640

This weekend is the final push before I hand in my undergraduate thesis on Emily Dickinson. I'm writing on a painfully technical, recondite subject. I tell you it's about "capitalized compound nouns and their implications for Dickinson's theological lexicon" and watch your eyes cloud as if to protect yourself. But I first became interested in these ideas in an attempt to understand Dickinson's poem number 640, which kills me on an emotional level, every time.  In order to spare you a lecture on prosody, I'm writing about phrases like Other's GazeRight of Frost, and White Sustenance, trying to tease out how and why they carry such weight in this poem (and 60-odd other poems).  Really I just want to know why 640 is the text that manages to sum up whole years of my romantic and religious experience. So here you go.

640

I cannot live with You – 
It would be Life – 
And Life is over there – 
Behind the Shelf

The Sexton keeps the Key to – 
Putting up
Our Life – His Porcelain – 
Like a Cup – 

Discarded of the Housewife – 
Quaint – or Broke – 
A newer Sevres pleases – 
Old Ones crack – 

I could not die – with You – 
For One must wait
To shut the Other's Gaze down – 
You – could not – 

And I – Could I stand by
And see You – freeze – 
Without my Right of Frost – 
Death's privilege?

Nor could I rise – with You – 
Because Your Face
Would put out Jesus' – 
That New Grace

Glow plain – and foreign
On my homesick Eye – 
Except that You than He
Shone closer by – 

They'd judge Us – How – 
For You – served Heaven – You know,
Or sought to – 
I could not – 

Because You saturated Sight – 
And I had no more Eyes
For sordid excellence
As Paradise

And were You lost, I would be – 
Though My Name
Rang loudest
On the Heavenly fame – 

And were You – saved – 
And I – condemned to be
Where You were not – 
That self – were Hell to Me – 

So We must meet apart – 
You there – I – here – 
With just the Door ajar
That Oceans are – and Prayer – 
And that White Sustenance – 
Despair –