Poems, by Emily Dickinson

IV. Time and Eternity.


One dignity delays for all,

One mitred afternoon.

None can avoid this purple,

None evade this crown.

Coach it insures, and footmen,

Chamber and state and throng;

Bells, also, in the village,

As we ride grand along.

What dignified attendants,

What service when we pause!

How loyally at parting

Their hundred hats they raise!

How pomp surpassing ermine,

When simple you and I

Present our meek escutcheon,

And claim the rank to die!


Too Late.

Delayed till she had ceased to know,

Delayed till in its vest of snow

   Her loving bosom lay.

An hour behind the fleeting breath,

Later by just an hour than death, —

   Oh, lagging yesterday!

Could she have guessed that it would be;

Could but a crier of the glee

   Have climbed the distant hill;

Had not the bliss so slow a pace, —

Who knows but this surrendered face

   Were undefeated still?

Oh, if there may departing be

Any forgot by victory

   In her imperial round,

Show them this meek apparelled thing,

That could not stop to be a king,

   Doubtful if it be crowned!


Astra Castra.

Departed to the judgment,

A mighty afternoon;

Great clouds like ushers leaning,

Creation looking on.

The flesh surrendered, cancelled,

The bodiless begun;

Two worlds, like audiences, disperse

And leave the soul alone.


Safe in their alabaster chambers,

Untouched by morning and untouched by noon,

Sleep the meek members of the resurrection,

Rafter of satin, and roof of stone.

Light laughs the breeze in her castle of sunshine;

Babbles the bee in a stolid ear;

Pipe the sweet birds in ignorant cadence, —

Ah, what sagacity perished here!

Grand go the years in the crescent above them;

Worlds scoop their arcs, and firmaments row,

Diadems drop and Doges surrender,

Soundless as dots on a disk of snow.


On this long storm the rainbow rose,

On this late morn the sun;

The clouds, like listless elephants,

Horizons straggled down.

The birds rose smiling in their nests,

The gales indeed were done;

Alas! how heedless were the eyes

On whom the summer shone!

The quiet nonchalance of death

No daybreak can bestir;

The slow archangel’s syllables

Must awaken her.


From the Chrysalis.

My cocoon tightens, colors tease,

I’m feeling for the air;

A dim capacity for wings

Degrades the dress I wear.

A power of butterfly must be

The aptitude to fly,

Meadows of majesty concedes

And easy sweeps of sky.

So I must baffle at the hint

And cipher at the sign,

And make much blunder, if at last

I take the clew divine.


Setting Sail.

Exultation is the going

Of an inland soul to sea, —

Past the houses, past the headlands,

Into deep eternity!

Bred as we, among the mountains,

Can the sailor understand

The divine intoxication

Of the first league out from land?


Look back on time with kindly eyes,

He doubtless did his best;

How softly sinks his trembling sun

In human nature’s west!


A train went through a burial gate,

A bird broke forth and sang,

And trilled, and quivered, and shook his throat

Till all the churchyard rang;

And then adjusted his little notes,

And bowed and sang again.

Doubtless, he thought it meet of him

To say good-by to men.


I died for beauty, but was scarce

Adjusted in the tomb,

When one who died for truth was lain

In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?

“For beauty,” I replied.

“And I for truth, — the two are one;

We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a night,

We talked between the rooms,

Until the moss had reached our lips,

And covered up our names.


“Troubled About Many Things.”

How many times these low feet staggered,

Only the soldered mouth can tell;

Try! can you stir the awful rivet?

Try! can you lift the hasps of steel?

Stroke the cool forehead, hot so often,

Lift, if you can, the listless hair;

Handle the adamantine fingers

Never a thimble more shall wear.

Buzz the dull flies on the chamber window;

Brave shines the sun through the freckled pane;

Fearless the cobweb swings from the ceiling —

Indolent housewife, in daisies lain!



I like a look of agony,

Because I know it ’s true;

Men do not sham convulsion,

Nor simulate a throe.

The eyes glaze once, and that is death.

Impossible to feign

The beads upon the forehead

By homely anguish strung.


The Funeral.

That short, potential stir

That each can make but once,

That bustle so illustrious

’T is almost consequence,

Is the eclat of death.

Oh, thou unknown renown

That not a beggar would accept,

Had he the power to spurn!


I went to thank her,

But she slept;

Her bed a funnelled stone,

With nosegays at the head and foot,

That travellers had thrown,

Who went to thank her;

But she slept.

’T was short to cross the sea

To look upon her like, alive,

But turning back ’t was slow.


I’ve seen a dying eye

Run round and round a room

In search of something, as it seemed,

Then cloudier become;

And then, obscure with fog,

And then be soldered down,

Without disclosing what it be,

’T were blessed to have seen.



The clouds their backs together laid,

The north begun to push,

The forests galloped till they fell,

The lightning skipped like mice;

The thunder crumbled like a stuff —

How good to be safe in tombs,

Where nature’s temper cannot reach,

Nor vengeance ever comes!


I never saw a moor,

I never saw the sea;

Yet know I how the heather looks,

And what a wave must be.

I never spoke with God,

Nor visited in heaven;

Yet certain am I of the spot

As if the chart were given.



God permits industrious angels

Afternoons to play.

I met one, — forgot my school-mates,

All, for him, straightway.

God calls home the angels promptly

At the setting sun;

I missed mine. How dreary marbles,

After playing Crown!


To know just how he suffered would be dear;

To know if any human eyes were near

To whom he could intrust his wavering gaze,

Until it settled firm on Paradise.

To know if he was patient, part content,

Was dying as he thought, or different;

Was it a pleasant day to die,

And did the sunshine face his way?

What was his furthest mind, of home, or God,

Or what the distant say

At news that he ceased human nature

On such a day?

And wishes, had he any?

Just his sigh, accented,

Had been legible to me.

And was he confident until

Ill fluttered out in everlasting well?

And if he spoke, what name was best,

What first,

What one broke off with

At the drowsiest?

Was he afraid, or tranquil?

Might he know

How conscious consciousness could grow,

Till love that was, and love too blest to be,

Meet — and the junction be Eternity?


The last night that she lived,

It was a common night,

Except the dying; this to us

Made nature different.

We noticed smallest things, —

Things overlooked before,

By this great light upon our minds

Italicized, as ’t were.

That others could exist

While she must finish quite,

A jealousy for her arose

So nearly infinite.

We waited while she passed;

It was a narrow time,

Too jostled were our souls to speak,

At length the notice came.

She mentioned, and forgot;

Then lightly as a reed

Bent to the water, shivered scarce,

Consented, and was dead.

And we, we placed the hair,

And drew the head erect;

And then an awful leisure was,

Our faith to regulate.


The First Lesson.

Not in this world to see his face

Sounds long, until I read the place

Where this is said to be

But just the primer to a life

Unopened, rare, upon the shelf,

Clasped yet to him and me.

And yet, my primer suits me so

I would not choose a book to know

Than that, be sweeter wise;

Might some one else so learned be,

And leave me just my A B C,

Himself could have the skies.


The bustle in a house

The morning after death

Is solemnest of industries

Enacted upon earth, —

The sweeping up the heart,

And putting love away

We shall not want to use again

Until eternity.


I reason, earth is short,

And anguish absolute,

And many hurt;

But what of that?

I reason, we could die:

The best vitality

Cannot excel decay;

But what of that?

I reason that in heaven

Somehow, it will be even,

Some new equation given;

But what of that?


Afraid? Of whom am I afraid?

Not death; for who is he?

The porter of my father’s lodge

As much abasheth me.

Of life? ’T were odd I fear a thing

That comprehendeth me

In one or more existences

At Deity’s decree.

Of resurrection? Is the east

Afraid to trust the morn

With her fastidious forehead?

As soon impeach my crown!



The sun kept setting, setting still;

No hue of afternoon

Upon the village I perceived, —

From house to house ’t was noon.

The dusk kept dropping, dropping still;

No dew upon the grass,

But only on my forehead stopped,

And wandered in my face.

My feet kept drowsing, drowsing still,

My fingers were awake;

Yet why so little sound myself

Unto my seeming make?

How well I knew the light before!

I could not see it now.

’T is dying, I am doing; but

I’m not afraid to know.


Two swimmers wrestled on the spar

Until the morning sun,

When one turned smiling to the land.

O God, the other one!

The stray ships passing spied a face

Upon the waters borne,

With eyes in death still begging raised,

And hands beseeching thrown.


The Chariot.

Because I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me;

The carriage held but just ourselves

And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,

And I had put away

My labor, and my leisure too,

For his civility.

We passed the school where children played,

Their lessons scarcely done;

We passed the fields of gazing grain,

We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed

A swelling of the ground;

The roof was scarcely visible,

The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’t is centuries; but each

Feels shorter than the day

I first surmised the horses’ heads

Were toward eternity.


She went as quiet as the dew

From a familiar flower.

Not like the dew did she return

At the accustomed hour!

She dropt as softly as a star

From out my summer’s eve;

Less skilful than Leverrier

It’s sorer to believe!



At last to be identified!

At last, the lamps upon thy side,

The rest of life to see!

Past midnight, past the morning star!

Past sunrise! Ah! what leagues there are

Between our feet and day!


Except to heaven, she is nought;

Except for angels, lone;

Except to some wide-wandering bee,

A flower superfluous blown;

Except for winds, provincial;

Except by butterflies,

Unnoticed as a single dew

That on the acre lies.

The smallest housewife in the grass,

Yet take her from the lawn,

And somebody has lost the face

That made existence home!


Death is a dialogue between

The spirit and the dust.

“Dissolve,” says Death. The Spirit, “Sir,

I have another trust.”

Death doubts it, argues from the ground.

The Spirit turns away,

Just laying off, for evidence,

An overcoat of clay.


It was too late for man,

But early yet for God;

Creation impotent to help,

But prayer remained our side.

How excellent the heaven,

When earth cannot be had;

How hospitable, then, the face

Of our old neighbor, God!


Along the Potomac.

When I was small, a woman died.

To-day her only boy

Went up from the Potomac,

His face all victory,

To look at her; how slowly

The seasons must have turned

Till bullets clipt an angle,

And he passed quickly round!

If pride shall be in Paradise

I never can decide;

Of their imperial conduct,

No person testified.

But proud in apparition,

That woman and her boy

Pass back and forth before my brain,

As ever in the sky.


The daisy follows soft the sun,

And when his golden walk is done,

   Sits shyly at his feet.

He, waking, finds the flower near.

“Wherefore, marauder, art thou here?”

   “Because, sir, love is sweet!”

We are the flower, Thou the sun!

Forgive us, if as days decline,

   We nearer steal to Thee, —

Enamoured of the parting west,

The peace, the flight, the amethyst,

   Night’s possibility!



No rack can torture me,

My soul’s at liberty

Behind this mortal bone

There knits a bolder one

You cannot prick with saw,

Nor rend with scymitar.

Two bodies therefore be;

Bind one, and one will flee.

The eagle of his nest

No easier divest

And gain the sky,

Than mayest thou,

Except thyself may be

Thine enemy;

Captivity is consciousness,

So’s liberty.



I lost a world the other day.

Has anybody found?

You’ll know it by the row of stars

Around its forehead bound.

A rich man might not notice it;

Yet to my frugal eye

Of more esteem than ducats.

Oh, find it, sir, for me!


If I shouldn’t be alive

When the robins come,

Give the one in red cravat

A memorial crumb.

If I couldn’t thank you,

Being just asleep,

You will know I’m trying

With my granite lip!


Sleep is supposed to be,

By souls of sanity,

The shutting of the eye.

Sleep is the station grand

Down which on either hand

The hosts of witness stand!

Morn is supposed to be,

By people of degree,

The breaking of the day.

Morning has not occurred!

That shall aurora be

East of eternity;

One with the banner gay,

One in the red array, —

That is the break of day.


I shall know why, when time is over,

And I have ceased to wonder why;

Christ will explain each separate anguish

In the fair schoolroom of the sky.

He will tell me what Peter promised,

And I, for wonder at his woe,

I shall forget the drop of anguish

That scalds me now, that scalds me now.


I never lost as much but twice,

And that was in the sod;

Twice have I stood a beggar

Before the door of God!

Angels, twice descending,

Reimbursed my store.

Burglar, banker, father,

I am poor once more!

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53