the solitary self-denial of the Way of Death, I should have been too glad, I see-Too lifted--for the scant degree Of Life's penurious Round-My little Circuit would have shamed This new Circumference --have blamed-The homelier time behind. She would have been unable to tolerate the spiritual poverty and tedium of dally living. The "Circuit" of momentary ecstasy "would have shamed/ This new Circumference" of enduring bliss and unity, would "have blamed" her previous life, or even hereditary guilt, for preventing the duration of ecstasy. I should have been too saved«-I seeToo rescued— Fear too dim to me That I could spell the Prayer I knew so perfect— yesterday-That Scalding One— Sabacthlnl— Recited f luent— here-She would have felt too safe to fear the loss of bliss, too secure to pray the bitter prayer, "Elol, Elol, lamma sabacthani? . . . fty God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:3A). Earth would have been too much — I see— And Heaven— not enough for me-I should have had the Joy Without the Fear— to justify-The Palm--wlthout the Calvary— So Savior Crucify-She would have been unable to endure worldly burdens and dissatisfied with the hope of heaven. The "Joy" must be justified by fear of loss. There is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. In asking to share the crucifixion, she welcomes the mystic death that leads to unity.

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239 Defeat whets Victory--they say— The Reefs in Old Gethsemane Endear the Shore beyond-'Tis Beggars— Banquets best define-'Tis Thirsting — vitalizes WineFaith bleats to understandAll are examples of Heraclitus' wisdom that one sensation teaches the identity of its opposite. It is a hard teaching that must be taken on "Faith," yet we seek to understand it. In poem 344, which also concerns the Way of Death and suffering, the emphasis is on the way itself. The first stanza is sufficient to illustrate: 'Twas the old--road-through painThat unfrequented~one-With many a turn— and thorn— That stops— at Heaven— The poem goes on to recount a journey made for love. It should be remembered that, as Evelyn Underbill has mentioned, "the business and method of Mysticism is Love" (p. 85). The \toy of Death is taken to reach unity with the One, but the One, as Underbill says, is an object of love, not merely "the Reality of all that is" (p. 81). TJhitman, too, as noted in "Scented Herbage," observes that love and death are "folded inseparably together." How the sounds and sights of coming spring interrupt her solitude and make it harder to bear is the subject of poem 348: I dreaded that first Robin, so. But He is mastered, now, I'm some accustomed to Him grown. He hurts a little, though— I thought if I could only live Till that first Shout got by—

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240 Not all Pianos in the Woods Had power to mangle me— I dared not meet the Daffodils — For fear their Yellow Gown Would pierce me with a fashion So foreign to my own-The sound of the robin and other notes of spring that are so welcome to one living externally produce an opposite sensation in one who attempts to withdraw fr
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241 thus insure her solitude. The bee, whose ecstasy she so much envied in other poems, now only threatens to divert her from the more severe re*> quirements of this advanced stage of the mystic life. She can no longer follow the way to bliss through nature. Yet none of nature's creatures have respected her new status as Queen of Calvary; they have not hesitated to break in upon her solitude. "Each one salutes," and she can only aclcnowledge their thoughtless noises with a certain nostalgia for the "childish" response she was once able to make. It is a commonplace of n^stical understanding that gratification of physical wants has the opposite effect on one's spiritual hungers, and conversely fulfillment of the soul's longings requires fasting and sacrifice of physical pleasures. In short, what satisfies one half of being starves the other half. This explains the primary motive of asceticism, and whether one agrees with the method or not, he must admit that the severest ciscipline is necessary to cultivate the deepest levels of consciousness. Another metaphor is often used to express this paradox of the spiritual life: liberty vs. enslavement and torture. This was a favorite conceit of Donne's, and it is echoed in poem 384: No Rack can torture me— My Soul— at Liberty— Behind this mortal Bone There Icnits a bolder One— You Cannot prick with saw— Nor pierce with Cimitar— Two Bodies— therefore be— Bind One— The Other fly— The Eagle of his Nest No easier divest— And gain the Sky Than mayest Thou—

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2A2 Except Thyself may be Thine EnemyCaptivity is Consciousness-So's Liberty. Though the body be tortured, the soul Is free. The "bolder" being "Behind this mortal Bone" is unharmed by worldly pricks. Up to the "Cimitar" the poem says no more than this--that the soul is untouched by the world's hazards. But in the last line of stanza two the relationship between soul and body emerges as a paradox. One is actually released as the other is bound, and perhaps as a direct result. This is borne out in the last stanza. The self is enen^ to the deeper being. External consciousness Is "Captivity," but inner consciousness is liberty. In poem 392 the period of suffering and death is compared to the necessary period of germination and growth in the dark soil: Through the Dark Sod—as Education— The Lily passes sure-Feels her white foot— no trepidation-Her falth-"no fear— Afterward--in the MeadowSwinging her Beryl Bell— The Mold-life— all forgotten— now-» In Extasy--and Dell— The lily's "white foot" compares to Emily Dickinson's white dress and suggests that she, like the Illy, feels no trepidation or fear at the prospect of going through death. She has already, in poem 388, indi«> cated that to dress in white is "An Eternity— put on." Now she is confident that the "Mold-life," which could be either earthly suffering or the grave Itself, will be forgotten in the ecstasy that follows.

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243 • In the last stanza of poem 430 the poet uses another monastic symbol to describe the penitent state of the mystic life. It compares to the regal and opulent state of bliss, vfhich now seems lost: The Saclccloth"hangs upon the nail-The Frock I used to wear-But where my moment of Brocade— tfy— drop— of India? Solitude prepares for death and makes it easy. This is the essence of poem 486. It is a very straightforward statement, and death is here obviously no more than the natural end of life: I was the slightest in the House— I took the smallest Room— At night, nqr little Lamp, and Book— And one Geranium-So stationed I could catch the Mint That never ceased to fall— And just my BasketLet me think— I'm sure That this was all— I never spoke--unless addressed— And then, 'twas brief and low-I could not bear to live— aloud— The Racket shamed me so— And if it had not been so far— And any one I knew Were going— I had often thought How noteless— I could dieShe stresses the spare simplicity of her life, her voluntary seclusion. In the third stanza sound is given a double significance. Not only does she accept the discipline of silence; she cannot "bear to live— aloud." This could be taken as an explanation of her refusal to publish as well as an admission of her very real fear of social intercourse. To descend to these silent depths of consciousness is to become familiar with death.

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244 very close to its threshold. Some of the most solid evidence that Emily Dickinson conceived of her seclusion in terms of mystical renunciation and the Way of Death is to be found In a pair of poems apparently vnritten at the height of her powers, in 1862. What has been called the Way of Death is more poetically termed "the Scarlet way" in poem 527 ; To put this World down, like a Bundle— And walk steady, away, Requires Energy— possibly Agony-'Tls the Scarlet way Trodden with straight renunciation By the Son of GodLater, his faint Confederates Justify the RoadVery vividly she describes here how she has simply laid aside the satisfactions of the world "like a Bundle" that anyone else would carry and cling to tenaciously. "Bundle" also suggests a burden, and to the raystic, the external life of the world is such a burden. Even so, the sacrifice requires "Energy" and "Agony." Obviously alluding to Christ's blood and hence to the tradition of blood sacrifice, she calls it "the Scarlet way." She thus relates her renunciation to Christ's, just as any Christian ascetic might do, whether nun, monk, or Puritan, but she intimates an interesting distinction between the meaning of Christ's intentional renunciation and the clouded understanding of "his faint Confederates" \^o try to "Justify the Road." Calvinism, for example, tries to justify the denial of Innocent pleasures by claiming a motive of Christian piety or innate guilt. Moreover, the doctrine of natural depravity gives rise to that of justification by faith alone, without

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245 regard for works, and this may also be implied in the poet's use of "Justify." Emily Dickinson's renunciation of the world is a far different thing from guilt-inspired Puritan austerity. There is no sense of guilt in her renunciation. It is pranpted by the same motive that underlies the mystic's renunciation, and that is love. As she fully understood, this was Christ's motive as well. IThether her renunciation was partly inspired by earthly love— for VJadsworth perhaps— cannot be definitely known, but if it was possibly set in motion by this, it surely grew into something far more profound. One indication of its profundity is the analogy she repeatedly makes between rentmciation and the crucifixion, as In the last two stanzas of the same poem: Flavors of that old Crucif iisiion-Filaments of Bloom, Pontius Pilate sowed-Strong Clusters, from Barabbas' Tomb— Sscreiment, Saints partook before us— Patent, every drop. With the Brand of the Gentile Drinker Who indorsed the Cup— These two last stanzas introduce netaphors not present in the straightforward language of the first two. Three aspects of the Way of Death are suggested. Flavors of the Crucifixion suggest suffering, filaments of bloom sowed by Pilate suggest disgrace and abuse, and clusters from Barabbas' tomb suggest death itself. One should note, however, that the words "Flavors," "Filaments," and "Clusters" themselves are an indication that these are sweet fruits to be savored and flowers to be enjoyed. As noted earlier, one of the most familiar mystical paradoxes is the sweet delight of pain experienced for the sake of love. In the last stanza the poet clearly shows that she links her sacramental renuncia-

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246 tion to that of the saints, and that it is ultimately linked to the sacrifice of Christ, "Who indorsed the Cup." (Though it seems likely that she means Christ here, the use of "Gentile" complicates the question. She may have used the term merely to denote that Christ was an outsider.) The "Cup" strongly suggests the one that Jesus prayed in Gethsemane might be lifted from him, a request he already knew could not be granted. "0 my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from ma: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39). Poem 528 is linked to 527 both generally by its subject and specifically by the word "Scarlet": Mine—by the Right of the White Election*. Mine—by the Royal Seal'. Mine— by the Sign in the Scarlet prisonBars— cannot conceal! Mine— here— in Vision— and in Veto'. Mine— by the Grave's RepealTitled— ConfirmedDelirious Charter'. Mine— long as Ages steal'. The poem is tightly compressed. Its power lies in its repetition: the periodic lightning strokes that begin each line, the gradually departing rumble of each following phrase. Each line is charged with richly connotative words, and the cumulative emphasis is on possession. We are given the various conditions that confirm the possession, but no direct description of the property. None is really needed, however, and perhaps none is possible. The "White Election," as mentioned before, is a complete commitment to the pursuit of immortality and eternity. Death, either in its natural sense or in respect to the mystic Way of Death, is the black

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247 gateway to the absolute \Aite of unrefracted light, the boundless vAiite of formlessness and unity. The mystical reward, namely identity with the One, is "Mine—by the Right of the White Election'." It is claimed on the basis of utter dedication. Yet in this context there are times vAien "Election" seems to have a two-way meaning. Not only does the mystic elect The Ifay, but she is also elected for it in that she has been singled out for momentary ecstasy and for the pursuit it initiates. In this sense, rather than the Calvinist sense, she is one of the elect. The term, like "Circumference" and "Awe," is a broad one in that it reverberates with all of these meanings. The second line brings to mind all the poetic references to status and regality, such terms as monarchy, cro\m, coronet, and diadem. It reinforces what was just said about the elect. In short, she now claims possession on the basis of a royal grant, executed with the king's official "Seal." In the third line her right of ownership is based on payment through suffering. The "Sign in the Scarlet prison" implies a promise of release into the White once the "Scarlet way" of sacrifice has been traversed. "Bars" of flesh "cannot conceal" this promise. "Vision" and "Veto" announce two further claims to possession. The poet has seen the white light of eternity in ecstatic vision, and through her voluntary renunciation she has vetoed the claims the external world has tried to place upon her. By giving up the flesh through selfdenial, she has forced the world to relinquish its claim. Instead, she now claims and is claimed by eternity. How should be emphasized, for the poet does not take title to something there, later on; it is "here," as

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248 she says, and now. No delay is involved. This clearly distinguishes the mystic claim from the expected reward of conventional religion. This is made even more definite by the next line, which declares present possession by virtue of "the Grave's Repeal.'' There is no longer any need to await death; its force has been annulled, its reign cancelled. Her reward is thus "Titled— Confirmed," and sealed by "Charter" that places her in a "Delirious" continuum of ecstasies. She is beyond the reach of time; imciortality is "Mine—long as Ages steal'." Taken together, these two consecutive poems encompass the full range of the socalled Mystic Way: purgation, illumination, and ecstatic unity. In light of \^at has been said about the achievement of immortality and unity, it is interesting to speculate on the meaning that Emily Dickinson places on the word "Saved" in poem 539: The Province of the Saved Should be the Art— To saveThrough Skill obtained in Themselves-The Science of the Grave No Man can understand But He that hath endured The Dissolution— in Himself— That Man— be qualified To qualify Despair To Those who failing newMistake Defeat for Death— Each timeTill acclimated — to— It may be that there is a certain irony in the poet's use of "Saved" in view of the fact that she could not count herself among those saved through the church. It is doubtful that the members of the church ^See Underbill, p. 81 and p. 9A.

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249 could claim to be skilled in "The Science of the Grave." For one thing, this is a "Skill obtained in Themselves" and not through the offices and rituals of an organization. "To save," then, in the poet's understanding, is to show the path through the shadow of death, to teach another to follow the Way of Death. "No Man can understand" this journey and its objective "But He that hath endured/ The Dissolution — in Himself." "Dissolution" probably has a double significance. It may refer to the physical dissolution of the body in natural death, but more profoundly, it suggests the dissolution of identity necessary to achieve unity with the One. Only "That Man— be qualified/ To Qualify Despair" who has undergone this mystical transformation. Only such a man can teach the novice to distinguish the momentary "Defeat" of self from "Death," here meaning the end of being. It naist be taught again and again until one becomes "acclimated-to" the sense of hazard. Salvation, as she would conceive it, then, is not preservation fron hell fire, but rather from the fear of death itself. Once the mystic has followed the Way of Death and broken its seal, it no longer frightens or threatens the annihilation of being. It comes to be seen merely as a dark prelude to transformation, a preparation for the unitive state. The following poem, number 540, describes the struggle against the exterior world: I took my Power in my Hand— And went against the World-'T\*as not so much as David— had-But I--was twice as bold-I aimed my Pebble— but Myself Was all the one that fellWas it Goliah— was too large— Or was myself— too small?

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250 In the first stanza the struggle could be interpreted as an attempt to gain status and recognition in the world, to go against public apathy and hostility in search of success. These were, in the last century, and still are the norcial goals of youth, \-nien related to David and Goliath, the conflict assumes the connotations of an individual struggle against vast forces of evil and death. But the last stanza brings us back to the familiar loiniaturc world of Emily Dickinson. Tlie struggle against the world has become a struggle against the self that is too much in love with the world, "Myself/ Was all the one that fell." In the final question— Was Goliah too large or myself too small?--she implies that the self was not fitted for the struggle for success and recognition, that it therefore gave up the world, selected its own society, and closed the door. In poem 545 the basis of the number system is equated with the consnon basis of the inystical self, and just as the student must follow a rule of discipline to comprehend one, so too the mystic must follow the "Eternal Rule" to discover the other; 'Tis One by One— the Father counts— And then a Tract between Set Cypher less-to teach the Eye The Value of its Ten— Until the peevish Student Acquire the Quick of SkillThen Numerals are dowered back-Adorning all the Rule— 'Tis mostly Slate and Pencil — And Darlaaess on the School Distracts the Children's fingersStill the Eternal Rule

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251 Regards least Cypherer alike With Leader of the Band— And every separate Urchin's Suia-Is fashioned for his hand— The father, either earthly or heavenly, attempts to teach the child a system of counting, and it is apparently the years and hours that are numbered "One by One" until they are interrupted b. death, "a Tract between." This blank state cannot be ciphered or comprehended, but it teaches the '"Value of its Ten," the basis of being itself. As in poem 539, a "Skill" naist be obtained, the skill of seeing through death, before the numerals can be "dowered back" from the other side. "Slate" and "Darkness" again suggest the distracting interruption of death that the children must learn to fathom. To fathom it, to go through the slate Way of Death, is to follow "the Eternal Rule," which compares to a monastic rule. Everyone is on an equal footing with death, and each "Cjnpherer" will be paid in a "Sum" proportionate to his painful effort to comprehend. One must assume that comprehension itself, making the learner one with being, is the immeasurable reward. As in tragedy, one learns through suffering. A further link between the mystical renunciation and the crucifixion is to be found in poem 553: One Crucifixion is recorded— onlyHow many be Is not affirmed of Mathematics-Or HistoryOne Calvary— exhibited to Stranger— As many be As Persons»-or Peninsulas-Gethsemane—

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252 Is but a Province — in the Being's Centre— Judea — For Journey--or Crusade's Achieving-Too near-Our Lord— indeed--inade Compound Witness-And yet-There's newer--nearer Crucifixion Than That— There may be as many crucifixions, as many Calvaries, "As persons— or Peninsulas." Each individual is capable of his own journey through the Way of Death, his own Calvary. Thus peninsula suggests the nearly insular life of renunciation, but it also calls forth Donne's famous meditation reminding us that "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were." The withdrawn individual, then, is not really an island, but rather a peninsula attached to the continent of being. As if to reinforce this affirmation of unity in spite of diversity, the poet says, "Gethsemane — / Is but a Province in the Being's Centre," not the whole. Though the word is not used here. Circumference seems an obvious contrast to Centre in this context. Hence renunciation is a "Province — in Being's Centre," but it does not reach the full extent or circumference of being. It is but the dark part of the total "Journey," the crusade undertaken for "Achieving" circumference and wholeness. Wholeness often seems to approximate what is meant by circumference. When the poet says that "Our Lord— indeed— made Compound Witness," Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, XVII.

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253 • she suggests that both Gethsemane and Calvary were examples of the Way of Death that Christ undertook and overcame to show us the value of renunciation, but there have been "newer--nearer" examples "Than That." One might assume that she had in mind the renunciations of the world by saints, mystics, and even poets, such as Blake and herself. The real meaning of the Crucifixion for Emily Dickinson begins to emerge in poem 567 : He gave away his Life— To Us— Gigantic Sum— A trifle— in his own esteemBut magnified— by Fame— Until it burst the Hearts That fancied they could hold— \Jhen swift it slipped its limit-And on the Heavens— unrolled-'Tis Ours--to wince--and weep— And wonder— and decay By Blossoms gradual processHe chose— Maturity— And quickening— as we sowed— Just obviated Bud— And when We turned to note the Growth-Broke— perfect--from the Pod-This poem suggests that the Crucifixion held far more meaning as a paradigm of the mystical death than as the fulfillment of Christ's role as the Redeemer. The doctrine of the Redeemer, often attributed to St. Paul, regards Christ as the savior whose death was necessary to relieve man of the burden of original sin, and ultimately it continues the primitive conception of a jealous god demanding blood sacrifice. Like many before and after her time, Emily Dickinson probably found this explanation of the Crucifixion abhorrent, but Christ's death could

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254 still have profound meaning as a prototype of the mystical Way of Death. The mystical death, like the Crucifixion, breaks the "Pod" of physical being and obviates the hazards of the grave. Just as Christ, in giving "away his Life," actually "slipped its limit," so too does the mystic in negating the external self. 'vJhile man generally must follow the "gradual process" toward fulfillment, the way of physical death with its "wince," "weep," "wonder," and "decay," Christ "chose— Maturity" by a more direct route. He bypassed the period of earth's germination; he "obviated Bud," and "Broke— perfect— from the Pod." By means of the Crucifixion and Ressurection, which compare to the mystic death as opposed to physical death, Christ passed directly into the fulness of being. In the same way the mystic, by the Way of Death, moves directly toward unity with the One. Christ's role as a teacher of wisdom is paramount in this interpretation of the Crucifixion, and it is not actually necessary to look upon him as a divine being different from other men, who are all peninsulas of eternal being. The Resurrection, in this view, would be no more supernatural than the mystic's transcendence of the flesh, the transformation that follows the Way of Death. Of course this too is supernatural in a sense, but not so much a miracle as a spiritual achievement. Again, as tragedy teaches us, man learns through suffering. Poem 571 suggests that our capacity for beauty and bliss is increased by adversity and that the "Grace" is in direct proportion to the "price" paid:

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255 Must be a Wo— A loss or so— To bend the eye Best Beauty's way— But— once aslant It notes Delight As difficult As Stalactite— A Comnion Bliss Were had for less— The price--is Even as the Grace— Our lord— thought no Extravagance To pay--a Cross-The poet evidently is not satisfied with "A Common Bliss" even though it "Were had for less." Just as "Our lord— thought no/ Extravagance/ To pay —a Cross," she did not hesitate to pay the price of renunciation. Poem 572 advances a similar thought: Delight— becomes pictorial-Wlien viewed through Pain-More fair--because impossible That any gain— The Mountain— at a given distance-In Amber--lies-Approached--the Amber flits--a little— And That's— the SkiesHere it is not only pain but remoteness that enhances the fairness of "Delight." The mystic, like anyone else, is aware that complete satisfaction is impossible, that there must always be a goal beyond the one approached. This poem is perhaps Emily Dickinson's "Chambered Nautilus." The third poem in sequence, number 573, is the most tiglitly constructed and perhaps the most meaningful of the three:

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256 The Test of Love— is Death— Our Lord— "so loved"— it saith— What Largest Lover— hath— Another--doth-If smaller Patience— beThrough less Infinity— If Bravo, sometimes swerveThrough fainter NerveAccept its Most— And over look-the Dust— Last— Least-The Cross*— Request-The poet probably refers to what may be the best known passage in the New Testament: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son. ..." (John 3:16). This would help to explain lines three and four. God must be the "Largest Lover" who "hath" and Christ "Another" who "doth." Though the poet, "Through less Infinity," may lack the patience of God, and "Through fainter Nerve," may not have Christ's courage, she asks the lord to accept her "Most" and to "overlook--the Dust" of her mortal weakness. Though she may be "Last," even the "Least" may nonor "The Cross'— Request" that we follow the example of sacrifice. Poem 588 describes a threat to the poet's reconciliation and adjustment to the life of withdrawal. There are six stanzas. Some of the poet's suggested changes are shown in parentheses: I cried at Pity— not at Pain-I heard a V/oman say "Poor Child"--and something in her voice Convinced myself of me-(Convicted me--of me--) She has grown accustomed to pain but frantically tries to escape the voice of pity that draws attention to the self and prevents the loss of identity.

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257 So long I fainted, to myself It seemed the common way. And Health, and Laughter, Curious things— To look at, like a ToyTo sometimes hear "Rich people" buy And see the Parcel rolled— And carried, we (I) suppose— to Heaven, For children, made of Gold— But not to touch, or wish for. Or think of, with a sigh— And so and 80--had been to us, (me) Had God willed differently. "So long I fainted" suggests that she has long been unconscious of the external world of "Health, and Laughter." The darkness of this unconscious state "seemed the common way.'' The external delights of the world are like toys that are for others, but not for her "to touch, or wish for." I wish I knew that Woman's name-So when she comes this way. To hold my life, and hold my ears For fear I hear her say She's "sorry I am dead"— again-Just when the Grave and I— Have sobbed ourselves almost to sleep. Our only Lullaby— At first glance these last few lines seem romantic almost to the point of being maudlin, perhaps even a bit morbid, but if one considers that she is actually referring to the Way of Death, and not to physical death, the language becomes figurative and hence more acceptable poetically. She wishes to close her ears to the destructive voice of self-pity lest she lose the life she has chosen. It is not that scwneone actually peers at her grave expressing sorrow at her death, but rather that the external self, the 'Woman" whose name she does not know, looks regretfully from

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258 the outside Into the mystic death of renunciation. The "Woman" is like the double, the writer, that followed Merton into the cloister and distracted him with schemes and notions foreign to the contemplative life. To the mystic attempting to adjust to the dark— "Just when the Grave and I—/ Have sobbed ourselves almost to sleep"— the vague sense of regret and self-pity threatens a spiritual catastrophe. The inability to cut ties completely with the physical vrorld is reflected in poem 612: It would have starved a Gnat— To live so small as I— And yet I was a living Child— With Food's necessity Upon me— like a Claw— I could no more remove Than I could coax a Leech away— Or make a Dragon— move-Nor like the Gnat— had I— The privilege to fly And seek a Dinner for myself— How mightier He— than I— Nor like Himself— the Art Upon the Window Pane To gad my little Being out— And not begin--again— Though she has reduced her functioning in the exterior world to a minimum, "Food's necessity" is still "Upon me— like a Claw." This is a graphic description of the claims still made by the flesh. These claims prevent the spirit's flight in search of more vital nourishment. Though she lives as inconspicuously as a gnat, she lacks its ability to fly and seems wistfully to envy the power "To gad ray little Being out—/ And not begin— again." It is a curious expression, with at least two

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259 possible interpretations. It may be, as the most literal sense would have it, a desire to wander into oblivion, to void our unavoidable immortality; or it may be merely the mystic's yearning to terminate the self as a means of achieving unity. One of the longer poems, 652, describes the gradual acceptance of the cloistered life, here compared to a prison, and the growing reluctance to be free. The last two of the eight stanzas are perhaps the most significant: The narrow Round—the Stint— The slow exchange of Hope— For something passiver--Content Too steep for looking up— The Liberty we knew Avoided— like a Dream-Too wide for any Night but Heaven— If That— indeed— redeem— "Hope" in the one stanza and "Heaven" in the other seem to be giving way to "something passiver," something gained through the discipline of renunciation and confinement. According to mystical paradox, physical confinement is a means of achieving spiritual freedom. The strict discipline of the monastery is meant to recognize this. Thus the perfect quiet, the passivity, the poet seeks here within the "narrow Round" yields a kind of peace and contentment more real than hope. Liberty, once cherished, is now "Avoided— like a Dream," Why is it "Too wide"? Because the soul cannot seek itself, its own society, in a field so vast. Only in "Heaven," and perhaps not even there, can the mystic expect to be redeemed from such svreet captivity. The growing affirmation of spiritual unity found by shutting out all else has replaced traditional

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260 religious hopes for fulfillment in the hereafter. Poem 674 apparently reveals complete reconciliation to solitude: The Soul that hath a Guest Doth seldom go abroad-Diviner Crowd at Home-Obliterate the nead-And Courtesy forbid A Host's departure when Upon Himself be visiting The Emperor of MenThere can be little doubt that the soul's "Guest" and "The Emperor of Men" refer to God. This poem is in the tradition of the great religious mystics. Having accommodated God, the soul has neither room nor need for other company. His visit is possible only when the soul has chosen the way of solitude. The first line of poem 711 is elucidated by the last. Minds hermetically sealed from the earthly atmosphere, isolated and turned inward on themselves, offer "powerful . . . Stimulus" to the would-be recluse: Strong Draughts of Their Refreshing Minds To drink--enables Mine Through Desert or the Wilderness As bore it Sealed Wine-* To go elastic— Or as One The Camel's trait— attained— How powerful the Stimulus Of an Hermetic Mind— The poet is able to proceed "Through Desert or the Wilderness" of her solitary way by drawing refreshment from the recluse mystics who have preceded her in the life of renunciation. Like a camel, she bears the "Sealed Wine" within so that she may "go elastic," free from the tether that ties most men to the earth. Though "Hermetic" is etymo logically

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261 related to the reputed founder of alchemy, Hermes Trismegistus, and not to "hermit," both the sound and the meaning of "hermetic" suggest the sealed life of the hermit. In the context of this poem the connotations of hermit are both strong and appropriate. The "Sealed Wine" also bears a second glance. As mentioned earlier, liquor and wine are often used as synonyms for ecstasy; perhaps the monory of ecstasy is the very stimulus that sustains the recluse, who has cut his umbilical connection with the world. The mystical ambiguity of freedom through exterior enthrallment is again expressed in the three lines of poem 720: No Prisoner be— IJhere Liberty— Himself— abide with Thee — But the history of freedom gained and freedom lost through emergence from childhood is more fully recounted in the nine stanzas of poem 728. Freedom is here gained through the quest of Icnowledge, and the object of knowledge Is set in the first stanza: Let Us play Yesterday— I— the Girl at school-You— and Eternity--the Untold Tale— In the fourth stanza she is Still at the Egg-life— Chafing the ShellWhen you troubled the Ellipse-And the Bird fellShe thus emerges into light from the "Egg-life" of childhood, but the egg and the ellipse also suggest a cosmic order, and one recalls that Christ, through the Crucifixion, also burst the pod. Could she again

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262 mean freedom gained from the egg of earth, a mystic freedom that gives her spirit the power of "Bird"? The seventh stanza seems to support such a conclusion: Can the Lark resume the ShellEasier— for the Sky— Wouldn't Bonds hurt more Than Yesterday? The "Sky" even more surely suggests a cosmic theme. Having attained the sky, how can the soul be content with earth? The next stanza repeats the question: Wouldn't Dungeons sorer grate On the Man— freeJust long enough to taste-Then--dooraed new-Shades of Plato's cave again. It is hard for the philosopher to go back. The final stanza is thus a plea: God of the Manacle As of the FreeTake not ray Liberty Away from Me-Considering all the evidence that Emily Dickinson accepted physical imprisonment in order to find spiritual freedom, one can hardly doubt that here too it is mystical liberty she seeks to retain. The poet speaks of renunciation in more direct terms in poem 745: Renunciation is a piercing Virtue— The letting go A Presence— for an ExpectationNo t nov;— The putting out of EyesJust Sunrise-Lest Day— Day's Great Progenitor-Outvie Renunciation--is the Choosing Against itself--

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263 Itself to justify Unto itself— When larger functionMake that appear-Smaller— that Covered Vision— HereIt Is a virtue painfully acquired since one must surrender the present delights of the world "for an Expectation" of bliss to come. One must close the eyes on the "Sunrise" of this outer life lest it seem to shine brighter than "Day" itself, the white of mystic unity. Renunciation involves a superior act of the will since it must seek its own justification in the face of what seems to be "larger function," that is, a gesture of greater virtue in the eyes of the world. It is always difficult to justify renunciation and monasticism to the casual inquirer, as any teacher of young adults must have discovered. The inevitable question is, VJhat good do they do in the world? or t-Jhom do they help? It never quite satisfies to say that the good they seek is not in the world, or that they help others by showing the way to spiritual fulfillment. In the eyes of the world the act of renunciation "that Covered VisionHere" will always "appear—/ Smaller" than acts of generosity, benevolence, and sacrifice for a human cause. Poems 746, 747, 750, and 753 all concern the cultivation of the interior life. The first is an uncomplicated paraphrase of Socrates' often-repeated advice "Know Thyself": Never for Society He shall seek in vain— Who His own acquaintance Cultivate— Of Men Wiser Men may wearyBut the Man within Never laiew SatietyBetter entertain

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264 Than could Border Ballad— Or Biscayan HymnNeither introduction Need You— unto Him— In 747 the antecedent of "It" must surely be the exterior life of the world : It dropped so low— in my Regard— I heard it hit the Ground— And go to pieces on the Stones At bottom of ray MindYet blamed the Fate that fractured— les£ Than I reviled Myself, For entertaining Plated Wares Upon my Silver Shelf — She denounces the self for placing value on the artificial or "Plated Wares" of the physical and giving them place among the genuine "Silver" of being. Silver is obviously a continuation of the imagery already established by "Sheen" and the unrefracted white light of unity. Poem 750 indicates that the poet finds in nature a pattern and a model for man's fulfillment: Growth of Man— like Growth of NatureGravitates within— Atmosphere, and Sun endorse it-But it stir— alone— Clearly the higher fulfillment of man "Gravitates within" where the depths of consciousness can be explored and expanded. The "Growth of Nature," the evolution of higher and higher species, teaches this, as valve, fin, hoof, and tail have been discarded in favor of interior development—an ever larger brain capable of self-consciousness. This mode of transcendence was explored in the previous chapter. The second stanza develops the idea still further:

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265 Each— its difficult Ideal Must achieve--Itself— Through the solitary provjess Of a Silent Life— This is quite clear, and it has both mystical and biological meaning. Evolution is a silent, recondite process the same as the mystical pursuit of unity. Both require the "Silent Life" and "Effort": Effort— is the sole conditionPatience of Itself— Patience of opposing forces— And intact BeliefLooking on— is the Department Of its Audience— But Transaction— is assisted By no Countenance— The "opposing forces" of flesh and spirit must be endured with "Patience," and "Belief" in the unity of being kept "intact" if the mystic is to achieve his goal. Like\/ise, the process of natural selection involves competition between opposing forces and assumes an in^licit belief in the improvement of the species. "Looking on" as observers of the evolutionary process, we are like an "Audience" and cannot really assist the "Transaction." In the same way, no one can really assist the mystic in the process of renunciation and transformation. One must first and above all satisfy one's own inner being, even if he is disdained by the world and must himself disdain the world. Poem 753 describes the ordeal between inner and outer: My Soul»-accused me-»And I quailed— As Tongues of Diamond had reviled All else (The Uorld) accused me— and I smiled— My Soul— that Morning— was My friend— Her favor— is the best Disdain Tovjrard Artifice of Time— or Men—

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266 But Her Disdain-'twere lighter bear A finger of Enamelled Fire— The soul's "Tongues of Diamond" and "finger of Enamelled Fire" are far more painful to endure than the disdain of "The World," an alternate reading for "All else." In fetct, finding favor with the soul makes it easy to disdain all else and to discern the "Artifice of Time— or Men." Seeing that time is merely an illusion enables the mystic to escape the earthly pattern of nostalgia for the past and anticipation of the future. He may thus enter into the timeless world of eternal present. Just as poem 753 notes that the mystic must disdain "All else," number 772 emphasizes that "All— is the price of All" : The Hallowing of Pain Like hallowing of Heaven, Obtains at a corporeal cost— The Summit is not given To Him who strives severe At middle of the HillBut He \iAio has achieved the TopAll— is the price of All— The "corporeal cost" required to hallow pain is the "All" of external, physical existence. It must be renounced and sacrificed if one is to attain "The Sunanit" and the "All" of interior, mystical fulfillment. Use of the term "All," like "Circumference," again suggests that the mystical quest is for wholeness, for identity with the totality of being. Poem 777 affirms that the soul is actually made \Aiea one is forced to face himself alone: The Loneliness One dare not sound— And would as soon surmise As in its Grave go plumbing To ascertain the size--

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267 The "Loneliness" of the solitary life is as deep as death itself, and most men thus fear to plunge to the bottom of consciousness. The Loneliness whose worst alarm Is lest itself should see— And perish from before itself For just a scrutiny— The fear is that in seeing to the bottom of consciousness, identity will be lost; the self will "perish from before itself." The Horror not to be surveyed— But skirted in the Dark— With Consciousness suspended— And Being under Lock— I fear me this— is Loneliness— The Maker of the soul Its Caverns and its Corridors Illuminate— or seal-This fear that self may be lost is a "Horror not to be surveyed." Thus consciousness is "suspended" lest we see, and individual being kept "under lock" lest it dissolve. This very fear is the poet's definition of loneliness, and it is the "Maker of the soul." The venture into the "Caverns" and "Corridors" of loneliness may either "Illuminate— or seal." That is, the venture may reveal the all, or it may seal the self from being, thus reducing the self to nothingness. The poem points up the danger that Emily Dickinson was constantly aware of in her chosen Way of Death, and it recalls once more her telling Abiah Root, "I love the danger I" The first and fifth stanzas of poem 788 are memorable expressions of the "Joy" found in the pain, as well as in the "Paradise" to which it permitted admission:

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268 Joy to have merited the Pain-To merit the ReleaseJoy to have perished every stepTo Compass Paradise— The emphasis is on "merit." The poet considers it a rare privilege to have been chosen for the Way of Death as well as for its reward. Even "to have perished" through the annihilation of self is joy sublime. The Right I recollect — 'Twas even with the Hills— The Depth upon ray Soul was notched— As Floods— on Whites of Wheels— T^at a rich combination of metaphors'. The "Hight" that is "even with the Hills" recalls a similar comparison in poem 772; both concern the sumnlt of mystical achievement. Here, however, the height is contrasted with the "Depth." The Way of Death has left a mark on the soul just as the high water line is still visible after the flood has receded. The flood suggests the all-consuming tide of solitude and renunciation as well as the drowning of the self. And the wheels on which the waterline is marked recall the arduous journey that has brought the soul through the dark valley and up the sunlit slopes. In poem 792 the valley becomes a pass, and the poet becomes quite literal about those \*hose lives she compares to her own: Through the strait pass of suffering— The Martyrs— ei^eo— trod. Their feet — upon Temptation— Their faces— upon God— A stately— shiiv en— Coiopany— Convulsion— playing roundHarmless— as streaks of Meteor— Upon a Planet's Bond— Their faith— the everlasting troth— Their Expectation— fair—

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269 Tlie Needle— to the North DegreeWades --so— thro' polar Airl Surely she admired the straight path of suffering followed by the "Martyrs," even though her o\jc spiritual e:q)erience is rarely stated in the conventional religious terms used here. She is not usually troubled by temptation, and does not often define the goal specifically as God. The convulsions of the way of suffering touch only the surface; they inflict no fundamental harm on the martyrs. Mystically wedded to God, their faith Is like a compass needle pulled toward the magnetic "North Degree." His attraction is so powerful that they are unaffected by the "polar Air" of privation through which they must pass to reach it. The four lines of poem 816 provide a succinct statement of the ambiguity of life and death to the mystic : A Death blow is a Life blow to Some Who till they died, did not alive become— ^Jho had they lived, had died but when They died, Vitality begun. The mystic death is the beginning of the interior life. If the nQrstic merely lives in the world, as implied in the third line, he will merely die in the ordinary sense of the term. But when he suffers the mystic death, "Vitality" begins and the force of physical death is voided. As evident in poem 833, the practice of humility is not, to the poet, shame or dishonor, but rather the sign of true dignity born of tried and cultivated love: Perhaps you think me stooping I'm not ashamed of that Christ— stooped until He touched the GraveDo those at Sacrament

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270 Coiamcmoratc Dishonor Or love annealed of love Until it bend as low as Death Red igni fled, above? This poem remlndc us agaiia that "the business and method of Mysticism is Love," and love necessarily involves suffering emd sacrifice. VThen "Christ— stooped until He touched the Grave," he proved that necessity and provided a model for the spiritual lover to cculate. Thus genuine humility, shown in the Way of Death, is the distinctive mark of sacramental love. To "bend as low as Death" is to achieve the ultimate dignity "above." Tlie lowest shall be made highest and the last first. Only the first stanza of poem 876 needs to be cited to show another unusual metaphor expressing the relationship between consciousness and the soul: It was a Grave, yet bore no Stone Enclosed 'twas not of Rail A Consciousness its Acre, and It held a Hunan Soul. Simply stated, the soul is entombed in consciousness, and the last stfinza indicates that it must await "Resurrection" to be released. One must assume again that following the mystic Way of Death is a means of reaching the depths of consciousness so as to effect that resurrection. In the prototypical stages of Christ's transcendence, resurrection is followed by ascension; likewise, then, the soul can ascend to unity with being once its resurrection from the Way of Death has been accomplished. Poem 899 could easily apply to both senses of death, natural and mystical : Herein a Blossom lies— A Sepulchre, between—

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271 Cross it, and overcome the BeeRemain*'tis but a Rind. The adverb "Herein" obviously refers to the bud containing a "Blossom." Between bud and bloom lies the dark, "A Sepulchre." Before being can emerge from the husk of flesh, it must go through that sepulchre. If it does so, it can "overcame the Bee" that threatens to rob the flower, but if it cowers from the hazard, "'tis but a Rind," without bloom and without soul. Struck, maimed, robbed, and slain— these are the violent verbs the poet uses in poem 925 to describe the spiritual assault that forced her to a life of renunciation and solitude: Struck, was I, nor yet by LightningLightning— lets away Power to perceive His Process With Vitality. Since she retains that "Power to perceive," she experiences a kind of life in death; the nQrstic process of transformation remains fully visible to her. Mairaad— was I—yet not by Venture Stone of stolid Boy— Nor a Sportsman's Peradventure— (ruthless pleasure—) Tflio mine Enemy? Robbed— was I — intact to Bandit— (yet met no Bandit—) All my Mansion tornSun— withdrawn to RecognitionFurthest shining—done-Yet was not the foe— of any— Not the smallest Bird In the nearest Orchard dwelling Be of Me— afraid. The soul could not have been thus wounded in sport or by accident, yet

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272 she knows no enemy. Her "Mansion," the body, is torn, and she Is left in the darloiess of seclusion. Since she is "not the foe>-of any" of earth's creatures, the attacker remains a mystery. Most-"I love the Cause that slew Me. Often as I die Its beloved Recognition Holds a Sun on Me-Best— at Setting— as is Nature's— Neither witnessed Rise Till the infinite Aurora In the other's eyes. The full mystical import of the poem is suspended until we reach these last two stanzas. Still unable to name God, the poet professes in terms otherwise remarkably reminiscent of the great mystics, "I love the Cause that slew Me." "Cause" suggests the philosophical "First Cause," which suits Emily Dickinson's concept of being as described in the last chapter, "Beloved Recognition" by that cause or creative principle "holds" light upon her to take the place of the natural sun that was "withdrawn" in the third stanza. Both suns seem "Best— at Setting," probably because imminent departure intensifies their beauty, and both apparently rose originally at the same time, which is a way of saying that spiritual and physical being were coupled even as they were initiated by First Cause. To asstime this is to reject the notion, so often evident in neoplatonism and Christianity, that the flesh was a later curse laid upon the spirit as a result of some original sin. A fine line must be drawn in describing Emily Dickinson's mysticism to distinguish between scorn for the flesh and the desire to transcend it. That desire, religiously cultivated by the Jiystic Way, is certainly manifest, but it is not

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273 accompanied by scorn. Emily Dickinson delighted In sensory pleasure and did not regard it as sinful In the manner of her Puritan forebears. Yet she fought to give up certain yearnings of the flesh, not because they seemed sinful, but because she knew, like the mystic, that a fuller delight lay In stripping the self of the encumbrances that prevent the soul from seeking Identity with the x^ole of reality. The delights of nature, she realized, were a prelude and a preparation for the supernatural ecstasy of spirit. Poem 944 also makes use of Images of sunset and dawn In describing the process of adapting to the newly gained spiritual home. It Is appropriate here among the poems of renunciation because the memory of "the Way" through which "Home" was achieved still Ungers poignantly: I learned— at least—what Home could beHow Ignorant I had been Of pretty ways of CovenantHow awlcward at the Hjrnm Round our new Fireside— but for this— This pattern— of the Way— Whose Memory drowns me, like the Dip Of a Celestial Sea— T^at Mornings In our Garden— guess ed— \^at Bees— for us— to hum— With only Birds to Interrupt The Ripple of our Theme— And Task for Both-» l^en Play be done— Your Problem--of the Brain— And mine— some foollsher effect— A Ruffle— or a Tune— The Afternoons— Together spent— And Twilight— In the LanesSome ministry to poorer livesSeen Poorest— thro' our gains—

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274 And then Return— and Nisht— and Home— And then away to You to pass— A new— diviner— careTill Sunrise take us back to SceneTransmuted— Vivider— Tliis seems a Home— And Home is not— But what that Place could be— Afflicts me— as a Setting SunWhere Dawn— loiows how to be— The first stanza lool<:s back upon her former ignorance of God's mystical "Covenant" in light of her new laiowledge of "what Home could be." She realizes In the second how awlcward she would be but for memory of "the Way," which "drowns me." This surely suggests the Way of Death in which she has been submerged. The next two stanzas concern the quiet delights and tasks that will occupy the divine lover and herself. In the fifth stanza they will minister "to poorer lives—/ Seen poorest thro' our gains." Like Plato's philosophers who go back into the cave, they will teach the Mystic Way to others. "And then away to You to pass" describes the transcendent merging in terms that are faintly sexual. The last seven lines seem to denote a return to physical reality, but it is reality now "Transmuted— Vivider" because of the liquid experience of night. It "seems a Home" but la not, for she is afflicted with nostalgia like a "Setting Sun" for "that Place" of the real dawn. The contrast of the two kinds of light recalls Plato's comparison of the illusory fire of the cave with the "real" illumination of the sun. As In the last poem, suffering is again viewed in retrospect in poem 957:

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275 As One does Sickness over In convalescent Mind, His scrutiny of Chances By blessed Health obscured-As One rewalks a Precipice And whittles at the Twig That held Him from Perdition Sown sidewise in the Crag A Custom of the Soul Far after suffering Identity to question For evidence 't has been-It is sweet to recall and relive the danger now that safety has been reached. After suffering and achieving unity, the soul looks back, almost unwilling to believe it was once limited In being to a single identity. Strongly reminiscent of Donne's Holy Sonnets, is poem 1005: Bind me--I still can sing-Banish--my mandolin Strikes true within-Slay--and my Soul shall rise Chanting to Paradise-Still thine. "Bind," "Banish," "Strikes," and "Slay" are echoed by similar punishing verbs in Holy Sonnet XIV: Batter my heart, three-personed God; for, you As yet but knock breathe, shine, and seek to mend; That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new. Not only are the punishing verbs similar, but the paradox "Slay--and my Soul shall rise" compares to "That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me." Both poems confirm the mystical m^^areness that the soul must suffer the pain of God in order to arise and learn to love. As mentioned before.

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276 the Crucifixion provides the model, and the traditional pattern of tragedy reiterates it, reminding us that we learn through suffering and I 6 as MacLeish's J.B. says, "what suffers loves." "Chanting" praises to the God Who punishes, the soul offers the ideal sacrificial love known as caritas . There can be no doubt that the words "life" and "death" are used ambiguously in Emily Dickinson's poetry. Poem 1017 offers compressed and conclusive evidence: To die— without the Dying And live — without the Life This is the hardest Miracle Propounded to Belief. Without the mystical meanings of death and life, the poem would not only be an enigma; it would be nonsense. With these meanings it can be paraphrased as follows: To die mystically through renunciation, without dying physically, and to live the interior mystical life without participating in social and external life— this is truly a miracle, hard for the realist to believe. Poem 1022 is a simple and direct testimony of spiritual achievement gained through rigorous discipline and suffering: I knew that I had gained And yet I knew not how By Diminution it was not But Discipline unto A Rigor unrelieved Except by the Content Another bear its Duplicate In other Continent. ^Archibald MacLeish, "J.B.," Theatre Arts . Feb., 1960, p. 64.

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277 During the ordeal the poet took comfort only in the knowledge that others "In other Continent"— European mystics probably--had been "Content" to bear a "Duplicate" trial. Now that the trial is past, however, she can look back and see that the pain was merely illusion, as she notes in poem 1040: Not so the infinite Relations--Below Division is Adhesion's forfeit--On High Affliction but a Speculation-And Wo A Fallacy, a Figment, We knew-The "infinite Relations" within the whole of being are unlike the relation of individuals "Below," where bonds are ultimately forfeited by death and "Division." "On High" the pains of "Division," "Affliction," and "Wo" are seen to be figments of our restricted, unreal vision. This Platonic conception offers still another slant on the mystic Way of Death. When one has come through it, it is possible to see the whole of human life as a shadowy pantomime on the stage of being. Like number 1005, poem 1059 treats the Way of Death and renunciation quite clearly as a religious sacrifice: Sang from the Heart, Sire, Dipped my Beak in it. If the Tune drip too much Have a tint too Red Pardon the Cochineal-Suffer the Vermi 11 ionDeath is the Wealth Of the Poorest Bird. Bear with the BalladAwkward— falteringDeath twists the strings — 'Twasn't my blame-Pause in your Liturgies-Wait your Chorals —

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278 While I repeat your Hallowed name-Again the sacrifice is treated as a song lifted in praise "from the Heart," but the poet takes advantage of the unexpected literal connotations of blood to emphasize that it is truly a sacrifice born of pain and death. Indeed, "Death is the Wealth" out of which the sacrifice is paid. "The Ballad," another name for the sacrifice, is "faltering" precisely because it is sung from the depths of suffering and death. She asks the lord to "Pause" amid the stronger "Liturgies" and "Chorals" to hear it nevertheless. In "A Free Man's Worship" Bertrand Russell describes the manner in which we can "build a temple for the worship of our own ideals": Except for those rare spirits that arc born without sin, there is a cavern of darkness to be traversed before that temple can be entered. The gate of the cavern is despair, and its floor is paved with the gravestones of abandoned hopes. There Self must die; there the eagerness, the greed of untamed desire must be slain, for only so can the soul be freed from the empire of Fate. (pp. 52-53) What an appropriate summary of much that has been said here about the mystic Way of Death. The "Self must die" and "desire must be slain" to gain freedom from fate. He later adds that "Fate itself is subdued by the mind which leaves nothing to be purged by the purifying fire of Time" (pp. 55-56). These insights are remarkably parallel to those expressed by Emily Dickinson in poem 1081: Superiority to Fate Is difficult to gain 'Tis not conferred of Any But possible to earn

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279 A pittance at a time Until to Her surprise The Soul with strict economy Subsist till Paradise. Both Russell and Emily Dickinson recognize that "Superiority to Fate" is gained through the mystical death of self. It is a slow and painful process, and freedom is earned "A pittance at a time." She does not even make the concession chat Russell does "for those rare spirits that are born without sin." On the contrary, she asserts that "'Tis not conferred of Any," but "with strict economy," which suggests the life of renunciation, the soul can "Subsist till Paradise" on its own terms, not those dictated by fate. The wealth that accrues from the loneliness of renunciation is the subject of poem 1116: There is another Loneliness That many die without-Not want of friend occasions it Or circumstance of Lot But nature, sometimes, sometimes thought And whoso it befall Is richer than could be revealed By mortal numeral Poem 1142 compares the building of a soul through pain and privation to the building of a house: The Props assist the House Until the House is built And then the Props withdraw And adequate, erect. The House support itself And cease to recollect The Augur and the CarpenterJust such a retrospect Hath the perfected Life-A past of Plank and Nail And slowness—then the Scaffolds drop Affirming it a Soul.

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280 As mentioned before, the memory of pain soon ceases. "A past of Plank and Nail" recalls the violent action that has been noted in earlier poems, and even more specifically produces overtones of the Crucifixion. This is borne out by the word "Scaffolds." Ultimately it could be called a poem of formation, rather than transformation. It suggests that the soul actually comes into being through the painful birth of mystical death. Just as fate can be defeated, so also can "Doom" be deposed by daring to suffer all that it threatens: When I hoped I feared-Since I hoped I dared Everywhere alone As a Church remainSpectre cannot harm-Serpcnt cannot charm-He deposes Doom Who hath suffered him-She seems to say that hope exists side by side with fear and that she could dare the alone only after surrendering worldly hope. That done, neither "Spectre" nor "Serpent" held any horror for her. This may be her way of saying she fears no devils. "Doom" is literally judgment, and he who has accepted the vanity of his hopes has nothing further to lose either through judgment or through doom in the sense of damnation. Another poem that conveys the conviction of having come through the dark night of the soul is number 1194: Somehow myself survived the Night And entered with the Day — That it be saved the Saved suffice Without the Formula Henceforth I take my living place As one comnaited led--

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281 A Candidate for Morning Chance But dated with the Dead, "As one commuted" or transformed she can now enter into unity with the one, but having elected and endured the sacrificial life of renunciation, she is "dated with the Dead." It is little wonder that Emily Dickinson's close friends, relatives, and even her preceptors were not aware of the spiritual agony and transformation taking place within her. She explains the reason in poem 1225: Its Hour with itself The Spirit never shows. What Terror would enthrall the Street Could Countenance disclose The Subterranean Freight The Cellars of the SoulThank God the loudest Place he made Is licensed to be still. That deepest and most turbulent realm of consciousness is paradoxically a place of silence— like the silence of a Trappist monastery. That the life of subjugation, humility, and "Shame" gives way to possession of infinity is affirmed in poem 1304: Not with a Club, the Heart is broken Nor with a Stone— A Whip so small you could not see it I've known To lash the Magic Creature Till it fell. Yet that Whip's Name Too noble then to tell. Magnanimous as Bird By Boy descried— Singing unto the Stone Of which it died—

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282 Shame need not crouch In such an Earth as Ours— Shame— stand erect-The Universe is yours. As in poem 1005, the victim offers a song to the one who punishes. The "Whip's Name/ Too noble then to tell" is surely understood to be God, whose name the poet still hesitates to utter. God lashes until "the Heart is broken" or until the "Magic Creature" falls, for the shame thus suffered prepares the soul to "stand erect" and receive the whole "Universe" of being. Poem 1335 indicates that the soul's dark night makes possible "that perfect Dream" wherein"the Power accosts": Let me not mar that perfect Dream By an Auroral stain But so adjust my daily Night That it will come again. Not when we know, the Power accosts— The Garment of Surprise Was all our timid Mother wore At Home--in Paradise. The expression "daily Night" makes it clear that this night has nothing to do with the earth's cycle of darkness and light, and it also suggests that the soul's night is perpetual, even if the dream is not. The last three lines may refer to the sense of wonder that is considered characteristic of the Virgin Mary, especially at the time of the Annunciation, and perhaps also, appropriately for this poem, at the time of the Assumption—though this event is not recognized by Protestantism. Poem 153A is a very simple two-line statement of at least one reason for renunciation: "Society for me my misery/ Since Gift of Thee—" The poem is important also as a clear claim to the spiritual gift of

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283 grace. Once the poet possesses and is possessed by it, the external life becomes the one of misery, and renunciation becomes sweet. Poem 1592 asserts that The Lassitudes of Contemplation Beget a force They are the spirit's still vacation That him refreshAlmost every aspect of the poet's monastic way of life has been mentioned except contemplation. As Thomas Merton's autobiography makes clear, the principal fruit of renunciation and the death of self is contemplation. Here the poet recognizes its value, both as "a force" capable of reaching the depths of consciousness, and as a form of silent refreshment for the spirit. Poem 1595 may in one sense be a rather trite paraphrase of the cliche, "Still waters run deep," but for our purposes it offers one more reason for practicing silence: Declaiming Waters none may dread-But Waters that are still Are so for that most fatal cause In Nature— they are fullWhen one has achieved fullness of spirit, there is no further need for discourse, conversation being, for many, a way of relieving the emptiness of existence. Poem 1664 is one of the longest, but little comment is necessary to point out its relation to the Mystic Way as a whole and to the Way of Death in particular. It naist be remembered that The Way is ultimately a journey marked by many obstacles in quest of ontological unity: I did not reach Thee But my feet slip nearer every day

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284 Three Rivers and a Hill to cross One Desert and a Sea I shall not count the journey one When I am telling thee Two deserts but the Year is cold So that will help the sand One desert crossed— The second one Will feel as cool as land Sahara is too little price To pay for thy Right hand The Sea comes last— Step merry feet So short we have to go To play together we are prone But we must labor now The last shall be the lightest load That we have had to draw The Sun goes crooked— That is Night Before he makes the bend We must have passed the Middle Sea Almost we wish the End Were further off Too great it seems So near the Whole to stand We step like Plush We stand like snow The waters murmur new Three rivers and the Hill are passed Two deserts and the seal Now Death usurps ray Premiiun And gets the look at Thee— One device that should be noted here, pointing up the anguish of the mystic journey, is the alternation of extremes of hot and cold, wet and dry. One might wish to find in this the influence of Dante, but it is not hard to discover similar devices in other examples of quest literature, such as Pilgrim's Progress and The Faerie Queene . The fourth stanza, where "Night" occurs for the first time, suggests the dark night of the soul, which appropriately comes near the end of the journey.

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285 She has become so used to the dark that "Almost we wish the End/ Were further off." Another reason for hesitation is an awareness of the momentous state she has almost reached: "Too great it seems/ So near the Whole to stand." She could hardly be more definite in defining the mystical goal of unity with the whole of reality. The last few motions support the impression that merging is about to begin: "We step like Plush/ We stand like snow." These are gestures of the nearly disembodied. Then as "The waters murmur new," it seems that perfect liquidity is achieved; all obstacles are overcome. Then death intervenes. One of the great uncertainties of the mystical quest is in5)lied In these last two lines, and here again Emily Dickinson's skepticism tends to counterbalance her nQrsticism. She has persevered in the ^fystic Way, convinced that none of the world's rewards (including literary fame) is ultimately as worthy of pursuit. She has been willing to pay the high price of renunciation even though, as she once told Abiah Root, ". , . it is hard for me to give up the world."' Yet now that the end of the quest is in sight, now that the individual identity is fading into the Tracts of Sheen, natural death intervenes. If "Death usurps my Premium," does it really prevent the realization of unity by blotting out the consciousness that has been plumbed to its depths, or is natural death only another step toward a still more ineffable goal? Not even the greatest mystic who may claim to have overcome the effects of death can answer with certainty. If the immortality to which Emily Dickinson has transcended through the force of contemplation is coeval with immortality beyond this life, then natural death, ^Letter 23.

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286 as mentioned earlier, is only the low doorway between two of its rooms. But what if death is absolute? The question must remain a question. Poem 1729 might well have been inspired by Bernini's Baroque representation of "The Ecstasy of St. Teresa": I've got an arrow here. Loving the hand that sent it I the dart revere. Fell, they will say, in "skirmish"'. Vanquished, my soul will know By but a simple arrow Sped by an archer's bow. The sculpture, like the poem, is one of the most graphic descriptions of the weapon that conquers the soul. The poem is appropriate to three categories of mystical experience: the paradox of pain and bliss, the mystic death, and divine ravishment. Three consecutive poems, similar in their allusions, will complete this survey of the poems of renunciation and mystical death. In addition to the agony in Gethsemane and the Crucuf ixion, both of which were mentioned earlier, poem 1735 introduces another incident in Christ's suffering, the crowning with thorns. Here the crown of thorns becomes a symbol not only of pain but of ultimate indignity. That he who could wear the hlgihest crown should accept such mockery and such pain is both a paradox and a fulfillment of his admonition that the lowest shall be highest. Only the first stanza is pertinent: One crown that no one seeks And yet the highest head Its isolation coveted Its stigma deified Wearing the crown of mystical suffering requires "isolation" and signifies

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287 a type of deification, for the mystic thus identifies with the suffering of Christ, the Logos, the source of being. Poem 1736 brings together several aspects of the Way of Death: Proud of my broken heart, since thou didst break it. Proud of the pain I did not feel till thee. Proud of my night, since thou with moons dost slake it. Not to partake thy passion, m^ humility. Thou can' St not boast, like Jesus, drunken without companion Was the strong cup of anguish brewed for the Nazarene Thou can' St not pierce tradition with the peerless puncture. Seel I usurped thy crucifix to honor mine I I have consistently avoided the temptation to relate Emily Dickinson's renunciation to a human love affair, as so many of her admirers and biographers have done, and I am by no means convinced that it ought to be. Neither would I rule out the possibility that it may have been prompted, at least in part and in the first Instance, by the unfeasibllity of some human attachment. In general, I feel that it does not greatly matter how or why the renunciation began; vdiat does matter greatly is how it developed and how remarlcably comparable it became in her understanding to the dark night of the soul that all great mystics must undergo. The poet's own understanding, her interpretation of experience— that, after all, is what the critic must try to discover. These points are made here because poem 1736 does offer evidence of a human motive for renunciation. The poem seems to be addressed to one who might have become her lover, given other circumstances. It could have been Wadsworth. The "moons" that "slake" the night may be letters that she occasionally received from him during her isolation.

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288 She practiced "humility" by not partaking his passion. He cannot "boast, like Jesus" that he drank the "cup of anguish" "without companion," for she drank it too. Again unlike Jesus, he could "not pierce tradition," which stood in the way of any consummation of their love. Finally, she points out that she lays claim to his suffering in order to "honor mine I" The poem is included here because it employs so many of the images that have been discussed as relating to the mystic Way of Death. Moreover, our consideration of Emily Dickinson's renunciation would be incomplete without some aclaiowledgment of the possibility that it came about in this way. If it did, we could do no more than place her alongside a passionate but sacrificing Heloise who renounced an Abelard, or a Donne who turned his passion toward God after a fruitful marriage was ended by his wife's death. Surely it is true that for Donne a love that was initially human became divine. In poem 1737 the poet seems clearly to realize just how the Mystic Way has substituted for what might have been the wife's role: Rearrange a "Wife's" affection". When they dislocate my Brain'. Amputate my freckled Bosoml Make me bearded like a manl Blush, my spirit, in thy FastnessBlush, my unacknowledged clay-Seven years of troth have taught thee More than Wifehood ever may'. Love that never leaped its socket-Trust entrenched in narrow pain-Constancy thro' fire-awarded— Anguish— bare of anodyne I

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289 Burden-borne so far triumphant— None suspect me of the crown. For I wear the "Thorns" till Sunset — Then— my Diadem put on. Big nry Secret but it's bandaged— It will never get away Till the Day its Weary Keeper Leads it through the Grave to thee. Like a nun, she has lost some of the characteristics of femininity through the rearranging of her affection from that of wife to Bride of Awe. Symbolically, the arranging has amputated "my freckled Bosom" and made "me bearded like a man," but she assures herself in the second stanza that "Seven years of troth" to Awe have taught her more than human marriage could. Unlike human love that tends to waver, the more than huiaan love she has chosen has "never leaped its socket." Through the cauterizing power of "pain," "fire," and unrelieved "anguish," the heart has remained constant. The "Burden" of suffering, the crown of thorns, has been "borne so far triumphant," and she loiows that in death it will be replaced with a real cronm. Again her sacrifice is related to Christ's: the crown of thorns in the now as well as the "Diadem put on" in the exalted life to be. For the most part, I have thus far tried toa'oid treating the poems as necessarily autobiographical, but the present poem so strongly suggests the way the poet must have assessed her life in its declining days that one must remark on it. Tlie last stanza is particularly pertinent. What is the great "Secret" that she has kept "bandaged "? Can there be any doubt, in view of all that has been said, that the momentousness of her interior life, resulting from a mystical sense of

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290 reality, of sacrifice, of death, and of exaltation, was the great secret? Those who looked upon the sedate homestead on Main Street and even those vrtio were closest to the spinster recluse could not have suspected the depth of her understanding and the breadth of her interior world. It is a secret that she could not share even if she would, for none of those she laiew would have understood. She would keep it "Till the Dayits Weary Keeper/ Leads it through the Grave to thee." The poem as a whole surveys her life with a certain degree of irony and detachment. She almost seems to smile as she considers the atrophy of her feminine features, the austere masculinity of the life she has chosen. The nearly useless body, the "unacknowledged clay," is like something apart from the spirit, and they "blush" to behold each other, so unrelated have they grown. Yet the sacrifice of one has permitted the expansion of the other. Thus it is not a poem of regret, but rather one of acceptance, affirmation, and anticipation. In selecting the poems to include in this chapter, I was faced with the fact that perhaps as many as half of the poems concern death, in one way or another. Certainly not all of these treat death mystically and sacrificially, but then there were others concerned with sacrifice, suffering, and renunciation that would not ordinarily be classed with the poems of death. Hence the number of possibly related poems is immense. From these I at first selected 130 poems that seemed to me to treat renunciation, pain, and death in such a way that there were at least n^stical or sacrificial connotations. In the final sifting I have eliminated almost half of these. The approximately seventy poems

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291 that remain and that have been discussed still comprise a significant body of work and give us some indication of the immeasurable value of the Way of Death in Emily Dickinson's life.

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CHAPTER VII RAVISHMENT: THE CONSUMMATION OF UNITY The three parts of this chapter. Divine Love, Wholeness, and Absorption, reveal three aspects of the mystical sense of unity, and to some extent they mark progressive phases of its achievement. In almost every attempt to delineate the stages of mystical experience, by observers and scholars as well as by mystics themselves, the ultimate state that is achieved— or at least sought— is unity. It may not always be expressed in the same terms, however. In St. Teresa's Seven Degrees of Orison, for example, the last degree is the "Spiritual Marriage of the soul," which corresponds to what I have called Divine Love. It is preceded by the "Pain of God," which corresponds to the Way of Death discussed in my previou£ chapter. The life of Christ is often seen as a prototype or "Pattern" of mystical achievement, and Underbill notes "the necessary adventures of the spirit" that follow the pattern: Its obscure and humble birth, its education in poverty, its temptation, mortification and solitude, its "illuminated life" of service and contemplation, the desolation of that "dark night of the soul" in which it seems abandoned by the Divine: the painful death of the self, its resurrection to the glorified existence of the Unitive Way, its final reabsorption in its Source--all these, they say, were lived once in a supreme degree in the flesh, (p. 121) Here there are two statements describing the final stage: "its resurrection ... to the Unitive Way, its final reabsorption in its Source." ''In El Castillo Interior, quoted by Underbill, p. 92. 292

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293 These correspond to the last two parts of this chapter. Wholeness and Absorption. Evelyn Underhill herself often refers to Unity as the final stage or ultimate objective of the mystical life. In her four-part definition of mysticism the fourth is designated as "Living union with this One" (p. 81), and in what she calls "the classification under which we shall study the phases of the mystical life," the last is "Union: the true goal of the mystic quest" (p. 170). Her book's last chapter, "The Unltive Life," is a thorough treatment of this final phase of mystical experience, including such considerations as deification, spiritual marriage, self-surrender, immersion in God, transnaitation, the beatific vision, and self-loss. One of the most concise and comprehensive summaries of the worldwide acceptance of unity as the central aim of mysticism is to be found in The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James: This overcoming of all the usual barriers between the individual and the Absolute is the great mystic achievement. In nyetic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness. This is the everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition, hardly altered by differences of clime or creed. In Hinduism, in Neoplatonism, in Sufism, in Christian mysticism, in VJhitmanism, we find the same recurring note, so that there is about mystical utterances an external unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think, and which brings it about that the mystical classics have, as has been said, neither birthday nor native land. Perpetually telling of the unity of man with God, their speech antedates Languages, and they do not grow old. (p. 410) To support these assertions about the "recurring note" of unity in mystical writing, James proceeds to quote excerpts from the Upanishads and from the work of the Vedantists, the Sufi Gulshan-Raz, Plotinus, Suso,

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294 H. P. Blavatslcy, S\d.nbume, and others. Because of its relevance to a favorite term of Emily Dickiixson's, the statement quoted from Plotinus* Enneads may appropriately be repeated. In speaking of the mystic vision of God, Plotinus says. What sees is not our reason, but something prior and superior to our reason. ... He who thus sees does not properly see does not distinguish or imagine two things. He changes, he* ceases to be himself, preserves nothing of himself. Absorbed in God, he makes but one with him, like a centre of a circle coinciding with another centre. ^ I have previously noted that "wholeness" often seems to be what Emily Dickinson means by that fascinating word "Circumference." I would still maintain it, but add the geometric consideration mentioned here by Plotinus; "a centre of a circle coinciding with another centre." The outside circumference of that larger circle with which we share a centre is thus the total sphere of Being toward wliich we strive when reaching outside ourselves. The mystical yearning for unity and the more earthbound intellectual search for wholeness are perhaps not so different after all, and Emily Dickinson, both as mystic and as skeptic, reaches out toward that extreme circumference. An excellent account of the mystical meaning of unity is to be found in John Blofeld's translation of "The Zen Teaching of Huang Po on the Transmission of Mind" (as reprinted in The World of Zen ). The first sentence in what follows will recall what has been said more than once in this study about Emily Dickinson's reluctance to use the term "God." 411. Enneads, trans. Bouillier (Paris, 1861), III, 561, in James, p.

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295 Zen follov/ers (\jiio have much in ccnsnon with mystics of other faiths) do not use the terra "God," being wary of its dualistic and anthropomorphic iiaplications. They prefer to talk of "the Absolute" or "the One Mind," for which they employ nany synonyms. ... A Buddha's Enlightenment denotes an intuitive realization of his unity with the Absolute from vhich, after the death of his body, nothing remains to divide him even in appearance. Of the Absolute nothing whatever can be postulated; to say that it exists excludes nonexistence; to say that it does not exist excludes existence. Furthermore, Zen followers hold that the Absolute, or union v;ith the Absolute, is not something to be attained; one does not ENTER Nirvana, for entrance to a place one has never left is impossible. The experience commonly called "entering Nirvana" is, in fact, an intuitive realization of that Self-nature which is the true Nature of all things. . . . It is incorrect to employ such niystical terminology as "I dwell in the Absolute," "The Absoluee di/ells in me," or "I am penetrated by the Absolute," etc.; for, when space is transcended, the concepts of whole and part are no longer valid; the part IS the whole— I All the Absolute, except that I am no longer "I." I^at I behold then is ray real Self, which is the true nature of all things; see-er and seen are one and the same, yet there is no seeing, just as the eye cannot behold itself. (Ross, pp. 66-67) In the attempt to achieve that self-realization that can lead to unity, even in the attenqit to communicate it, the Christian mystic and indeed all mystics who happen to be the heirs of Western civilization are handicapped by what must be acknowledged as the nearly inescapable influence of Plato. That influence touches our conception of reality, our attitude toward nature, the very patterns of our thought and language. Platonic dualism, ironically, grew out of Parmenide£in monism, which was the resi.lt of an effort to prove that only "Being, the One, i£, and that 3 Becoming, change, is illusion." This led to the notion that the transitory world of appearance. Becoming, should be scorned. The attitude of 3 Copleston, I, i, 65.

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296 scorn for the transitory world reioalns in Plato, even though he was unwilling utterly to deny its existence. Thus Platonic dualism was born: two worlds of unequal value, one "real" and unchanging, the other "unreal" and transient. The first eventually becomes the domain of metaphysics and the other ultimately of science. The metaphysician seeks knowledge through revelation and intuition, the scientist through experiment and logic, yet both try to communicate their conception of reality through the supposedly logical instrument of language. If langtiage is unfitted to convey the exactness of scientific data and deduction, as both mathematicians and semanticists believe, it is even less fitted to convey the unutterable experiences of the mystic. Thus Russell says, "The logic used in defence of mysticism seems to be faulty as logic. ..." In the first place, logic is the technique of the scientist, as noted above, and in the second, linguistic logic is deceptive. Russell describes further the mystic's attempt to employ logic : Belief in a reality quite different from what appears to the senses arises with irresistible force in certain moods, which are the source of most nysticism, and of most metaphysics, \fliile such a mood is dominant, the need of logic is not felt, and accordingly the more thoroughgoing mystics do not eiiq)loy logic, but appeal directly to the immediate deliverance of their insight. But such fully developed mysticism is rare in the West. When the intensity of emotional conviction subsides, a man who is in the habit of reasoning will search for logical ^rotinds in favour of the belief which he finds in himself.^ This statement suggests one of the remarkable differences between the ^•Ifysticism and Logic," p. 19.

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297 mystical expression of Emily Dickinson and that of others vAio are perhaps more readily granted to be nrjrstics but vjho are less capable of expressing their experiences linguistically. IJhether Emily Dickinson was "in the habit of reasoning" or not, she did not seek "logical grounds" for communicating her perceptions. It is almost as if the poet developed a special form, a unique unlogical but not illogical syntax, to meet her intuitional requirements. It is almost as if she were somehow able to escape or obviate the influence of Platonic dualism on the patterns of language and thought. Yet there is perhaps another explanation for the form she achieved. She doubtless realized, as did Sidney Lanier, that the basis of poetry is not wholly linguistic and hence not wholly logical, that it also has roots in naisic, William James makes these interesting observations about music and mystical expression: In mystical literature such self-contradictory phrases as "dazzling obscurity," "whispering silence," "teeming desert," are continually met with. They prove that not conceptual speech, but music rather, is the element through which we are best spoken to by mystical truth. Many n^rstical scriptures are indeed little more than musical compositions, (pp. 411-412) The verbal music that Emily Dickinson created issued from levels of consciousness that ordinary language could not reach. She indeed produced a new form, and it is this that justifies her being considered, along with Hopkins, the very earliest of the "modern" poets. Poetry afterward begins to break the mold of conventional prose syntax, to convey its impressions directly and without recourse to logical patterns. James notes further that "Music gives us ontological messages \^ich non-naisical criticism is unable to contradict. . . " (p. 412). Tliat most profound of mystical experiences, the consciousness of unity

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298 with Being itself, is perhaps finally unutterable, but the poetry of Emily Dickinson combines two qualities that bring it close to the goal of transmission. One of these is music. The other is the ability to transcend the limits of Western linguistic structure, with its "logical" predications, and to grasp the impressions of nystical insight in stilllife images that are immediate, concrete, and sensory— qualities more typical of the painting and poetry of the East than of the West. In some ways Emily Dickinson's view of nature is also more Eastern than Western, especially in that she conveys little or no sense of guilt or fallen nature. Platonism combines with the Christian scriptures to implant in the Western mind an ineradicable feeling that the sensory world is corrupt and sinful. The whole tradition of medieval asceticism, based on St. Augustine and ultimately on ncoplatonism, teaches us to regard the physical world as a vain pageant, mere nothingness, unworthy of study or human concern. Knowledge of God and the plan of salvation, the only worthwhile laaowledge, was to be gained solely through faith and revelation. Such laaowledge was purely supernatural; thus nature was false. Though this belief begins to mellow in Catholicism after St. Thomas Aquinas, it is reasserted and intensified by Protestant reformers, reaching its climax in American Puritanism. It still prevailed to some extent in nineteenth century Ncv? England. The fashion among Emily Dickinson's literary contemporaries was to react against the traditional Christian view of nature. Emerson consciously did so, of course, by espousing Transcendentalism, but a more specifically non-VJestern attitude is r ep ealed in such poems as "Hamatreya"

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299 and ••Brahraa," vrtiich echo Hindu philosophy. The Old Testament teaching that man rightfully subjugates nature is questioned. Thoreau reacted not only by word but by deed, and today "Many Zennists feel an affinity for the life and work of ThoreauV Some of his unjudging, pictorial observations of nature have been selected by R, H. Blyth for their similarity to "a Japanese literary foirm known as haibun" (Boss, p. 278). Hawthorne reacted superficially, but the very vehemence of his protest revealed how strongly he was still imbued with the Puritan sense of guilt. Emily Dickinson seemed to make nearly a clean break, perhaps because she never really let herself be persuaded to adopt the Calvinist philosophy of nature, however oppressively it may have hung in the air. Just as she successfully isolated herself from society, she seems to have isolated her mind and senses from many of the conventional attitudes of her time, particularly vhen she came to view nature. As Johnson notes in his biography, "her association with the world of nature \ia.s an unalloyed happiness" (p. 192). She lived in a world where the coming of spring, the fading of a petal, and the emerging of the butterfly were momentous events— x^erc love and growth and death were the only vital realities. In this she lived in unity vjith all life— like the follower of Zen. The words of Huang Po express the Zen attitude: The single aim of the true Zen follower is so to train his mind that all thought processes based on the dualism inseparable from "ordinary" life are transcended, their place being taken by that Intuitive Knowledge which, for the first time, reveals to a man what he really is. If All is One, then lcno^7ledge of a being's true self-nature— his original Self— is equally a laiowledge of all-nature, the nature of everything in the universe. (Ross, p. 67)

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300 The difference between the Western and the Eastern attitudes toward nature needs to be pinpointed a bit more specifically. As noted above, the Western tradition, still gensrally implicit, holds that knowledge of God is purely supernatural, that visible nature and spiritual reality are entirely separate worlds. Huang Po insists that a conplete conception of reality must embrace both worlds: The Absolute, or Reality, is regarded as having for sentient beings two aspects. The only aspect perceptible to the iinenlightened is the one in which individual phenomena have a separate though purely transitory existence within the limits of spacetine. The other aspect is spaceless and timeless; moreover all opposites, all distinctions and "entities" of every kind, are here seen to be One. Yet neither is this second aspect, alone, the highest fruit of Enlightenment, as many contemplatives suppose; it is only when both aspects are perceived and reconciled that the beholder may be regarded as truly Enlightened. Yet, from that moment, he ceases to be the beholder, for he is conscious of no division between beholding and beheld, (p. 66) Thus sense is not scorned, but welcomed as another avenue to unity. Identification with nature is a necessary half of the total coiiq>reheusion that leads to unity with the One. This is both Oriental and Transcendental. Gelpi notes the efforts of Orestes Brownson, Theodore Parker, and Thoreau to reassert man's necessary relationship with nature: "Christianity could survive, Brownson concluded, only with a resurgence of the primal energy \^lch would again join both orders— matter and spirit, nature and heaven, body and soul— into an organic whole." Parker advanced the Natural-Religious View whose "revelation was the perception of the glorious coherence of all things in the Immanent Godhead." And Thoreau felt that "When the senses operated freely, heaven took place all around us, and multiplicity blended into the one divine articulation of Nature."

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301 Gelpl concludes by saying that "There was in Emily Dickinson a similar inclination of mind and heart. Whether or not she derived it from reading Brownson and Parker and Thoreau, her response to her own religious dilemma had much in common with theirs" (pp. 77-79). I submit that it also had much in consnon with Eastern art and wisdom, particularly Zen Buddhism. I doubt that she was directly influenced by Eastern religion or philosophy, but the similarity between her unencumbered vision and that of the Zen poet is often striking. In his book Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics , R. H. Blyth says that Emily Dickinson is "even nearer to Daizui than Blake." Thus in her free and guiltless observation of nature, as well as in her frugal style, Emily Dickinson created a form more successful in conveying the mystical sense of unity than perhaps any verbal medium in the West up to her time. The distinctive quality of that medium is attributable, I believe, to a finely tuned perceptiveness to the sights, sounds, and textures of the physical world that she truly found to be "intimations of immortality." She achieved unity by overcoming dualism in three important ways: in adopting a view of nature than includes no scorn for the transitory world of becoming, in refusing to observe structural molds of language that support a hollow logic, and in obviating the subject-object relationship between herself and reality. %ew York, 1960, p. 295.

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302 Divine Love . — Richard Chase's observation that ". . . it is disconcertingly difficult to separate the image of God from the image of the lover" (p. 140) has already been mentioned, but it is appropriate to recall it at this point. The reason for the difficulty is that God often is the lover, especially in the poems after 1861. Poem 246, which was written in that crucial year, is in the category of those wherein the identity of the lover is still uncertain: Forever at His side to walk-The smaller of the two! Brain of His BrainBlood of His BloodTwo live8--0ne Being— now— Forever of His fate to taste— If brief— the largest part-If joy— to put my piece away For that beloved HeartAll life— to know each other— IJhoia WG can never learn-And bye and bye-a ChangeCalled HeavenRapt Neighborhoods of Men-Just finding out--what puzzled us— Without the lexicon'. Not only might she, as woman, be "The smaller of the two," but as the part beside the Vlhole, as creature beside creator. She celebrates the merging of her brain with his, her blood with his. She has become one with Being, and there is now only "One Being." Mention of grief and joy, elements of earthly life, casts some doubt on God's candidacy as lover, and the fact that heaven is a change to come "bye and bye" strengthens that doubt. Hence this poem must be regarded as transitional between earthly and divine, and perhaps purposely ambiguous.

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303 The poem that follows it, number 247, is also in the category of uncertainty. The poet offers to barter her possessions in nature— her life, the bobolink, June, roses, butterflies, doubloons— just "to see his face." She concludes as follows: Now — have I bought it— "Shy lock"? Say'. Sign me the Bond! "I vow to pay To Her— who pledges this — One hour— of her Sovreign's face"*. Extatic Contract'. Niggard Grace'. My Kingdom's worth of Bliss I "Sovreign" strongly suggests God just as the words " Extatic " and "Bliss" do, but there is no way of knowing for sure. Perhaps the most convincing evidence that she seeks to look on the face of God is that it takes her whole " Kingdom's worth" of earthly treasures to buy just one glimpse. Just one moment, of bliss. The poet's relation to "Deity" is enigmatically described in poem 263. Here the "Soul" itself seems to be partitioned, half pinned to the physical self and half wedded to eternity: A single Screw of Flesh Is all that pins the Soul That stands for Deity, to Mine, Upon ray side the VailOnce witnessed of the GauzeIts name is put away As far from mine, as if no plight Had printed yesterday. In tender— solemn Alphabet, My eyes just turned to see, ^Jhen it was smuggled by my sight Into Eternity—

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304 More Hands — to hold—These are but TwoOne more new-mailed Nerve Just granted, for the Peril's sake-Some striding— Giant—Love So greater than the Gods can show. They slink before the Clay, That not for all their Heaven can boast Will let its Keepsake— go But for the "single Screw of Flesh," the soul would be wholly "Deity." That is, there would be only Being itself and no fleshly manifestations to distort its unity. Once the "Vail" of "Gauze" has been lifted, the soul's name printed in the dust will vanish, "as if no plight" had ever been made between flesh and spirit. The noun form of "plight" here is equal to the Anglo-Saxon root meaning pledge, rather than to the modern noun meaning dangerous condition. Once the gauze barrier has been passed, the soul will hold hands with all others that have gone to compose the whole. The "Nerve" granted to make the dangerous passage is "Giant— Love," the mystic's sole motive. The power of love is "greater than the Gods can show," for the "Clay" that would never "let its Keepsake—go" (the soul, that is) for all the lures and promises "their Heaven can boast" willingly surrenders it for love. Two attitudes seem implicit in this last stanza: a certain scorn for the proffered heavenly rewards of conventional religion and full acceptance of the mystical relationship between "Giant— Love" and the soul's gravitation toward unity. This poem, also written in 1861, reveals a new and far richer understanding of love than that evident in the two previous poems. This new understanding must be taken into account in the love poems that come after it.

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305 Tlie Divine Lover, though unnamed, is surely the protagonist in poem 315. It would be hard to account for the vivid verbs in any other way except to assume that they attempt to give sensory expression to the soul's ravishment: He fumbles at your Soul As Players at the Keys Before they drop full llusic on— He stuns you by degrees-Prepares your brittle Nature For the Ether ial Blow By fainter Hanmers--further heard-TBien nearer— Then so slow Your Breath has time to straighten— Your Brain— to bubble Cool— Deals--One--iraperial-»Thunderbolt-That scalps your naked Soul— When Winds take Forests in their Paws— The Universe--is still— The "Etherial Blov;" prepared for by "fainter Hammers" suggests the lover's inevitable conquest after overcoming the soul's resistance. The battle Imagery used to describe the act of love is reminiscent of the Renaissance; Donne's influence, in particular, may again be evident. After the beloved has had time to recover momentarily, the "imperial-Thunderbolt" is hurled at the "naked Soul," an act that only a god could perform. Though it may be a traditional combination, "naked Soul" seems here to have erotic connotations. The last t\«) lines, forming a separate stanza, denote the calm following consummation. A number of poems written around 1862 give some indication of a relationship with God as the Divine Lover, but in rather conventional terms and without mystical connotations. Hence they do not justify being quoted or discussed fully. Poem 336, for example, asserts that

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306 "The face I carry with me— last— / When I go out of Time" will be "thine" and that it, like bearing "her Master's name," will qualify her for a crown. Poem 357 says quite literally that "God is a distant— stately Lover—/ Woos, as He states us— by His Son." The "Vicarious Courtship" is compared to that of John Alden on behalf of Miles Standish, but the soul is assured that Miles and John, in this case God and Christ, are synonymous. Needless to say, the poem produced some irate letters from readers when it was first published in The Christian Register in 1891 and even when Mrs. Bianchi included it in Further Poems of Emily Dickinson in 1929 (see variorum, I, 284-85). In poem 368 she remarks "How sick— to wait— in any place— but thine," and refuses comfort from anyone else. "One port— suffices— for a Brig— like mine " ; it is better to toss in a wild sea than to reach the "' spicy isles— '/ And thou— not there." These last lines seem to reject the reward of an exotic heaven unless it is shared with the lover, the One in whom the soul seeks rest. Though the poem gives little indication of what it actually refers to, number 424 seems to make a case for actively pursuing mystical love rather than awaiting the chance discovery of earthly love. She has been "Removed from Accident of Loss/ By Accident of Gain," perhaps a way of saying she has been preserved from the loss of human love by the accidental experience of ecstasy. From this she has discovered the need "to earn" those "Riches" of which she has been "unconscious," slow to comprehend "That but the Dower's fraction—/ Awaited even" herself. "Dower" suggests that portion of the lover's estate that will be granted with the consummation of unity.

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307 Poem 438 is apparently another transitional poem between human and divine love. The poet protests her inability to "Forget" and asks if "The lady with the Amulet/ Forgot she wore it at her Heart." She also protests that she could never "Deny," any more than the rose would deny "her Bee." It is inconceivable that she could forget or deny the lover. She will remain constant after lady and rose are gone, and she fervently promises, "I'll do thy Will." The poem thus affirms willing subjugation and acquiescence to the lover. There can be little doubt that the lover is divine, though the terms of the relationship are human. In poem 443, "I tie my Hat," the poet records a number of insignificant actions she continues to perform, even though "Existence— some way back—/ Stopped--struck— my ticking— through." She says that even though "the Errand's done," we must continue "To simulate" action "To cover what we are/ From Science»-and from Surgery." We naist keep up the appearance of life in the world for the "Telescopic Eyes" that could not "bear on us unshaded" to look, lest the vision "start them." She explains the interior change by declaring that "since we got a Bomb—/ And held it in our Boson—/ Nay— Hold it— it is calm." Could this not be the potential disintegration of identity that leaves her stunned by its av7esomeness, just as the potential result of the atom bomb leaves us all speechless? In a quatrain separated frcnu the rest of the poem by a heavy line, she concludes: Therefore— we do life's labor-Though life's Reward— be done— With scrupulous exactness— To hold our Senses— on— The poem obviously concerns the semblance of outer life she keeps up even

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308 after the great awareness has settled in her bosom. The "Bomb" within, perhaps mystical love, makes her calm, makes her ignore death and fight to retain a hold on sense. For the unity to which the bomb can admit her threatens to annul and absorb the world that sense perceives. A more fitting metaphor could hardly have been found to convey the impression of mystical self-annihilation to a generation far more bomb-conscious than her own. In poem 461 she declares, "A Wife— at Daybreak I shall be." Here it is obviously the passage through death that will transform her from "Maid" to "Bride." She refers to the transformation as a "Victory," again applying the battle metaphor to the game of Divine Love. The anticipation of ravishment is coupled with a certain girlish reluctance about the loss of innocence in the couplet I ftimble at my Childhood's prayer So soon to be a Child no more— But she realizes that there is no turning back; she hearkens dutifully to the lover ' s cocmand : Eternity, I'm coming— Sir, Savior— I've seen the face— beforel There is no doubt that God is the lover, and she confirms that she has seen him before— perhaps in the momentary state of ecstasy so vividly ..remembered . Poem 463, however, declares something more than a momentary glimpse of the lover's face; here his countenance and his presence are apparently constant : I live with Him— I see His face— I go no more away

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309 For Vislter--or Sundown-Death's single privacy The Only One— forestalling Mine — And that--by Right that He Presents a Claim invisible-No Wed lock-granted Me-The first three lines seem to say that unity with the lover is achieved and that it is preserved through solitude. Nothing can interrupt their cohabitation except death itself, whose "Claim invisible" is apparently prior to that of the lover to whom "No Wedlock" has been "granted Me." I live with Ilim— I hear His Voice— I stand allve--Today-To witness to the Certainty Of Immortality-Taught Me — by Time — the lower WayConvict lon--Every day-That Life like This — is stopless — Be Judgment--what it may— In spite of death's claim, she enjoys the lover's presence, not only through vision but hearing also. She can "witness to the Certainty/ Of Immortality" because unity with the lover has already been granted "Today." She has learned to affirm it in "Time" through "the lower Way" of Death, as described in my preceding chapter. She thus has daily confirmation, enduring "Conviction," that the life of unity is "stopless" no matter x^ahether there be "Judgment" or not. In short, her private experience supersedes religious teaching by its firmer conviction. Unity is no mere hope; it is affirmed by the certainty of experience. In the first of the four stanzas of poem 473 she asks, "What right have I— to be a Bride," and declares that she has

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310 No one to teach me that new Grace-Nor Introduce— my Soul-It is clear from this statement that the anticipated marriage is mystical and not physical, but even more specific in describing the spirit's preparation for union is the last stanza: Fashion My Spirit quaint--white-Quick — like a LiquorGay— like LightBring Me my best Pride-No more ashamed-No more to hide-Meek— -let it be— too proud— for PrideBaptized — this Day — A Bride— We have already explored the meanings of "white" and "Liquor," but here the two combine with "Light" to convey a sensory inqjression of ecstatic diffusion. White has been used along with sheen to symbolize the brilliance of reality in which individual identity is lost, and in the context of the "white election," as also here, it has the connotations of the bride's garment of innocence as v/ell as the nun's habit. Here the word "quaint" is added; she realizes that such a spirit is uncommon and indeed singular. Liquor has been used to symbolize the effect of ecstasy itself, but here it is the "Quick" action of liquor that she desires, its ability to break rapidly through the superficial levels of consciousness to the depths where unity can be perceived. The characteristics of white and quick are both Incorporated in "Light." If the spirit becomes like light, it acquires the ability to scatter evenly. Instantly, and universally. The word "Pride" recalls the many symbols of regal status the poet

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311 has attached to the spirit received by Awe. Here the privilege of spiritual marriage implies a status "too proud--for Pride," so proud, in fact, that it demands a reversal: "Meek--let it be." Meekness is the proper attitude for the bride. Not only is it a marriage but baptism as vjell: a double sacrament. And it is achieved "this Day." As in the previous poem, the immediacy, the now, is emphasized. She does not have to await this reward In the next world. The unity of divine marriage is hers already. Poem 493 describes the poet's state of mind after the fact of divine marriage: The World--stands--solemner--to me— Since I was wed--to Him-A modesty befits the soul That bears another 's-name — A doubt — if it be fair--indeed-To wear that perfect--pearl— The Man--upon the Woman--binds-To clasp her soul--for all-A prayer, that it more angel--prove-A whiter Gift— within— To that munificence, that chose-So unadorned— a Queen-A Gratitude--that such be trueIt had esteemed the Dream-Too beautiful— for Shape to prove— Or posture — to redeem.' Solemnity and modesty are the first feelings she experiences. These might be compared with the breathless ecstasy experienced earlier and with the feelings of royal status or privilege that once made her feel aloof from the world. She now at times has "A doubt" if she be fit "To wear that perfect— pearl— / The Man— upon the Woman-binds." She has used the pearl before, alluding to the pearl of great price, as a means of suggesting both the value and whiteness of the ecstatic vision. Now

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312 it is applied to something accomplished— a marriage. It is a token given "To clasp her soul— for all." It is "A whiter Gift" that signifies the soul's possession by the white "all" of infinity and eternity. She hopes that she can prove worthy of "that munificence, that chose—/ So unadorned— a Queen." If she was Queen of Calvary while following the Way of Death, she is now queen of the unified state that follows resurrection from that Death. She feels a great sense of "Gratitude—that such be true," for through the suffering it has been like a "Dream—/ Too beautiful— for Shape to prove." Yet it is now an accomplished reality. Poem 506 also concerns her status after the fact; here it is after the fact of ravishment, signified by his touch: He touched me, so I live to knwj That such a day, permitted so, I groped upon his breast-It was a boundless place to me And silenced, as the awful sea Puts minor streams to rest. Just as the sea is capable of absorbing all "minor streams," so also is "his breast" a "boundless place" where all identities and barriers are absorbed. And now, I'm different from before, As if I breathed superior air — Or brushed a Royal Gown-My feet, too, that had wandered so-My Gipsy face-trans figured now-To tenderer Renown-The wandering is now at an end. She has come to rest, and her "Gipsy face" has been "transfigured" to tenderness. The success of the journey has brought her "Renown."

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313 Into this Port, if I might come, Rebecca, to Jerusalem, Would not so ravished turn— Nor Persian, baffled at her shrine Lift such a Crucifixal sign To her imperial Sun. The allusion is probably to Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel and granddaughter of Abraham's brother Nahor. Unwilling that Isaac should marry a Canaanite, Abraham sent his servant to Mesopotamia to fetch Rebel<:ah. The poet seems to compare her own anticipation of divine ravishment to that of Rebekah: "And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she sav; Isaac, she lighted off the camel" (Genesis 24:64). The Persian maiden is apparently baffled by a similar ravishment, possibly at a shrine of Zoroaster . In poem 549 the poet affirms "That I did always love . . . Tliat love is life—/ And life hath Immortality." In the conclusion she bases her proof on the pajrment of suffering she has been willing to make: This— dost thou doubt— SweetThen have I Nothing to show But Calvary— The Calvary through \jliich she has tested her love has earned her the right to that immortality with vjhich she identifies love. Poem 580 contains clearly se:cual connotations, yet the relationship is described in terms of a contract: I gave myself to Him— And took Himself, for Pay, Tlie solemn contract of a Life Was ratified, this wayShe has given herself to the Divine Lover through a life of renunciation, and in return she has received "Himself," that is, the T*holeness of being.

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314 The third stanza harks back to poem 368 in taentioning the "Isles of Spice." In the earlier poem she says: Ours be the Cargounladen "here -Rather than the " spicy isles-" And thou--not there — In the later poem she stipulates: But till the Merchant buy — Still Fable— in the Isles of Spice— The subtle Cargoes-lie-In either case the beloved's "Cargo" must remain in hold and hence unreal until the lover receives it. T-ifhen ho does so, they inhabit the "Isles of Spice" and both achieve reality. The sexual meaning is obvious, but spiritually, the poem seems to say that the soul itself remains a mere "Fable" until it is received by God. Perhaps it is even more accurate to say that the reality of one depends on the other: At least-'tis >futual.--Risk— Some--found it--Mutual Gain-Sweet Debt of Life— Each Night to owe— Insolvent--every Noon-The poet suggests a subtle philosophical concept here. God's reality and man's spiritual reality are mutually dependent on each other. God's reality undergoes a "Risk" In that It depends on the acceptance of man; this may point to the conclusion that God is an idea In the mind of man. But man must also "Risk" his spiritual reality on acceptance by God, for without God in some sense, man is no more than a mortal organism. There is "Mutual Gain" in the unity of the two. It is a fruitful interaction giving birth to a whole body of religious and artistic tradition which would be barren without it. Though the soul senses the "Debt" it owes

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315 "E ich Night," as the fear of cosmic solitude causes it to seek refuge in God, it becomes "Insolvent" again "every Noon" as the light of day removes the fear and allows the soul to forget God. If such an interpretation is valid, the poem is a curious yet meaningful combination of faith and skepticism. It seems to recognize the instability of spiritual reality while at the same time affirming its human necessity. Without the lover the beloved would be reduced to extinction; so the poet says in number 587: Empty ray Heart, of Thee-Its single ArteryBegin, and leave Thee out-Simply Extinction's Date-Much Billow hath the Sea-One Baltic--They-Subtract Thyself, in play. And not enough of me Is left--to put away-"Myself" meant Thee — Erase the Root — no Tree-Thee — then--no me-The Heavens stripped-Etex'nity's vast pocket, picked— The mutual dependence of one on the other for existence echoes the preceding poem. The perfect identity of the two is expressed in the unusual last line of the second stanza: "'Myself* meant Thee." Through severe economy the last stanza says more than it seems to say. As the tree cannot live without its root, neither can the beloved without the lover. Yet life is not all that vjould be lost. The last two lines make it fairly certain that the lover is identified with God, for his loss means the loss of heaven too. Even eternity would be empty without an

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316 awareness of unity between the Lover-Creator and the beloved creature. Their mutual dependence, likened to that of root and tree, bears further consideration. The tree could not survive without the invisible root that sustains and nourishes it, suggesting that man depends on an invisible source of spiritual sustenance, but neither could the root survive if the tree were cut dOT^n, for that would mean the end of photosynthesis. Thus God's reality again depends on human exposure. Root and tree are really one, but the invisible part can be manifested only through the visible leaves and branches exposed to the light of day: God is expressed through man. Still the visible part would be lifeless and sere without water supplied by the root: man would be arid without God. W. H. Auden's poem "Musee de 3eaux Arts' remarks on how oblivious the rest of the world is to the suffering of the individual. Emily Dickinson's poem 620 makes a similar observation: It makes no difference abroad-The Seasons — fit— the same-The Mornings blossom into Noons-And split their Pods of Flame-Wlld f lower8--kindle In the Woods-The Brooks slam--all the DayNo Black bird bates his Banjo-For passing Calvary-Auto da Fe— and Judgment-Are nothing to the Bee — His separation from His Rose-To Him--sums Misery-As evidenced by the verbs, "blossom," "split," and "kindle," it is the bursting forth of new life that affects the observer with particular poignancy. Nature does not sympathize but instead goes on her merry

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317 way. The last stanza seems at first to be another expression of the same idea: the bee is unconcerned with the terrors of "Auto da Fe-and Judgment." The whole of misery is summed up for him in "His separation from His Rose." One wonders, however, if the poet does not herself identify with the bee here, as she has in other poems, notably those of ecstatic drunkenness. If so, then she may be saying that to her too. Judgment and auto da fe (either a burning or literally an act of faith) "Are nothing." The only really important terror, the only actual misery, is separation from God the lover. Not only is poem 725 addressed to the divine lover, it is rich in mystical paradox: Where Thou art--that is Home — Cashmere — or Calvary — the same-Degree--or Shame-I scarce esteem Location's Name-So I may Come-What Thou dost — is delight — Bondage as Play-be sweet-Imprisonment-ContentAnd Sentence--Sacrament-Just We two — meet-Where Thou art not-is Wo-Tho' Sands of Spices--row-lliat Thou dost not--Despair-Tho' Gabriel--praise me--Fir-In the lover's presence "Cashmere," luxurious delight, and "Calvary," the Way of Death, are "the same." In an expression reminiscent of iluth's devotion, she disavows concern for location so long as she "may Come" to the lover. His 'Bondage," paradoxically, is "sweet," his "Imprisonment — Content," and his "Sentence" is a "Sacrament" eagerly accepted. Absence of the lover "is Wo," and for the third time she uses "Spices" to suggest

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J 18 an exotic place that she could not enjoy without him. Even the highest angelic praise is "Despair" if granted for an action not shared by the lover, God himself. Obviously the approval of any of his ministers, either human or divine, means little to her. She will settle for nothing less than his own approval-indeed his very presence. The possibility that divine marriage, like human marriage, may have its moments of looking back is acknowledged in poem 732: She rose to His Requirement--dropt The Playthings of Her Life To take the honorable Work Of Woman, and of Vife-If ought She missed in Her new Day, Of Amplitude, or Awe-Or first Prospective--Or the Gold In using, wear away. It lay unmentioned--as the Sea Develope Pearl, and Weed, But only to Himself — be known The Fathoms they abide-The combination of "rose" and "dropt" in the first stanza accentuates the height that must be achieved to meet 'His lie qu ir erne nt." Attaining the height is a part of reaching spiritual maturity, which requires the surrender of "The Playthings" of childhood. She has doubtless anticipated "Amplitude," that is, the expansion of consciousness, and "Awe," the continuous mystery of his presence, but at times the glory of her "first Prospective" may, like "Gold/ In using, wear away," or at least seem to, through human weakness and weariness. Any vague sense of tarnished radiance remains "unmentioned" however. Both "Pearl, and Weed," the priceless and the burdensome, "Oevelope" in any marriage, but they are at depths known only to God "Himself," covered by "Fathoms" of

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319 fulfillment that "abide" through momentary regret. Of greater concern than the possibility of momentary regret, however, are "Doubt" and "Apprehension" regarding her "Worthiness," as described in poem 751: My Worthiness is all my Doubt-His Merit--all my fear-Contrasting which, my quality Do lowlier--appear-Lest I should insufficient prove For His beloved Need — The Chiefest Apprehension Upon my thronging Mind-'Tis true — that Deity to stoop Inherently incline-For nothing higher than Itself Itself can rest upon-So I--the undivine abode Of His Elect Content — Conform my Soul— as twere a Church, Unto Her Sacrament — The first two stanzas in particular recall the Catholic's sense of unworthiness as he comes to receive holy communion: "Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum die verbo, et sanabitur anima mea." That is, "Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." The text derives from a passage in Luke 7:1-10, which describes the centurion's request that Christ heal his servant. Though he felt unworthy to have Jesus enter under his roof, he had such faith in Christ's power and authority that he could declare, "Only say the word, and my servant shall be healed." Like the centurion, the poet recognizes her "undivine abode" but prepares nevertheless to receive "His Elect Content"

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320 by conforming her soul, even as a church must conform to the "Sacrament" God grants. Mention of 'Sacrament" adds to the probability of the allusion to communion just described. She takes some comfort for her presumption in receiving him from the fact that "Deity" must "stoop" in any case, since "nothing higher than Itself" exists that it "can rest upon." The last stanza is one of the strongest statements of her anticipation of mystical ravishment. She recognizes the need to conform to God, even though she refused to conform to the doctrines of a church. This may at first seem ironic, but one wonders if the church's conformity to man rather than to the requirements of pure spirit may not have been the reason of her reluctance. Poem 765 seems to denote the transfer of the poet's affections from a temporal to an eternal lover. She once looked upon the earthly lover as a "Revelation" of "Eternity," and hence of 'Deity," but he "constituted Time" and wag ultimately "removed" from her sight. God "The Absolute--removed/ The Relative" lover specifically "That I unto Himself adjust/ My slow idolatry." The experience of earthly love she seems to view as a preparation for divine love. It is tempting to see Wadsworth in the role of the earthly lover who seemed to her a revelation of eternity and deity, and it is credible that she may have considered his departure for San Francisco (which occurred about a year before the poem was written) a providential removal intended to direct her "idolatry" toward the divine lover. Donne came to look upon his wife's death in a similar light. Poem 817 could be regarded as the keystone among illustrations of

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321 the poet's impression of mystical marriage: Given in Marriage unto Thee Oh thou Celestial Host-Bride of the Father and the Son Bride of the Holy Ghost. Other Betrothal shall dissolveWedlock of Will, decayOnly the Keeper of this Ring Conquer Mortality-The second stanza notes two requirements for entering into the marriage: "Other Betrothal shall dissolve," meaning not only that an earthly lover must be given up but that any commitment or identification with the earth must be dissolved; and "Wedlock of Will, decay," stipulating that the bride, again like the nun, must surrender the private human will and submit to the vow of obedience. To consummate such a marriage is tc "Conquer Mortality." Several aspects of the poet's relationship with the divine lover are treated in poem 881: I've none to tell me to but Thee So when Thou failest, nobody. He is first of all a confidant; without him she would have no one to whom she could bare her soul. It was a little tie — It just held Two, nor those it held Since Somewhere thy sweet Face has spilled Beyond my Boundary-Because of his variousness and vastness, no doubt, God the lover keeps spilling "Beyond my Boundary"; he cannot be perpetually held by the "little tie" of mystical marriage.

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322 If things were opposite--and Me And Me it were--that ebbed from Thee On some unanswering Shore-Would'st Thou seek so— just say That I the Answer may pursue Unto the lips it eddied through-So--overtaking Thee-She reveals the remoteness of God; he has seemed to dwell apart "On some unanswering Shore," and she wonders if he would seek her as ardently as she has sought him "If things were opposite." If the lover would only answer, she could pur?ue the sound of his voice to "the lips it eddied through" and thus overtake him. Unlike poems familiar in mystical literature in which God is the suitor, he is here the elusive pursued. The cosmic significance of love is conveyed in the four lines of poem 917: Love — is anterior to Life-Posterior--to Death-Initial of Creation, and The Exponent of EarthSuch a conception is typical of the mystic, whose ultimate motive in following the Way of Death as well as in seeking unity, is love. Love is indeed prior to life and "Posterior — to Death." Achieving its fulfillment through unity is the mystic's way of overcoming time. The Greeks too recognized love as the principle of "Creation" when they defined the cosmos as a universe well ordered by love. Thus love indicates the power or "Exponent" by which the earth can be magnified for those with mystical vision. The first two lines of poem 924 are much like the first two lines of the poem just quoted; both assert that love is not confined within the bounds of life and death. Love, in fact, 'Usurps" the place of life

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323 X7hen life runs out. Love-is that later Thing than Death-More previous--than Life-Gonfirms it at its entrance — And Usurps it--of itself-Tastes Death--the first — to hand the sting The Second--to its friend-Disarms the little intervalDeposits Him with God-Then hover8--an inferior Guard-Lest this Beloved Charge Need--once in an Eternity-A smaller than the Large — Love receives death's sting and "Disarms the little interval" death intrudes in the continuity of being. It "Deposits life "with God," the "Large" lover, and stands by lest the "Beloved' need "smaller" portions of love than God can distill from his vastness. In poem 966 she enumerates what she has gradually abandoned or given up in order to come to the divine lover: All forgot for recollecting Just a paltry One — All forsook, for just a Stranger's New AccompanyingShe has intentionally forgotten all other loved ones to devote her whole mind to "a paltry One." The word "paltry" is a surprising adjective in this context, but we must assume that it refers specifically to the number and not to the value of the One. It thus accents what at first vjould seem to be a great sacrifice; of many for only one. Like Ruth, however, she is willing to forsake all others to accompany the Stranger. Grace of Wealth, and Grace of Station Less accounted than An unknown Esteem possessing-Estimate--Who can--

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324 Home effaced--Her faces dwindled-Nature--altered small-Sun— if shone--or Storm— if shattered— Overlooked I allWealth and status are of little account in comparison to the lover's inestimable but "unknown Esteem" she seeks to possess. Perhaps nothing was more vital to Emily Dickinson than "Home" and "Nature," yet they too lose significance as the poet abandons all to follow the lover. The "faces" of home have "dwindled," not only in her affections but perhaps in number also, and nature, that once stood so large in her attention, is now "altered small." She has become oblivious even to "Sun" and "Storm." Dropped--ny fate— a timid Pebble-In thy bolder Sea— Prove--me--Sweet— if I regret it-Prove tfyself— of Thee— In this last stanza it is clear that she has cast her lot with the divine lover. In its pictorial simplicity, the image of sea and pebble, chosen to signify the plunge, is typical of Eastern literature. Moreover, it recalls earlier uses of the sea in her own poetry to express the mystical unity of being. Once a pebble is dropped in such a sea, its impact radiates outward endlessly; likewise the vow of spiritual marriage. The suggested changes show that the poet intended "Prove" in the nexttolast line to mean "ask," and it is fairly certain from the context that the more conventional meaning is intended for the "Prove" in the last line. She thus requests the lover to ask her if she regrets the choice, and she indicates her eagerness to have him "Prove" her steadfast. In mimber 968 the poet muses about the transformation the years may hopefully bring about in her, making her more fair and fit to meet

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325 the lover. The "long Hindrance" of the Way of Death should increase her capacity for "Grace" : Fitter to see Him, I may be For the long Hindrance-Grace— to Me-» With Summers, and with Winters, grow. Some passing Year— A trait bestow To make Me fairest of the Earth-The Waiting— then--will seem so worth I shall impute with half a pain The blame that I was chosen--then-In physical appearance Emily Dickinson was not considered pretty. Her large brown eyes were indeed striking. As Johnson notes in his biography, Higginson remarked on their ability to catch and hold the light but added that she was a "plain, shy little person, the face without a single good feature" (p. 21). He was not the only one to remark on her plainness. It is thus understandable that in the mystical realm, where so many of the world's values are reversed, the poet might hope that time would ultimately "make Me fairest of the Earth." If so, then all the waiting would have been worthwhile, and she would have no cause to regret "that I was chosen— then." Time to anticipate His Gaze— Its fir8t--Delight— and then— Surprise— The turning o'er and o'er my face For Evidence it be the GraceHe left behind One Day--So less He seek Conviction, That— be This— The waiting will also allow for time to savor the lover's "Delight" and "Surprise" as he gazes on her face and discovers in it "the Grace—/ He left behind One Day,"

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326 I only must not grow so new That He'll mi8take--and ask for me Of me— when first unto the Door I go— to Elsewhere go no more-I only naist not change so fair He'll sigh— "The Other—She— is Where?" The Love, tho, will array me right I shall be perfect— in His sightShe suggests another reversal of physical process : she grows new instead of old. She therefore fears that the lover way not recognize her when she comes to the "Door" of death; that he may sigh and ask of the new self where "The Other" may be. Even so she is confident that her love "Will array me right" and make her "perfect— in His sight." If He perceive the other Truth— Upon an Excellentcr YouthHow sweet I shall not lack in Vain— But gain— thro' loss--Through Grief— obtain— The Beauty that reward Him most-The Beauty of Demand-*at Rest— If he perceives the truth that through the robbery of time she has only gained "an Excellenter Youth" of purity and grace, her renunciation will seem "sweet," and she will know she has not lacked the world's rewards in vain. She will have gained the consummation of divine love through loss of the world, thus following the wisdom of Jesus and of mysticism. Through the "Grief" and sorrow of the Way of Death she will have obtained "The Beauty" most worthy in his eyes, "The Beauty of Demand— at Rest." The poet's suggested change for "Demand" is "Belief," and this helps to clarify the line's meaning. What she will have obtained is the serenity of understanding, a state of "Rest" vrtierein the search and the journey will have ended. To anticipate a state of rest is to assume a transcen-

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327 dent absolute. As we have seen, however, Emily Dickinson's conception of reality is not always transcendent and absolute; it is sometimes evolutionary and dynamic. Such inconsistency is understandable in a searching intellect, and it is not uncommon in the mystic, but as one might expect, the absolute conception becomes more and more evident in the poems of unity. It could hardly be otherwise. Human life is indeed marked by continuous change, both physical and intellectual, but in the white mist of unity, vAiich is both bodiless and selfless, no alternation can be perceived or imagined. Poem 1013 concerns the ambiguity of living and dying, either of which the poet is willing to undertake for the lover: Too scanty ' twas to die for you. The merest Greek could that. The living, Sv/eet, is costlier— I offer even that-The Dying, is a trifle, past. But living, this include The dying imiltifold— without The Respite to be dead. Death is clearly a state of rest and "Respite," and the poet hardly deems it a sacrifice therefore to die in the physical sense. Living, however, includes "The dying multifold": a poetic description of the mystical Way of Death. It involves dying countless times, in ways that are "costlier" in effort and pain than the "trifle" of human mortality alone. Reading poem 1028, one is reminded of a very real and costly sacrifice Emily Dickinson did make in this world. She was urged, particularly by Helen Hunt Jackson, to seek some measure of earthly glory

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328 through pxiblication, and there is every reason to believe she could have gained it, but she verj' pointedly asserts 'Twas my one GloryLet it be Remembered I was owned of Thee— Not only did she not seek to publish; she steadfastly refused, even in the face of numerous entreaties and offers by Mrs. Jackson, Thomas Niles, and others. Hlgginson's advice against publication was doubtless one reason, and her fear of editorial "corrections" was probably another, but neither seems fully satisfactory. The little poem just quoted is perhaps a clue to more vital reasons. To publish would have meant spending what was intended for the lover on a fickle mistress, the public. It would have meant submitting the acuteness of her perceptions to the dullness of obtuse readers and submitting the Integrity of her consciousness, which was the strength of her art, to the scissors of an editor who might omit enigmatic phrases to suit the masses. To publish would have been to trade the crown of eternity for the momentary glory of applause. Since the poetry was also her life, it would have made her solitary life public "like a frog," and it would have admitted the world to the private sanctuary of her mind and heart, v^ich she reserved for a nameless lover. The slow departure into eternity depicted in poem 1053 recalls a similar journey in "I Could Not Stop for Death," and it is therefore tempting to regard Death as the protagonist in both, but 1053 can be seen just as vividly as a description of joyful ascension to the lover: It was a quiet wayHe asked if I was his—

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329 I made no answer of the Tongue But answer of the Eyes-And then He bore me on Before this mortal noise With swiftness, as of Chariots And distance, as of Wheels, This World did drop away As Acres from the feet Of one that leaneth from Balloon Upon an Ether street. The Gulf behind was not. The Continents were newEternity it was before Eternity was due. No Seasons were to us— It was not Night nor Morn— But Sunrise stopped upon the place And fastened it in Dawn. The lovers' exchange of eyes is a traditional allusion to courtly love. It is an equally common traditional practice for the lover to bear his lady away from the noisy world to a secluded bower. Here the conveyance is no mere carriage but a vehicle that rises like a "Balloon" so that "This World did drop away/ As Acres (or Counties in an earlier version) from the feet." It is a truly cosmic scene— with eternity before, with the cycle of opposing seasons reconciled, and with day and night lost in perpetual "Dawn." The scene strongly suggests the ideal of unity. In poem 1055 God is a heavenly caller who must not be kept waiting at the door. Again the metaphor is one of courtship: The Soul should always stand ajdr That if the Heaven inquire He will not be obliged to wait Or shy of troubling Her Depart, before the Host have slid The Bolt unto the Door— To search for the accomplished Guest, Her Visitor, no more—

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330 She is not disposed to play the part of the coy maiden. She stands ready to admit the lover at any time lest he depart, leaving her "to search" in futility and emptiness. Thus the mystic quest for her is typically the reverse of courtly manners; the lover does not pursue, and the soul does not play the game of hard-to-get. Poem 1072, obviously written at a high pitch of excitement, is more exclamatory and impressionistic than logical. It can hardly be paraphrased or systematically explicated, but it is one of the most startling and affirmative expressions of achieved nuptial status: Title divine— is mine*. The VJife— without the Signl Acute Degree—conferred on me— Empress of Calvary'. Royal— all but the Crown'. Betrothed— without the swoon God sends us Women— When you— hold— Garnet to GarnetGold— to GoldBorn— Br idalled— Shrouded— In a Day— Tri Victory— "My Husband "--women say— Stroking the MelodyIs this — the way? Johnson notes that there are two manuscripts for the poem, the first probably sent to Samuel Bowles with the following three lines at the end: Here's — what I had to "tell you"— You will tell no other? Honor— is its o\7n pawnShe is obviously entrusting Bowles with the secret of a mystical experience, which the world might think madness. The poem is meant to explain something she had meant to tell him but could not in a personal interview. Social intercourse had by this time (1862) become painful and

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331 difficult for her . The second copy was sent to Sue some four years later. The word "gives" was substituted for "sends" in line seven, and "Tri Victory—" added as a separate line after line eleven. Following Johnson's one-volume edition, I have included the line above. The two words are important, in that they give to the experience an interpretation of success or achievement that might not otherwise be evident. Whatever else the poem may be besides exclamation, it clearly affirms the "Royal" status of "Wife" and "Empress of Calvary," a term used elsex»here, "Betrothed— without the swoon" may be a way of saying that the union was accomplished without death. "Garnet" held "to Garnet" and "Gold--to Gold" seem to symbolize the juxtaposition of the three occasions mentioned in the next line: birth, marriage, and death. According to the added line, the experience, presuinably of unity, constitutes a triple "Victory," that equals the emotion and drama of all three events compressed into one"Day." After that day she can wondrously exclaim "My Husband," a sound as sweet as "Melody." The final puzzling question "Is this — the way?" suggests several possible interpretations. It could be merely an effective reverse of the declarative statement that this is the way unity must be achieved. She could be inquiring of mystics with greater experience if this is truly the Mystic Way. Or the question could be directed toward God himself. Which ever may be the case, she is herself firmly confident that this is the way and that she has been gloriously rewarded for following it. Poem 1229, written in the third person, apparently tries to distance the transformation that has occurred in "Her" because of divine love:

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332 Because He loves Her We will pry and see if she is fair What difference is on her Face From Features others wear. Has his love made her fair v^o was once plain? Has unity with the One transfigured her face, as Christ was transfigured before his disciples? The questions reveal normal curiosity about one who has been ravished by the divine. It will not harm her magic pace That we so far behind— Her Distances propitiate As Forests touch the Wind Not hoping for his notice vast But nearer to adore 'Tis Glory's far sufficiency That makes our trying poor. Like children, the observers wonder if they can follow far behind to catch some glimpse of the glory to which she has been admitted. The one thus swept up in rapture is like the wind; the forests seek to touch it without risking the danger of Impeding it, without inviting it to stay or even being noticed by it. The futility of grasping the glory of one who is divinely chosen "makes our trying poor." In poem 1237 the divided self is the basis of competition, even envy, in the race to overtake the lover. Variants for certain words are inserted for the somewhat different shades of meaning they provide: My Heart ran so to thee It would not wait for me And I affronted (discouraged) grew And drew away For whatso'er my pace He first achieve (espouse) thy Face Allotted tv;o—

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333 The "Heart" apparently runs more unswervingly toward the lover than the intellectual self. This is a very pointed reminder of the ambiguity of Emily Dickinson's personality suggested by the title of this study. Evidently it is the "Heart" that designates the mystic in her, while the intellectual half of her being remains a skeptic. The skeptic is "affronted" and "discouraged" because the heart moves without question and without hesitation to "espouse" the lover. The intellectual self has the same goal but toust proceed along the hard road of knowing. It looks askance at the "general . . . Grace" that might be "Allotted" the strictly emotional worshipper. Not in malignity Mentioned I this to thee— Had he obliquity Soonest to share (spare) But for the Greed (vaunt) of him— Boasting (Wooivtg) my PremiumBasking (Winning) in Bethleem Ere I be thereShe does not accuse the emotional self of dishonesty, but of "Greed" and boastfulness. Are these not in fact the very qualities that seem most distasteful in the fanatic? One may be tempted to find the fanatic dishonest but realize that he responds solely to passion. He is resented basically because he claims to have won the goal, "Bethleem," that the intellect can only gradually approach. The poem suggests that Emily Dickinson was aware of the mystic's potential fanaticism and that, for her, the skeptical temperament was an effective counterweight. In poem 1247 Emily Dickinson makes an identification that Is central to our understanding of her spiritual life as well as her art:

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3% To pile like Thunder to its close Then crumble grand away IJhile Everythins created hid This— would be Poetry— Or Love— the two coeval come— VJ? both and neither prove— Experience either and consume— For None see God and livePoetry, to her, is like an explosion, a thunderclap that builds in a crescendo of sound and emotion, reaches a climax where it fuses with the vision it seeks to convey, and then reverberates and re-echoes with overtones of meaning as it fades into the silence of perfect rapport. Creation stands in awe of its prophetic voice. The description is equally applicable to love; "the two coeval come." Both can be defined in a sense, but it is impossible to reach the limits of meaning in either. To "Experience either" fully subject must become one with object: love's goal is unity with the beloved: poetry's ultimate goal is perfect identity with the thing expressed. In such an aesthetics there is no distinction between form and content. One is perfectly suited to the other and absorbed by it. "For None see God and live"; to see God is to reach that state of perfect understanding and unity, which is the farthest aim of both poetry and love. The poet's identification of the ideals of poetry and love reconciles the disagreement between those critics who insist that Emily Dickinson devoted her life to her art and its perfection, and those who believe that her solitary renunciation and devotion were motivated by love— either of man or of God. Tlie two motives, one aesthetic and the other emotional or spiritual, cannot really be separated. In devoting

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335 herself to one she responded to the deraands of the other as xwll. The implications of poem 1311 are large in comparison to its size and childlike tone: This dirty— little— Heart Is freely mine. I vx)n it with a Bun-A Freckled shrineBut eligibly fair To him who sees The Visage of the Soul And not the knees. The "Heart" represents the poet's hard-won love for "him who sees/ The Visage of the Soul." It is a love "freely mine" because she has "won" it through renunciation, symbolized by the "Bun," and through her intelligence, symbolized by the "Freckled shrine" of her forehead. It is thus heart based on head, as suggested by poem 1237, and not merely on emotion. It is the mystical plus the skeptical temperament. Though it may be "dirty" because the way was not always clear and free from doubt, and though it may be "little" because it is composed of no belief except what she has personally won, it is nevertheless "eligibly fair/ To him" who perceives the inmost integrity purged of presumption, "And not the loxees" that may be raw from sanctimonious poses. In terms so simple that they might be easily passed over, and with a touch so light that few would feel it, the poet has cut to the heart of a perennial religious dichotomy: between those who equate the spirit with bent kneec and those who equate it with the furrowed, freckled brow; between those \*ho stand on the street comer and those \*ho insist that "The Soul selects her o^m Society—/ Then— shuts the Door" (poem 303).

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336 The poet's variation on the final line makes it clear that poetn 1398 should be included among the poems of divine love: I have no Life but this-To lead it here-Nor any Death--but lest Dispelled from there-Nor tie to Earths to come— Nor Action new-Except through this extent-(expanse--) The Realm of you— (The love of you.) "Life" and "Death" are obviously used here in a special way. She seems to say that she is not really alive except in her love, and that there can be no "Death" for her unless she is "Dispelled" from the lover's "Realm." "Abased," "withheld," and "deprived" were rejected in favor of "Dispelled," which leaves little doubt that death is equated with being deprived of the lover's presence. The words "here," "there," and "this extent" all refer to "The love of you" or "The Realm of you." "Realm" is finally chosen, no doubt, because it continues the imagery of place on which the poem rests. The final stanza makes it clear, moreover, that she stakes her "tie to Earths to come" on the immortality achieved through divine love. She has no "Action" nor "Wisdom," a word she considered using, except what is contained in the infinite "extent" or "expanse" of divine love. Love and poetry being "coeval" (see poem 1247), she indeed had "no Life but this." Poem 1496 says much the same thing but in different terms: All that I do Is in review To his enamored mind I know his eye Where e'er I ply Is pushing close behind

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337 Not any Port Nor any flight But he doth there preside IThat omnipresence lies in wait For her to be a Bride In her totally devoted life she feels the eye of the lover constantly upon her. The expression "his enamored mind" may help us to understand more fully how she conceived of God. He is the divine lover but not in any anthropomorphic sense. He is pure mind, distinguished by the creating and attracting power of love. She has written in other poems that she would take refuge in no "Port" but his; here no matter what port she enters, "he doth there preside." The emphasis has thus shifted from a search for the lover to an inability to evade his presence. This is made conclusive in the last two lines, which emphasize his "omnipresence." The term "Bride," foreshadowing the fuller expression "Bride of Awe" (poem 1620), is crucial. For the word "her" in the last line the poet considered substituting "one," and in fact offered "For an impending Bride" as a variant fur the whole line. These alternate readings show us that "her" Is not meant to suggest a shift from the "I" of the first line. It is still the poet herself who feels the sense of expectancy for the moment she will become Bride of the omnipresent lover. The gradual transformation wrought by "sumptuous solitude" is described in terms of ravishment in poem 1495: The Thrill came slowly like a Boon for Centuries delayed Its fitness growing like the Flood In svimptuous solitude-The desolation only missed While Rapture changed its Dress And stood amazed before the Change In ravished Holiness--

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338 The life of renunciation and the Way of Death have prepared her "slowly" for the "Thrill" of divine ravishment. Through this long period of purification her "fitness" has been "growing like the Flood." Now that period of "desolation" seems a mere interlude-just time enough for momentary "Rapture" or ecstasy to change "its Dress" and become the bride who stands "In ravished Holiness." The Way of Death was the necessary transforming experience (the change of dress) between youthful ecstasy and unity. All that has been said in regard to circumference, awe, and divine love helps to bring into focus the implications of poem 1620, a vignette the poet included in a letter congratulating Daniel Chester French at the time his statue of John Harvard was unveiled in front of University Hall in Cambridge (see variorum, III, 1112): Circumference thou Bride of Awe Possessing thou shalt be Possessed by every hallowed Knight That dares to covet thee Wholeness and the utmost extent of the sphere of being are meanings that have been suggested for "Circumference." Here she links the vast connotations of this word with the equally vast concepts of "Awe" and divine love. The poem seems to say that the attainment of circumference means the achievement of the status of bride to God himself. To possess and be possessed at once is obviously to have merged and become one with "every hallowed Knight," every individual being "That dares to" aspire to the status of unity. "To covet thee" would be to so aspire, since the bride coveted has come to symbolize oneness through identification with circumference. Another brief poem, number 1629, is written on the same sheet that

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339 contains the only surviving draft of the lines just discussed. It too apparently concerns the divine lover : Arrows enamored of his HeartForgot to rankle there And Venoms he mistook for Balms disdained to rankle there— Both of these poems survive only in rough drafts, and it may therefore be presumptuous to speculate extensively on their meaning. All that needs to be noticed here is that the beloved apparently cannot be really harmed by pain inflicted by the lover. It is intention that makes the difference. Though he may mistakenly send "Venom" rather than "Balms," the fact that he intends love deprives the poison of its effect. God punishes in order to purify, and pain is widely regarded as a way of intensifying love. So long as the "Arrows" are "enamored" they cannot harm, even though the pain be sharp. Again the divine arrow of St. Teresa's ecstasy is recalled: But the most famous of her supernatural experiences, and one of the best known of such phenomena in Christian history, is the vision generally termed the Transverberation of her heart. This we can date, with comparative confidence, in the year 1559. It was not, as is generally supposed, a single vision, but one which was repeated several times over a period of days. She would see, close beside her, on her left hand, the bodily form of an angel. . . . The angel "was not tall, but short, and very beautiful, his face so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest types of angel who seem to be all afire. They must be those who are called cherubim." In his hand was a long golden spear with a tip of red-hot iron. Then came the extraordinary and characteristic part of the vision. Time after time the angel's spear seemed to pierce her heart, and penetrate to her very entrails, causing her pain so sharp as to make her moan. The pain was not physical (though the body participated in it), but spiritual, and caused her "greater bliss than any that can come from the whole of

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340 creation." "So excessive," she adds, "was the sweetness caused me by this intense pain that one can never wish to lose it, nor will one's soul be content with anything less than God." (Peers, pp. 27-28) Poem 1729 uses exactly the same image as 1629 and makes nearly the same observation about the pain the lover inflicts: I've got an arrow here. Loving the hand that sent it I the dart revere. Fell, they will say, in "skirmish"! Vanquished, my soul will know By but a simple arrow Sped by an archer's bow. The sexual connotations of the arrow make these poems doubly relevant to the consideration of divine love. Also sexual in its import is the allusion to a "skirmish." Emily Dickinson was doubtless aware of battle conceits In Elizabethan love poetry, having used similar metaphors elsewhere. Even the word "Fell," as It is used here, is highly suggestive of sexual conquest. Taken together, these various images compose a description that can be accounted for only as divine ravishment. Poem 1734 points to a similar conclusion: Oh, honey of an hour, I never loiew thy power. Prohibit me Till [sy minutest dower, Hy unfrequented flower Deserving be. There are three possible levels of meaning. On one level, of course, the words are spoken by the flower to the bee. She asks that he prohibit her from yielding her nectar until she be deserving. On another level the "honey of an hour" is obviously the lover and "My unfrequented flower" her virginity. Most likely, however, the poem is addressed to the divine

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341 lover, whom she asks to make her worthy of ravishment. Some of the poems that relate to divine love have been discussed In another context and do not need to be reintroduced here, but one of these should at least be mentioned in concluding this section. Poem 1737, one of the last poems treated in the previous chapter, provides strong support for the belief that Emily Dickinson conceived of love in mystical terms. The third stanza alone will serve to illustrate: Love that never leaped its socketTrust entrenched in narrow pain-Constancy thro* fire— avjarded— Anguish— bare of anodyne I The love that remained constant "thro' fire" was the motive force that could never rest short of unity. Wholeness .— If divine love is the motive force that urges the mystic toward unity, wholeness and absorption are the two ways of conceiving its consummation. One who thinks of fulfillment in terms of wholeness senses an insufficiency or emptiness that needs to be filled. Almost the reverse is true of one who thinks of fulfillment in terms of absorption. Here it is not emptiness but substance that seems to stand in the way of fulfillment, and the mystic longs to have that substance dissolved or absorbed. In short, one who seeks wholeness senses the need to add something, while he who seeks absorption or annihilation desires to have something, namely identity, talcen away. Both tendencies can be found in the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Since it is the more human sensation, typical of mystics and nonmystics alike, we shall first examine the poems that convey the feeling

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342 of insufficiency or emptiness. Poem 5A6 is one of the earliest of these : To fill a Gap Insert the Thing that caused it-Block it up With Other—and 'twill yawn the more— You cannot solder an Abyss With Air. If one is to seek for the "Thing that caused" the "Gap" in being, he is obviously seeking for what Aristotle called First Cause. Of course First Cause is often called God, though the identification of the two may not really clarify anything. Whatever the term. First Cause alone will answer to the need "To fill a Gap" in man's understanding of origin and identity. Any "Other" that attempts to remedy the emptiness will only cause it to "yawn the more." When one uses the term "God" in this context, it is inmediately clear that this is a familiar theological assertion: only God can fill the emptiness in man since God is the creator toward which he seeks to return. St, Thomas Aquinas tooka^ery possible approach to prove that this is true. Ultimately, then, only identity with First Cause can fulfill the longing for wholeness. The themes of wholeness and divine love are brought together in poem 643 : I could suffice for Him, I knew— He— could suffice for Me— Yet Hesitating Fractions— Both Surveyed Infinity— The stanza reveals the essentially ambiguous feeling man has in regard to unity and individuality. The lovers seem confident of their sufficiency for each other, yet in the face of "Infinity" they hesitate to give up

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343 their separate "Fractions" of being. Alternate words for "Surveyed" are "delayed" and "deferred," which tend to underline the hesitation. "Would I be Whole" He sudden broached-I'fy syllable rebelled-'Twas face to face with Nature— forced— 'Twas face to face with God— The question of v^ether wholeness would be sacrificed in the achievement of unity is brought "face to face with Nature" and "with God" in quest of an answer. Withdrew the Sun— to Other WestsWithdrew the furthest Star Before Decision— stooped to speech— And then— be audibler The Answer of the Sea unto The Itotion of the Moon— Herself adjust Her Tides— unto— Could I— do else— with Mine? "The Answer of the Sea," that had to await the coming of night, is also a response to "The Motion of the Moon." Sea and moon form a unity of harmonious action that exemplifies the result of man's unity with God. The character of neither is lost. The attraction of the moon, like that of God the lover, moves the tides and hence the sea Itself, but the sea Is no less whole because of its obedient tides. It Is only more fully alive. The poet asks, "Could I— do else— with Mine?" The question "Would I be l^ole" is thus answered with a question. Unity Is no more risk to wholeness than the harmonious movement of parts is to the integrity of nature. The metaphor has meaning on still another level. Not only may man be compared to the sea as a whole, but his physical self may be likened to an individual wave in the sea of being. The moon's force

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344 undulates the surface, but neither substance nor character of the vhole is changed. Similarly the superficial aspects of being, the accidents of physical appearance, may be changed without alteration of essence. The sea again becomes a symbol of wholeness in poem 655. The word "this" in the first line almost certainly refers to wholeness: Without thi8--there is noughtAll other Riches be As is the Twitter of a BirdHeard opposite the Sea— I could not care— to gain A lesser than the liniole— For did not this include themself— As Seams— include the Ball? I wished a way might be My Heart to subdivide— 'Twould magnify— the Gratitude-And not reduce— the GoldAll "other Riches" are insignificant beside the wealth of wholeness, for it includes all else "As Seams— include the Ball." The image recalls the sea that includes the tides. The last stanza suggests that the "Heart" has already achieved such an awareness of wholeness, for it cannot be subdivided even to "magnify— the Gratitude" it feels for the irreducible "Gold." Poem 663 describes an experience in which God the lover comes to call and the poet hears "him ask the servant/ For such an one— as me." She goes to meet him, feeling the need to " justify " her face lest she "surprise (not please) his eye." She recalls her hesitation in these words : I cross the Hall with mingled steps— I--silent— pass the door—

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345 I look on all this word contains — Just his face» -nothing morel Wholeness is contained in the face of the lover; she needs nothing else to remedy the insufficiency so recently felt. She goes on to recall their "careless " talk: Each--sounding— shily— Just— how-»deep— The other ' s one— had been— Tliey compare, in other words, the depth of each other's emptiness before they met. Now that fullness has been gained, the depth is almost appreciated; it allowed more to be contained. As they walk on together, the companions of the world, once highly valued, drop away: We walk -I leave my Dog--at home— A tender— thouKhtful Moon Goes with us— just a little way-And— then— we are aloneAlone — if Angels are "alone"— First Time they try the sky*. Alone — if those "vailed faces"— be— We caniiot count — on High I The paradox of solitude is evident here. They are "alone" in respect to the former society of earth, but more fully accompanied, as angels are, by "those 'vailed faces.'" Wholeness thus requires the abandonment of temporal society in favor of one "We cannot count — on High I" The lasting significance of the experience she affirms in the final stanza: I'd give— to live that hour— a^ain— The purple — in my Vein— But He must count the drops — himself— My price for every stain '. Again the necessity of physical sacrifice is suggested. She would give her blood, and this is precisely what is required, but she demands that

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346 God himself remain with her to count the drops. Her "price for every stain," or sacrifice, is the constant companionship of God; she is thus assured that wholeness is gained in proportion to each drop of earthly loss. Poem 769, though it does not mention wholeness directly, affirms the sufficiency, indeed the entirety, of the One: One and One— are OneTwo— be finished using— Well enough for Schools— But for Minor Choosing— Life— just--Or Death— Or the Ever las tingMore— would be too vast For the Soul's Comprising— The nystical understanding of the all-inclusiveness of the One defies the calculations of conventional mathematics, which are "Well enough for Schools." The soul is unable to countenance multiplicity; anything more than the One "would be too vast/ For the Soul's Comprising." It is evident, in a sense, that the soul aims at the same mark as does science: namely, the reduction of the world's diversity to unity. This effort, stretching from the pre-Socratic philosophers to Einstein, is an appropriate analogy to the mystic search for wholeness. The last stanza of poem 1319 makes an interesting query concerning the possible redundancy of "News" when we all "comprehend as one": What News will do when every Man Shall comprehend as one And not in all the Universe A thing to tell remain? Such a consideration of wholeness or oneness suggests still another ques-

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347 tion: What would be the function of poetry If perfect rapport were established between poet and reader? Would the perfect poem then be perfect silence? The answer is perhaps suggested in a few lines from another and very famous poem, number 280; Then Space— began to toll. As all the Heavens were a Bell, And Being, but an Ear, And I, and Silence, some strange Race Wrecked, solitary, here-The cosmic void suggests unity gained through disembodiment. The Whole of "Space" is filled with pure sound, but being is solitary and silent; the gain of wholeness results from the loss of individual identity. \Jhea "News" and sound are everywhere, poetry, vrtiich in the sensory realm is the "supreme fiction," \tL11 be reality, and "Being, but an Ear" attuned to it. There will be nothing to tell but everything to hear. The search for wholeness is essentially a search for stature, an effort to place oneself on a level where one shares the all-seeing eye of creator rather than the worm's eye of the created. How else can such a feat unfold except in imagination? The traditional effort to achieve such status, such cosmic perspective, has gone under the name of religion, but Wallace Stevens, in "A High-Toned Old Christian Wbman," maintains that poetry is the "supreme fiction" and implies that religion is merely one such poetic construe tion--a somewhat primitive one at that: Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame. Take the moral law and make a nave of it And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus, Tlie conscience is converted into palms. Like windy citherns hankering for hymns.

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348 From certain feelings of "conscience" that give rise to "moral law" man builds the elaborate ship of the church to promulgate that law and weaves an Impending heaven over his head to threaten with brimstone those who disobey it. We agree in principle. That's clear. But take The opposing law and make a peristyle. And from the peristyle project a masque Beyond the planets. Tlius, our bawdiness, Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last. Is equally converted into palms, Squiggling like saxophones. The "opposing law" of imowrality and destruction gives rise to Lucifer's "masque/ Beyond the planets" where our devilish "bawdiness" enacts a cacophonous rebellion. Advancing beyond this primitive conception of the spheres. Canon Aspirin, in "Notes toward a Supreme Fiction," When at long midnight the Canon came to sleep And normal things had yawned themselves away. The nothingness was a nakedness, a point. Beyond which fact could not progress as fact. Thereon the learning of the man conceived Once more night's pale illuminations, gold Beneath, far underneath, the surface of His eye and audible in the mountain of His ear, the very material of his mind. When man arrives at the point of "nothingness," when the world of fact progresses to its end and still yields no meaning, he turns inward to the imagination once more. He conceives "Once more night's pale illuminations" of order, subliminal to the "eye" and "ear," composed rather of "the very material of his mind." In contrast to the primitive fiction that preferred to ignore the world of fact.

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349 He chose to include the things That in each other are included, the vdiole, The complicate, the amassing harmony. Each fiction thus loses its force when it proves insufficient to account for the whole. In his search for \rtioleness man "imposes orders as he thinlcs of them," the poem goes on to say: But to impose is not To discover. To discover an order as of A season, to discover summer and laiow it. To discover winter and know it well, to find. Not to impose, not to have reasoned at all. Out of nothing to have come on major weather. It is possible, possible, possible. It must Be possible. It must be that in time The real will from its crude compoundings come. Seeming, at first, a beast disgorged, unlike. Warmed by a desperate milk. To find the real. To be stripped of every fiction except one. The fiction of an absolute— Angel, Be silent in your luminous cloud and hear The luminous melody of proper sound. We thus come back to Emily Dickinson's "Ear" of "Being" now dropped into the "Silence" of no thought: Then Space~began to toll, As all the Heavens were a Bell, And Being, but an Ear, And I, and Silence, some strange Race Wrecked, solitary, here— It might appear incongruous to offer an extended comparison of Wallace Stevens, the "poet of earth," with Emily Dickinson, the poet of eternity, but one can observe here a similar straining toward Hholeness of vision, a cocmon effort to blot out the insufficient fictions that impose order and to substitute one that hears and sees the harmony of re-

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350 ality in its fullness— if such harmony exists. Stevens describes the effort even ciore pointedly in part III of "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven" : We seek The poem of pure reality, untouched By trope or deviation, straight to the word. Straight to the transfixing object, to the object At the exactest point at which it is itself. Transfixing by being purely what it is. . . . It is doubtful that any poet has gone so "Straight to the transfixing object" as Emily Dickinson. It is this quality that seems so striking in its similarity to the art of the East. Moreover, the talent for such directness and intensity allov/ed her to construct, in the entire body of her poetry, a fiction that was a world in itself. Only now, in the context of Stevens' conception of poetry as the "supreme fiction," as a form of the whole and of reality, can poem 646 be meaningfully related to wholeness. In the first five stanzas of this significant poem Emily Dickinson describes what once seemed to be the sufficiency, the perpetual reality, of the external world: I think To Live— may be a Bliss To those who dare to try-» Beyond ray limit to conceive— My lip— to testify— I think the Heart I former wore Could widen— till to me The Other, like the little Bank Appear— unto the Sea— I think the Days— could every one In Ordination stand*And Majesty— be easier— Than an inferior kind—

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351 No niunb alarm— lest Difference comeNo Goblin— on the BloomNo start in Apprehension's Ear, No Bankruptcy— no Doora-But Certainties of SunMidsummer— in the Mind— A steadfast South— upon the Soul— Her Polar time— behind— For some, "to Live" in the outer world of nature may truly be unutterable "Bliss," and "the Heart I former wore," before assuming the white of dedication to the interior life, once seemed capable of \7idening until it overshadowed the inner world. External "Days" appeared to be ordained with "Majesty," immune to the "alarm" of change and to the "Goblin" death that threatens the "Bloom." In the brilliant certaint/ of sunlight, in the "Midsunmer" of the mind's understanding, it seemed that there could be no exhaustion ("Bankruptcy") of nature's xjonders, no extinction ("Doom") of her creatures. Sumner seemed perpetual, as if the "Polar time" had passed with the ice age. The Vision— pondered longSo plausible becomes That I esteem the fiction— realThe Real— fictitious seems— The "Vision" of nature's perpetuity, the solidity of the world of fact. Is truly a "plausible" fiction, as real as the images projected on the wall of Plato's Cave. Hov; bountiful the Dream— What Plenty— it would be— Had all my Life but been Mistake Just rectified— in Thee But her life did not follow that road. She did not persist in the external view until a moment of salvation when she suddenly became "rectified"

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352 in accepting Christ. She chose the much harder road that required her to construct her own reality through the medium of words. According to Stevens, "said words of the world are the life of the world, "and further. Professor Eucalyptus said, "The search For reality is as momentous as The search for god." It is the Philosopher's search For an interior made exterior And the poet's search for the same exterior made Interior. . . . ("An Ordinary Evening in New Haven," VII) Through the "supreme fiction" of poetry the exterior can be made interior and thus given permanence. The enduring achievement of Emily Dickinson rests on such an immediate transfixing of the exterior object and on the construction of a vivid, sensory, interior world. As she plainly states in poem 569, poetry was, for her, so completely a world that it compassed the whole of reality: I reckon--when I count at all-First — Poets — Then the Sun-Then Summer— Then the Heaven of God— y^J And then— the List is done-^js^ vv*But, looking back— the First so seems > ysf*^ To Comprehend the Whole-> The Others look a needless Show-So I write — Poets — AllShe seemed to recognize, with the scientists of her day, that the sun is the source of earth and all that is visible. Summer Is the more immediate matrix out of which comes the burgeoning world of plant and animal. The "Heaven of God" is the source of all that is unseen. "But, looking back," she realizes that poetry embraces them all; "The Others look a needless Show" beside the supreme fiction of the "Poets."

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353 ^ Their Summer— lasts a Solid Year— t. a>>x..^a-t<^ \ ?\ They can afford a Sun < V The East--would deem extravagant — And if the Further (Other--/ final) Heaven — Be Beautiful as they prepare (Disclose) For (to) Those who worship (Trust in/ Ask of—) Them— It is too difficult a GraceTo justify the Dream-The "Summer" of poetry does not fade into autumn — its "Sun" is more brilliant and productive-and if the "Heaven of God" is as beautiful as that the poets reveal, it cannot be imagined, perhaps is futile even to hope for. Lacking the love of husband and children, cut off from the consolation of conventional religion so important in her day, and isolated even from the society of close friends and relatives, Emily Dickinson found in poetry her entire world. It is doubtful that any poet in recent literary history has been so wholly immersed in his art. In the absence of companions and customary interests, poetry naturally became, for her, an outlet for love, for religious devotion, and for intellectual companion6 ship. The sufficiency of her "invented world" seems to be expressed in poem 1341: Unto the Whole— how add? Has "All" a further Realm— Or Utmost an Ulterior? Oh, Subsidy of Balm'. Though poetry alone constituted her world, it was none the less a wide one. What for others might have been an intolerably restricted See "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction," I.

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354 environment was for her a veritable cosmos. Meaningful travel was not over the face of the earth, as it was for Helen Jackson, but within the limitless spaces of the imagination. Unlike the inhospitable and recalcitrant world in which most of us reside, hers was a malleable world of her own creation. In assessing the poetic achievement of Wallace Stevens, Frank Doggett says, "This sense of the frailty and inadequacy of life in a world that is non-human is the basis of his poetry, for poetry is always a striving to engage that real world that holds us and whose existence is so completely other than ours." Rather than engage the outer world, Emily Dickinson politely turned from it, as a queen might dismiss a ruffian, and formed one according to her own ideals. Such a rejection and remaking is described by Bertrand Russell in "A Free Man's Worship": When, without the bitterness of impotent rebellion, we have learnt both to resign ourselves to the outward rule of Fate and to recognise that the non-human world is unworthy of our worship, it becomes possible at last so to transform and refashion the unconscious universe, so to transmute it in the crucible of imagination, that a new image of shining gold replaces the old idol of clay. In all the multiform facts of the world— in the visual shapes of trees and mountains and clouds, in the events of the life of man, even in the very omnipotence of Death— the insight of creative idealism can find the reflection of a beauty which its own thoughts first made. In this way mind asserts its subtle mastery over the thoughtless forces of Nature, (p. 53) A more fitting description of the subtle achievement of Emily Dickinson could hardly be found. Even though she recognized the "outward rule of Fate," as shown by her many poems about death, she was quite without "bitterness" and aware of the futility of "rebellion." Her rejection ^Stevens* Poetry of Thought (Baltimore, 1966), p. 109.

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355 of conventional religion suggests that she also found "the non-human world . . . unworthy of our worship." She therefore transformed the world "in the crucible of imagination." She indeed found "in the visual shapes of trees and mountains and clouds," and perhaps especially in the "omnipotence of Death," a reflection of the beauty of her "own thoughts." Her world was, above all, a fabrication of "creative idealism." In the place of human love it contained the more constant ideal of divine love. In the place of childbirth it provided for its own continuous renewal through the composition of poetry. In the place of physical death it included the purifying discipline of the Way of Death. Unlike the world of fact, it allowed the fulfillment of man's search for wholeness and unity. Whereas man feels alienated in a world not made for him, the poet may find a home in the fictive world of his own creation, for the life he lives becomes one with the world he creates. As Wallace Stevens says. There is, in fact, a world of poetry indistinguishable from the world in which we live, or, I ought to say, no doubt, from the world in which we shall come to live, since what makes the poet the potent figure that he is, or was, or ought to be, is that he creates the world to which we turn incessantly and without knowing it and that he gives to life the supreme fictions without which we are unable to conceive of it . The ancient ambiguity between real and imagined again comes into focus here. What is the real world for man? That of stones and trees and animal noises? Or is it all the external sensations of earth as they ^"The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words" in The Necessary Angel (New York, 1951), p. 31.

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356 have been transformed by the human Imagination, the materials and creatures of the earth as they have been ordered to human use? Obviously the clue to the answer is to be found in the words "for man." The world for man is not the inert world of fact but the dynamic world man n^kes in his own image. The image is not always beautiful, and it is often far from ideal, but it can be both. The poet, whose imagination is richer than that of other men and whose ideals are purer, creates a fictive world no less real than that of an architect who builds a city or an industrialist who builds an empire. The poet's world, like theirs, is not solely for himself but for all who share his ideals. The comprehensiveness of his vision determines the circumference of his world. In one other poem, 669, Emily Dickinson conveys her understanding of the fictional function of her art. The variant words make it some* what clearer: No Romance sold unto Could so enthrall a Man As the perusal of His Individual One— 'Tis Fiction's— to dilute (contract) to Plausibility (credibility) Our Novel (Romance)--When 'tis small enough To Credit (compass)-'Tisn't true'. The function of art is to crystalize and "contract to credibility" the interior world of one's individual self. No fiction "Could so enthrall a Man" as the exploration of that world, but if it were "small enough" to be fully compassed by a single "Novel," it would be false. For the "Individual One" can be fully expressed by nothing less than the Whole, and to search for wholeness is to reach toward infinity. We thus come full circle in tracing Emily Dickinson's quest for wholeness. It led

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357 to the creation of a supreme fiction, and that fiction, in turn, became a search for unity with the infinite. Absorption . --The most extreme form of the experience of unity is often called the annihilation of self or the dissolution of identity. Its consummation is usually conceived as a process of absorption. Some of Emily Dickinson's poems that seem to describe the experience, or that express a longing for it, can be grouped according to the metaphor she uses. One of the most frequent metaphors is water. The earliest poem to make use of water in this way is number 76: Exultation is the going Of an inland soul to sea. Past the houses--past the headlands-Into deep EternityBred as we, among the mountains. Can the sailor understand The divine intoxication Of the first league out from land? On the simplest level the poem seems merely to describe the soul's journey into eternity, but the choice of metaphor lets us know how she conceives of eternity. The term "inland" carries the connotation of land-locked or earthbound; the soul is confined by physical identity. The "divine intoxication" of going to sea is the rapture of losing rigid form, of achieving fluidity and merging with the basic substance of reality. Thales regarded water as the basic substance, and of course, science today recognizes that the sea is the mother of all life on earth. In poem 212, consisting of only two lines, the self is compared to a river, and the sea again represents the fluid lover to which it ultimately submits :

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358 Least River8--docile to some sea. My Caspian— thee. The mystical paradox of gain through loss is added to the sea metaphor in poem 284: The Drop, that wrestles in the SeaForgets her own locality-As I-toward Thee-She knows herself an incense smallYet small — she sighs— if All — is AllHow larger — be? The Ocean— smiles'-at her Conceit-But she, forgetting Amphitrite— Pleads— "Me"? The first stanza stresses loss of the sense of place; the second introduces the religious concept of offering or sacrifice ("Offering" rather than "Incense" was used in another version), and it suggests that even though individual being may be small and insignificant, it can become inconceivably large through merger with the "All." In the final stanza the "Me" of being forgets the sea goddess Amphitrite, wife of Poseidon, as it pleads for unity with the lover sea. Though it need not be quoted in full, poem 520 describes the experience of gradual submergence as the tide rises. Three stanzas will illustrate: But no Man moved Me— till the Tide Went past my simple Shoe— And past my Apron--and my Belt And past my Boddice— too-And made as He would eat me up-As wliolly as a Dew Upon a Dandelion's Sleeve— And then— I started— too—

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359 And He--He followed--close behind— I felt His Silver Heel Upon my Ancle--Then my Shoes Would overflow with Pearl-The lines seem to convey an impression of gradual absorption; there is no fear but rather a kind of ecstasy. The sea is like a lover vrtio playfully threatens to devour. "His Silver Heel" recalls numerous other references to white, silver, and sheen, all of which suggest the blind* Ing light wherein identity disappears. The "Shoes" that "overflow with Pearl" continue the same imagery and reveal the abundance of the experience by echoing such expressions as "My cup runneth over" and the "pearl of great price." A similar impression of gradual submergence, now by the "River," is evident in poem 537 : Me prove it now-Hhoever doubt Me stop to prove it--now~ Make haste— the Scruple*. Death be scant For Opportunity— The River reaches to my feet— As yet--Ify Heart be dry-Oh IiOver--Life could not convince-Might Death— enable Thee— The River reaches to My Breast-Still— still— My Hands above Proclaim with their remaining MightDost recognize the Love? The River reaches to my Mouth-Reraember--when the Sea Swept by my searching eyes--the last-Themselves were quick--with Thee I Here "Death" is named as the flood that threatens to drown her before she can prove her devotion to the lover. It is spoken with the urgency and immediacy of the present tense up to the covering of her mouth in

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360 the last stanza. The last three lines are in retrospect. She reminds the lover that her eyes were alive ("quick") with love for him until "the Sea/ Swept by." The themes of love, sacrifice, and submergence are brought together here. Poem 726 expresses the double value of water: its ability to satisfy physical thirst and its power to absorb the soul into its vast cradle. We thirst at first— 'tis Nature's Act— And later--when we die— A little Water supplicate— Of fingers going byIt intimates the finer want— Whose adequate supply Is that Great Water in the West-Termed Imnortality — In life we thirst for the water of nature, in death for the water of absolution. Such temporal thicst "intimates the finer want" of release into the great reservoir of immortality. In poem 1425 she sees the rising waters of spring as a sweeping away of the furniture of the world that obstructs the vision of wholeness. The variant word in the second line helps to stress the theme of merging : The inundation of the Spring Enlarges (Submerges) every soul— It sweeps the tenement away But leaves the Water whole— In which the soul at first estranged— Seeks faintly for its shore But accliraated--pines no more For that Peninsula— \Jh&n the waters become whole, the soul at first feels alone, but soon

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361 "pines no more/ For that Peninsula" of being it once occupied. Poem 1428 comments on the capacious apartments water provides "For those averse to sleep," or death: Water makes many Beds For those averse to sleepIts awful chamber open stands-Its Curtains blandly sweep-Abhorrent is the Rest In undulating Rooms Whose Amplitude no end invades-I'lhose Axis never comes. Entering the "awful chamber" of water seems to be a way of avoiding the more solid walls of the grave. The "Rest" of death is impossible in any thing so alive and "undulating." Its expanse, like eternity, is without end and without "Axis." Does she suggest the apparent absence of God in a sea so vast, or could it be that the vastness itself is God? "Owner" was considered as a substitute for "Axis," which seems even more to suggest the absence oC a ruling God. Western thought is accustomed to conceiving God as both a center and a ruler, but a God without "Axis"and without power would not be alien to the mysticism of the East. Poem 1437 observes another phenomenon common to the mysticism of the East: the evaporation of a water drop that ultimately finds its way back to the sea whence it came. It would be hard to find a more perfect analogy for the mystic process: A Dew sufficed itself— And satisfied a Leaf And felt "how vast a destiny"— "How trivial is Life'." The Sun went out to work— The Day went out to play And not again that Dew be seen By Physiognomy

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362 Whether by Day Abducted Or emptied by the Sun Into the Sea in passing Eternally unknown Attested to this Day That awful Tragedy By Transport's instability And doom's celerity. Let us assume that the drop of water, "A Dew," represents a human life. The poet seems to say that the dew fulfills itself by bringing refreshment to "a Leaf" but that it regards its life as "trivial" and expects a vaster destiny hereafter. The uncertainty of that destiny is brought out in the last three stanzas. The dew is no longer seen "By Physiognomy," its physical being having evaporated. Where has it gone? The same question plagues man. Perhaps it is "by Day Abducted," that is, by God. Or perhaps it returns to merge with the sea of being. The "Tragedy" of unknowing is "Attested to this Day" in every life, for the transport to Immortality is uncertain, but doom is swift and sure. Once more, mystical impressions are combined with skepticism. In addition to the poems mentioned, numbers 847, 928, 1337, 1426, 1513, 1604, 1700, and 1749 also employ water imagery in such a way as to intimate mystical merging and absorption, but in most of these the impression is blurred by other considerations. Another frequent metaphor of absorption or dissolution is light, with its variations of white, sun, and sheen. Since its connotations have already been discussed, the poems may be summarized briefly. Poem 365, combining the visual connotations of white with the intensity of heat, is one of Emily Dickinson's most forceful descriptions

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363 of the soul: Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat ? Then crouch within the doorRed— is the Fire's coiiinon tintBut when the vivid Ore Has vanquished Flame's conditions. It quivers from the Forge Without a color, but the light Of unannointed Blaze. Least Village has its Blacksmith Whose Anvil's even ring Stands symbol for the finer Forge That soundless tugs— withinRefining these impatient Ores With Hammer, and with Blaze Until the Designated Light Repudiate the Forge— The soul at "White Heat" is one that has gone through the way of suffering and met "Flame's conditions." It emerges from its purification "Without a color, but the light/ Of unannointed Blaze." The three descriptive phrases are very powerful in combination: "Without a color" iiqplles that earthly identity has been burned away, the light suggests the achievement of celestial status, and "Blaze" stresses the capacity for divine fervour. The soundless "Forge" within obviously refers to the solitary tempering to which Emily Dickinson subjected her own soul. It is a "Refining" process that must continue "Until the Designated Light" of God the lover "Repudiate the Forge," thus putting an end to suffering and crowning it with the reward of unity. The loss of color and the achievement of "Blaze" have prepared for this supreme status. Poem 638 may be a description of divine ravishment, but it is ravishment sensed as dissolution in fire and light: To my small Hearth His fire came-And all my House aglow

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364 Did fan and rock, with sudden light— 'Twas Sunrise— 'twas the SkyImpanelled from no Summer brief— With limit of Decay— 'Twas Noon— without the News of NightNay, Nature, it was Day— When the lover's fire comes to the hearth of the beloved, the house is filled with "sudden light." The brilliance is stressed by the compounding of images, both of light and of motion. The ecstatic significance of "Noon" is brought to bear again, but this time it is noon "without the News of Night." Unity with the lover, unlike flashes of ecstasy, is absorption in perpetual light. Poem 871 describes the omnipresent light of the "Lord" that will obviate the need for sun, moon, and stars: The Sun and Moon must make their haste — The Stars express around For in the Zones of Paradise The Lord alone is burned— His Eye, it is the East and West-The North and South when He Do concentrate His Countenance Like Glow Worms, flee away— Oh Poor and Far— Oh Hindered EyeThat hunted for the Day— The Lord a Candle entertains Entirely for Thee— All sense of location and direction is lost in the constant light of the lord's "Eye," but all those who with "Hindered" vision have "hunted" for light will find entire satisfaction. In poem 922 the poet calls death the "White Exploit," suggesting that it is the gateway into the realm of non-identity through absorption

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365 with the whole. In poem 1414 "the white/ We chiefly have" is called "counterfeit" in conq)arison to the "exacting light" in which the soul will be dissolved. Poem 1550 distinguishes between the sun and sheen: The pattern of the sun Can fit but him alone For sheen must have a Disk To be a sunSheen, unlike the "Disk" of the sun, is omnipresent and without form. Light, as here conceived, suggests St. Teresa's description of one of her luminous visions: It is not a radiance i^ich dazzles, but a soft whiteness and an infused radiance which, without wearying the eyes, causes them the greatest delight; nor are they wearied by the brightness which they see in seeing this Divine beauty. So different from any earthly light is the brightness and light now revealed to the eyes that, by comparison with it, the brightness of our Sun seems dim. . . . Not that the sun, or any other such light, enters into the vision: on the contrary, it is like a natural light and all other kinds of light seem artificial. It is a light which never gives place to night, and, being always light, is disturbed by nothing. It is of such a kind, indeed, that no one, however powerful his intellect, could, in the whole course of his life, imagine it as it is.^ Light imagery intimates celestial absorption also in poems 1564, 1577, and 1584, but these may be passed over. Poem 1671 provides a fitting conclusion to this sumniary of light metaphors suggesting absorption. Disk is used in much the same way here as in the preceding poem: Judgment is justest liJlien the Judged His action laid away Divested is of every Disk But his sincerity 9 St. Teresa's Life, XXVIII, quoted in Peers, p. 27.

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366 Honor is then the safest hue In a posthumous Sun Not any color will endure That scrutiny can burn— A new ingredient, "sincerity," is added here. The poet conceives of judgment not merely as an accounting for past actions but more meaningfully as a divesture "of every Disk" of false identity. The soul, thus left in the nakedness of absolute sincerity and "Honor," is prepared to face that diskless "Sun" in whose all-pervading light "Not any color will endure/ That scrutiny can burn." The mystical white of reality burns away every shred of identity as it absorbs all into unity. The connotations of white are linked to those of snow in poem 325: Of Tribulation— these are They, Denoted by the White. The Spangled Gowns, a lesser Rank Of Victors, designate-All these--did conquerBut the Ones who overcame most timesWear nothing commoner than SnowNo Ornament--but PalmsSnow has excellent qualities of its own, moreover, that make it appropriate for describing the oneness that comes through the blotting out of identity. In poem 311, for example, the poet says It makes an Even Face Of Mountain, and of PlainUnbroken Forehead from the East Unto the East again— It reaches to the Fence-It wraps it Rail by Rail Till it is lost in Fleeces— The fence is probably not chosen at random; it tends to represent boundaries in general, all of which are erased by the silent white of snow.

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367 The remaining poems that describe unity through absorption may be grouped chronologically since they are not necessarily linked by a single metaphor. Poem 581 notes how impossible it is to describe in words an experience that others have not shared: I found the words to every thought I ever had"-but One-And that—defies me-As a Hand did try to chalk the Sun To Races-nurtured in the DarkHow would your oxm— begin? Can Blaze be shown in Cochineal— Or Noon— in Mazarin? If we are not the races "nurtured in the Dark," we are at least nurtured in a world of form and color, and the one experience the poet is unable to put in words is an impression of "Blaze" and "Noon" wherein color and form are blotted out. Poem 642 concerns the effort, like that of Thomas Merton, to divest the consciousness of external identity: Me from Myself— to banish— Had I ArtInvincible my Fortress Unto All HeartBut since Myself— assault Me— How have I peace Except by subjugating C onsc iousnes s ? And since We're mutual Monarch How this be Except by Abdication— Me— of Me? Like the monastic, she can have no peace "Except by subjugating/ Consciousness," and this requires the "Abdication" of her place in the world of individual men. The poet's search for solitude, therefore.

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368 assumes still another meaning: it was part of the effort to dissolve identity and achieve unity. Poem 664 helps to clarify this motive for electing the solitary life: Of all the Souls that stand create— I have elected— One— When Sense from Spirit— files away— And subterfuge— is done— When that which is— and that which was— Apart— intrinsic— stand— And this brief Tragedy of Flesh-Is shifted— like a SandWhen Figures show their royal Front— And Mists— are carved away. Behold the Atom— I preferred— To all the lists of Clayl The soul she has "elected" is not individual but the absolute "One" that knows no division. It is "that which is" as distinct from "that which was," namely the transient flesh, as inconstant as the shifting "Sand." The "Atom" she preferred "To all the lists of Clay" is the microcosm that coiiq>08e8 the macrocosm of the One. One of the variant readings for poem 670 substitutes "That Whiter Host" for "That Cooler Host" as an appellation for interior being. The poem concludes with these two stanzas: Ourself behind ourself, concealed— Should startle most-Assassin hid in our Apartment Be Horror's least. The Body»-borrow8 a RevolverHe bolts the Door— O'er looking a superior spectre— Or More— (More near—) The Interior self threatens the exterior with annihilation. The body may arm itself against an ordinary "Assassin," but it overlooks the "superior

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369 spectre" of hidden being that will eventually overwhelm it. A similar dichotomy in being is expressed in poem 683: The Soul unto itself Is an imperial friend— Or the most agonizing Spy— An Enemy-»could send— Secure against its ownNo treason it can fear— Itself— its Sovreign— of itself The Soul should stand in Awe— The words "imperial" and "Sovreign" again stress the superiority of the spiritual self. "The Soul should stand in Awe" of the fuller being it represents and to which it must return; it should not fear its own dissolution that "itself" requires. Poem 822 seems to say that all would be easy in passing through the gateway of death into the realm of unity were it not for consciousness and identity: This Consciousness that is aware Of Neighbors and the Sun Will be the one aware of Death And that itself alone Is traversing the interval Experience between And most profound experiment Appointed unto MenRow adequate unto itself Its properties shall be Itself unto itself and none Shall make discovery. Adventure most unto itself The Soul condemned to be— Attended by a single Hound Its own identity. The third stanza suggests the reluctance of consciousness to give up its

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370 "properties" which seem "adequate unto itself." Identity is chief among these. The "Soul" is thus "condemned to be" hounded by "Its own identity," though like the mystic, it seeks to be rid of it. In poem 891 the yearning for solitude and dissolution is expressed as an attempt to "find a Privacy" and to become invisible: To my quick ear the Leaves— conferred— The Bushes--they were BgHs-I could not find a Privacy From Nature's sentinels-In Cave if I presumed to hide The Walls— begun to tell — Creation seemed a mighty CrackTo make me visibleAll of "Nature's sentinels" expose her and declare her presence in loud alarm. She can no more hide in the "Cave" of non-identity than she could remain in the womb unborn. Visibility is the very curse of "Creation." To obtain unity, being must overcome nature and disappear into the white. Just as the soul was hounded by "Its own identity" in poem 822 and by "Nature's sentinels" in 891, it is besieged by "Consciousness" in number 894: Of Consciousness, her awful Mate The Soul cannot be ridAs easy the secreting her Behind the Eyes of God. The deepest hid is sighted first And scant to Him the Crowd— What triple Lenses burn upon The Escapade from God— This unfortunate "Escapade from God" is obviously the assuming of flesh; with it came the "triple Lenses" of consciousness, possibly the three principal senses of sight, hearing, and feeling that now "burn upon" the soul

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371 and imprison it in perceptibility. Though flash identifies being now, it is mere dust, and poem 936 declares that This Dust, and its FeatureAcer edited—Today— Will in a second Future— (Being) Cease to identify-This Mind, and its measure— A too minute Area For its enlarged inspection's Comparison— appear— This World, and its species A too concluded show For its absorbed Attention's Remotest scrutinyStanza two compares the "minute" scope of "This Mind" with its "enlarged" vista after reunification with Being. The last stanza declares that its attention will then be so "absorbed" in the One that "This World" will seem remote. The poet seems at times, however, to believe that the soul will never be separated from the self. Their insolubility is described in poem 1351: You cannot take itself From any Human soul-That indestructible estate Enable him to dwell— Impregnable as Light That every man behold But take away as difficult As tjndiscovered Gold— The poem confirms a paradox of the soul's nature. It fain would escape into the seamless totality of Being, leaving behind both physical form and human identity, but by its very nature it is tied to distinctive

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372 selfhood. Implied Is a definition of soul equating it with individual personality, character, or you-ness. In short, there could be no soul without personal identity. The soul is the you in you and the me in me, and even in unity that diversity will somehow— my8tically"be retained. The mystery of how the many may still be one must remain "undiscovered." In spite of this paradox of being, the poet realized that the ultimate destiny of all things human and physical is dissolution. It Is appropriate that poem 1419 should bring this study to a close, for it combines a naturalistic scene of destruction, reflecting a skeptical attitude toward supernatural intervention, with what may nevertheless be a mystical longing for dissolution: It was a quiet seeming Day-» There was no harm in earth or skyTill with the setting sun There strayed an accidental Red A Strolling Hue, one would have said To westward of the Town-But when the Earth began to jar And Houses vanished with a roar And EtiiiTan Nature hid We comprehended by the Awe As those that Dissolution saw The Poppy in the Cloud "Warrant" was offered as a variant for "Poppy" in the last line but the connotations of the two words are altogether different. Is it authority that comes in the cloud, bringing charges and threatening Judgment as "Warrant" might imply? Or is it merely a flower that represents the rebirth of life out of ashes? The questions reveal a quandary between religion and naturalism. To state it In more general terms, it Is the loud voice versus silence, explanation versus example, justification versus

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373 pure deed. In each case Emily Dickinson inclined toward the latter. Dissolution was not a threat but a promise, a longed for disintegration of chords forming a prelude to the symphony of unified being. Yet uncertainty was to persist even to the end. She would not want it otherwise.

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CONCLUSIONS From this numerous selection of poems, their arrangement and explication, it is clear that Emily Dickinson wrote a great deal of poetry that may be said to have mystical overtones. Although some of the early poems mentioned might be dismissed as breathless reactions to nature, there are still many that reveal extraordinary and startling ways of seeing. Some reveal insight into microcosraic reality; others give impressions of cosmic infinity. Vfliether she actually experienced what mystics call a vision or visitation obviously cannot be known, but there is aiaple evidence to show that she believed something remarkable had happened to her. Her affirmation of the "white election," her white dress, her sense of being "Queen of Calvary," her many metaphors of royal status — all these point to an awareness of singular experience. The important thing is that her impression of such experience stimulated an outpouring of poems of great intensity and immediacy. So directly do her images strike the retina of the mind's eye that they seem hardly to be compounded of words. Her poetic achievement is extensive enough to exhibit a full range of mystical awareness; from momentary flashes of ecstasy to noetic illumination, and ultimately to an impression of ravishment by a divine lover. Of the hundreds of poems on death, a large number can be seen as expressions of the DtyStic Way of Death, which through purgation and purification prepares for the supreme experience of unity. Seen in this light her obsession with death is far from morbid. Just as she had come to 374

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375 understand the paradox of loss and gain, agony and bliss, she came to comprehend the richer paradox of crucifixion and resurrection, death and transfiguration. Host distinctively mystical perhaps is her concept tlon of unity, wholeness, and self-annihilation. Lest such exalted considerations make her seem too remote and un<> worldly, we must remember that she was also a realist and a skeptic. She refused to flinch at the prospect of oblivion. She often wrote of distinguished doctrines and deities with cutting satire and irony. She could reduce an awesome abyss to a hole in the ground, or she could delight in teetering on its edge. She could be an iconoclast, a dissenter, or a rascal, and she seemed to enjoy each role. The danger of doubt was a thrill. Despair was a cool pillar she could lean upon for support. Resignation to the awful uncertainties of eternity and infinity was for her, as for Bertrand Russell, the gateway to freedom of worship. There was no room in her severe intellect for sham or pretension. Once the cluttered conventions were removed, she could build a fiction of her own, composed of mystical intuitions. Her mysticism and skepticism merge at this point and complement each other. Just as the capacity for love stirred the mystic in her, so did the passionate love of truth make her a skeptic.

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A SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY Primary Sources Dickinson, Emily. The Poems of Emily Dickinson , ed. Thomas H. Johnson. 3 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1955. Dickinson, Emily. The Letters of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson and Theodora Ward, 3 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953. Secondary Sources Anderson, Charles R. Emily Dickinson's Poetry. Stairway of Surprise . New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1960. Blyth, R. H. Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics . New York: A Dutton Everyman Paperback, 1960. Bowers, Fredson. "Death in Victory," South Atlantic Bulletin. XXX, 11 (March, 1965), 1-7. Chase, Richard. Emily Dickinson . New York: Delta Books, 1965. (First published by William Sloane Associates, 1951.) Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy . 7 vols. Garden City, New York: Image Boolts, 1962. (First published by The Newman Press, 1950.) Doggett, Frank. Stevens' Poetry of Thought . Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1966. Gelpi, Albert J. Emily Dlclcinson; the Mind of the Poet . Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965. Goethe, Johann W. Goethe's Faust, trans. Louis MacNeice. New York: Oxford University Press, 1960. Harrison, G. B., ed. Major British Writers . 2 vols. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1959. The Holy Bible . Authorized King James Translation. Hutchlns, Robert Maynard, ed. Great Books of the Western World . 54 vols. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952. James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience . New York: The Modern Library, 1902. 376

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377 Johnson, Thomas H. Emily Dickinson; an Interpretive Biography . Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1955. MacLeish, Archibald. "J. B.," Theatre Arts . XLIV, ii (February, 1960), 33-64. Merton, Thomas. The Seven Storey Mountain . H&i York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1948. Miller, Perry, ed. Major Writers of America . 2 vols. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1962. Peers, E. Alliscn. Mother of Carmel. A Portrait of St. Teresa of Jesus . New York: Morehouse-Gorham Co., 1948. Ross, James Bruce and Mary Martin McLaughlin, eds. The Portable Renaissance Reader. New York: The Viking Press, 1953. Ross, Nancy Wilson, ed. The World of Zen. An East-West Anthology . New York: Random House, 1960. Rouse, W. H. D., trans. Great Dialogues of Plato . New York: Mentor Classics, 1956. Russell, Bertrand. ^tysticism and Logic and Other Essays . London: Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1917. Sewall, Richard B., ed. Emily Dickinson: A Collection of Critical Essays . Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963. Stevens, VJallace. Tlie Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens . Ne\* York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1955. Stevens, Wallace. The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination . New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1951. Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1961. (First published by Ticlcnor and Fields, 1854.) Underbill, Evelyn. Mysticism . Cleveland; Meridian Books, 1955. (First published by E. P. Dutton and Co., Inc., 1911.) Ward, Theodora. The Capsule of the Mind . Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961. Watts, Alan W. The Joyous Cosmology. Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness. New York: ^ntheon Books, 1962.

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378 Weisinger, Herbert. Tragedy and the Paradox of the Fortunate Fall . Lansing: Michigan State College Press, 1953. Hhicher, George Frisbie. This Was a Poet. A Critical B iogiraphv of Emily Dickinson . New York: Scribner's, 193? 59.

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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Robert Geno Flick was born on October 18, 1930, in Oblong, Illinois, and graduated from high school there in 1943. After a year at Indiana State Teachers College, he enrolled at Eastern Illinois State College, where hp received awards in poetry and fiction, was elected to Sigma Tau Delta and Kappa Delta Pi, and was graduated with honors in 1952, Following a brief period of substitute teaching in Chicago high schools, he accepted an assistantship and began graduate study In the fall of 1952 at the University of Florida. Andrew Lytle directed his thesis in creative writing, leading to the Master of Arts degree in 1954. For two years he taught English in the high school at Sycamore, Illinois, and since 1956 he has been a member of the faculty of Jacksonville University, where he has taught courses in literature and humanities and has assisted in the development of both freshman and upper-division English programs. During summers and while on leave of absence from teaching, he has pursued his work toward the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. He has served as president of the Jaclcsonville University chapter and vice-president of the Florida conference of the American Association of University Professors. He is a member of the Modern Langxiage Association, the South Atlantic Modern Language Association, and the Florida College English Association. He is married to the former Ann Kibler, and they have four children. 379

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This dissertation was prepared under the direction of the chairman of the candidate's supervisory conmittee and has been approved by all members of that conmittee. It was submitted to the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and to the Graduate Council, and was approved as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. April 22, 1967 Dean, Graduate School Supervisory Cocsnittee: Chairman Lxman ^ /j

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