Poems, Series Two, by Emily Dickinson

I. Life.


I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there ’s a pair of us — don’t tell!

They ’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!

How public, like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!


I bring an unaccustomed wine

To lips long parching, next to mine,

And summon them to drink.

Crackling with fever, they essay;

I turn my brimming eyes away,

And come next hour to look.

The hands still hug the tardy glass;

The lips I would have cooled, alas!

Are so superfluous cold,

I would as soon attempt to warm

The bosoms where the frost has lain

Ages beneath the mould.

Some other thirsty there may be

To whom this would have pointed me

Had it remained to speak.

And so I always bear the cup

If, haply, mine may be the drop

Some pilgrim thirst to slake, —

If, haply, any say to me,

“Unto the little, unto me,”

When I at last awake.


The nearest dream recedes, unrealized.

      The heaven we chase

      Like the June bee

      Before the school-boy

      Invites the race;

      Stoops to an easy clover —

Dips — evades — teases — deploys;

      Then to the royal clouds

      Lifts his light pinnace

      Heedless of the boy

Staring, bewildered, at the mocking sky.

      Homesick for steadfast honey,

      Ah! the bee flies not

That brews that rare variety.


We play at paste,

Till qualified for pearl,

Then drop the paste,

And deem ourself a fool.

The shapes, though, were similar,

And our new hands

Learned gem-tactics

Practising sands.


I found the phrase 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 dark; —

How would your own begin?

Can blaze be done in cochineal,

Or noon in mazarin?



Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.

I ’ve heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.


The White Heat.

Dare you see a soul at the white heat?

   Then crouch within the door.

Red is the fire’s common tint;

   But when the vivid ore

Has sated flame’s conditions,

   Its quivering substance plays

Without a color but the light

   Of unanointed blaze.

Least village boasts its blacksmith,

   Whose anvil’s even din

Stands symbol for the finer forge

   That soundless tugs within,

Refining these impatient ores

   With hammer and with blaze,

Until the designated light

   Repudiate the forge.



Who never lost, are unprepared

A coronet to find;

Who never thirsted, flagons

And cooling tamarind.

Who never climbed the weary league —

Can 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?

The royal scar hast thou?

Angels, write “Promoted”

On this soldier’s brow!


The Test.

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 smile,

’T was the new liquor, —

That was all!

Power is only pain,

Stranded, through discipline,

Till weights will hang.

Give balm to giants,

And they ’ll wilt, like men.

Give Himmaleh, —

They ’ll carry him!



I never hear the word “escape”

Without a quicker blood,

A sudden expectation,

A flying attitude.

I never hear of prisons broad

By soldiers battered down,

But I tug childish at my bars, —

Only to fail again!



For each ecstatic instant

We must an anguish pay

In keen and quivering ratio

To the ecstasy.

For each beloved hour

Sharp pittances of years,

Bitter contested farthings

And coffers heaped with tears.


The Martyrs.

Through the straight pass of suffering

The martyrs even trod,

Their feet upon temptation,

Their faces upon God.

A stately, shriven company;

Convulsion playing round,

Harmless as streaks of meteor

Upon a planet’s bound.

Their faith the everlasting troth;

Their expectation fair;

The needle to the north degree

Wades so, through polar air.


A Prayer.

I meant to have but modest needs,

Such as content, and heaven;

Within my income these could lie,

And life and I keep even.

But since the last included both,

It would suffice my prayer

But just for one to stipulate,

And grace would grant the pair.

And so, upon this wise I prayed, —

Great Spirit, give to me

A heaven not so large as yours,

But large enough for me.

A smile suffused Jehovah’s face;

The cherubim withdrew;

Grave saints stole out to look at me,

And showed their dimples, too.

I left the place with all my might, —

My prayer away I threw;

The quiet ages picked it up,

And Judgment twinkled, too,

That one so honest be extant

As take the tale for true

That “Whatsoever you shall ask,

Itself be given you.”

But I, grown shrewder, scan the skies

With a suspicious air, —

As children, swindled for the first,

All swindlers be, infer.


The thought beneath so slight a film

Is more distinctly seen, —

As laces just reveal the surge,

Or mists the Apennine.


The soul unto itself

Is an imperial friend, —

Or the most agonizing spy

An enemy could send.

Secure against its own,

No treason it can fear;

Itself its sovereign, of itself

The soul should stand in awe.


Surgeons must be very careful

When they take the knife!

Underneath their fine incisions

Stirs the culprit, — Life!


The Railway Train.

I like to see it lap the miles,

And lick the valleys up,

And stop to feed itself at tanks;

And then, prodigious, step

Around a pile of mountains,

And, supercilious, peer

In shanties by the sides of roads;

And then a quarry pare

To fit its sides, and crawl between,

Complaining all the while

In horrid, hooting stanza;

Then chase itself down hill

And neigh like Boanerges;

Then, punctual as a star,

Stop — docile and omnipotent —

At its own stable door.


The Show.

The show is not the show,

But they that go.

Menagerie to me

My neighbor be.

Fair play —

Both went to see.


Delight becomes pictorial

When 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 skies!


A thought went up my mind today

That I have had before,

But did not finish, — some way back,

I could not fix the year,

Nor where it went, nor why it came

The second time to me,

Nor definitely what it was,

Have I the art to say.

But somewhere in my soul, I know

I ’ve met the thing before;

It just reminded me — ’t was all —

And came my way no more.


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.


The Return.

Though I get home how late, how late!

So I get home, ’t will compensate.

Better will be the ecstasy

That they have done expecting me,

When, night descending, dumb and dark,

They hear my unexpected knock.

Transporting must the moment be,

Brewed from decades of agony!

To think just how the fire will burn,

Just how long-cheated eyes will turn

To wonder what myself will say,

And what itself will say to me,

Beguiles the centuries of way!


A poor torn heart, a tattered heart,

That sat it down to rest,

Nor noticed that the ebbing day

Flowed silver to the west,

Nor noticed night did soft descend

Nor constellation burn,

Intent upon the vision

Of latitudes unknown.

The angels, happening that way,

This dusty heart espied;

Tenderly took it up from toil

And carried it to God.

There, — sandals for the barefoot;

There, — gathered from the gales,

Do the blue havens by the hand

Lead the wandering sails.


Too Much.

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.

I should have been too saved, I see,

Too rescued; fear too dim to me

   That I could spell the prayer

I knew so perfect yesterday, —

That scalding one, “Sabachthani,”

   Recited fluent here.

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 without the Calvary;

   So, Saviour, crucify.

Defeat whets victory, they say;

The reefs in old Gethsemane

   Endear the shore beyond.

’T is beggars banquets best define;

’T is thirsting vitalizes wine, —

   Faith faints to understand.



It tossed and tossed, —

A little brig I knew, —

O’ertook by blast,

It spun and spun,

And groped delirious, for morn.

It slipped and slipped,

As one that drunken stepped;

Its white foot tripped,

Then dropped from sight.

Ah, brig, good-night

To crew and you;

The ocean’s heart too smooth, too blue,

To break for you.


Victory comes late,

And is held low to freezing lips

Too rapt with frost

To take it.

How sweet it would have tasted,

Just a drop!

Was God so economical?

His table ’s spread too high for us

Unless we dine on tip-toe.

Crumbs fit such little mouths,

Cherries suit robins;

The eagle’s golden breakfast

Strangles them.

God keeps his oath to sparrows,

Who of little love

Know how to starve!



God gave a loaf to every bird,

But just a crumb to me;

I dare not eat it, though I starve, —

My poignant luxury

To own it, touch it, prove the feat

That made the pellet mine, —

Too happy in my sparrow chance

For ampler coveting.

It might be famine all around,

I could not miss an ear,

Such plenty smiles upon my board,

My garner shows so fair.

I wonder how the rich may feel, —

An Indiaman — an Earl?

I deem that I with but a crumb

Am sovereign of them all.


Experiment to me

Is every one I meet.

If it contain a kernel?

The figure of a nut

Presents upon a tree,

Equally plausibly;

But meat within is requisite,

To squirrels and to me.


My Country’s Wardrobe.

My country need not change her gown,

Her triple suit as sweet

As when ’t was cut at Lexington,

And first pronounced “a fit.”

Great Britain disapproves “the stars;”

Disparagement discreet, —

There ’s something in their attitude

That taunts her bayonet.


Faith is a fine invention

For gentlemen who see;

But microscopes are prudent

In an emergency!


Except the heaven had come so near,

So seemed to choose my door,

The distance would not haunt me so;

I had not hoped before.

But just to hear the grace depart

I never thought to see,

Afflicts me with a double loss;

’T is lost, and lost to me.


Portraits are to daily faces

As an evening west

To a fine, pedantic sunshine

In a satin vest.


The Duel.

I took my power in my hand.

And went against the world;

’T was not so much as David had,

But I was twice as bold.

I aimed my pebble, but myself

Was all the one that fell.

Was it Goliath was too large,

Or only I too small?


A shady friend for torrid days

Is easier to find

Than one of higher temperature

For frigid hour of mind.

The vane a little to the east

Scares muslin souls away;

If broadcloth breasts are firmer

Than those of organdy,

Who is to blame? The weaver?

Ah! the bewildering thread!

The tapestries of paradise

So notelessly are made!


The Goal.

Each life converges to some centre

Expressed or still;

Exists in every human nature

A goal,

Admitted scarcely to itself, it may be,

Too fair

For credibility’s temerity

To dare.

Adored with caution, as a brittle heaven,

To reach

Were hopeless as the rainbow’s raiment

To touch,

Yet persevered toward, surer for the distance;

How high

Unto the saints’ slow diligence

The sky!

Ungained, it may be, by a life’s low venture,

But then,

Eternity enables the endeavoring




Before I got my eye put out,

I liked as well to see

As other creatures that have eyes,

And know no other way.

But were it told to me, today,

That I might have the sky

For mine, I tell you that my heart

Would split, for size of me.

The meadows mine, the mountains mine, —

All forests, stintless stars,

As much of noon as I could take

Between my finite eyes.

The motions of the dipping birds,

The lightning’s jointed road,

For mine to look at when I liked, —

The news would strike me dead!

So safer, guess, with just my soul

Upon the window-pane

Where other creatures put their eyes,

Incautious of the sun.


Talk with prudence to a beggar

Of ‘Potosi’ and the mines!

Reverently to the hungry

Of your viands and your wines!

Cautious, hint to any captive

You have passed enfranchised feet!

Anecdotes of air in dungeons

Have sometimes proved deadly sweet!


The Preacher.

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!


Good night! which put the candle out?

A jealous zephyr, not a doubt.

   Ah! friend, you little knew

How long at that celestial wick

The angels labored diligent;

   Extinguished, now, for you!

It might have been the lighthouse spark

Some sailor, rowing in the dark,

   Had importuned to see!

It might have been the waning lamp

That lit the drummer from the camp

   To purer reveille!


When I hoped I feared,

Since I hoped I dared;

Everywhere alone

As a church remain;

Spectre cannot harm,

Serpent cannot charm;

He deposes doom,

Who hath suffered him.



A deed knocks first at thought,

And then it knocks at will.

That is the manufacturing spot,

And will at home and well.

It then goes out an act,

Or is entombed so still

That only to the ear of God

Its doom is audible.


Time’s Lesson.

Mine enemy is growing old, —

I have at last revenge.

The palate of the hate departs;

If any would avenge, —

Let him be quick, the viand flits,

It is a faded meat.

Anger as soon as fed is dead;

’T is starving makes it fat.



Remorse is memory awake,

Her companies astir, —

A presence of departed acts

At window and at door.

It’s past set down before the soul,

And lighted with a match,

Perusal to facilitate

Of its condensed despatch.

Remorse is cureless, — the disease

Not even God can heal;

For ’t is his institution, —

The complement of hell.


The Shelter.

The body grows outside, —

The more convenient way, —

That if the spirit like to hide,

Its temple stands alway

Ajar, secure, inviting;

It never did betray

The soul that asked its shelter

In timid honesty.


Undue significance a starving man attaches

To food

Far off; he sighs, and therefore hopeless,

And therefore good.

Partaken, it relieves indeed, but proves us

That spices fly

In the receipt. It was the distance

Was savory.


Heart not so heavy as mine,

Wending late home,

As it passed my window

Whistled itself a tune, —

A careless snatch, a ballad,

A ditty of the street;

Yet to my irritated ear

An anodyne so sweet,

It was as if a bobolink,

Sauntering this way,

Carolled and mused and carolled,

Then bubbled slow away.

It was as if a chirping brook

Upon a toilsome way

Set bleeding feet to minuets

Without the knowing why.

To-morrow, night will come again,

Weary, perhaps, and sore.

Ah, bugle, by my window,

I pray you stroll once more!


I many times thought peace had come,

When peace was far away;

As wrecked men deem they sight the land

At centre of the sea,

And struggle slacker, but to prove,

As hopelessly as I,

How many the fictitious shores

Before the harbor lie.


Unto my books so good to turn

Far ends of tired days;

It half endears the abstinence,

And pain is missed in praise.

As flavors cheer retarded guests

With banquetings to be,

So spices stimulate the time

Till my small library.

It may be wilderness without,

Far feet of failing men,

But holiday excludes the night,

And it is bells within.

I thank these kinsmen of the shelf;

Their countenances bland

Enamour in prospective,

And satisfy, obtained.


This merit hath the worst, —

It cannot be again.

When Fate hath taunted last

And thrown her furthest stone,

The maimed may pause and breathe,

And glance securely round.

The deer invites no longer

Than it eludes the hound.



I had been hungry all the years;

My noon had come, to dine;

I, trembling, drew the table near,

And touched the curious wine.

’T was this on tables I had seen,

When turning, hungry, lone,

I looked in windows, for the wealth

I could not hope to own.

I did not know the ample bread,

’T was so unlike the crumb

The birds and I had often shared

In Nature’s dining-room.

The plenty hurt me, ’t was so new, —

Myself felt ill and odd,

As berry of a mountain bush

Transplanted to the road.

Nor was I hungry; so I found

That hunger was a way

Of persons outside windows,

The entering takes away.


I gained it so,

      By climbing slow,

By catching at the twigs that grow

Between the bliss and me.

      It hung so high,

      As well the sky

      Attempt by strategy.

I said I gained it, —

      This was all.

Look, how I clutch it,

      Lest it fall,

And I a pauper go;

Unfitted by an instant’s grace

For the contented beggar’s face

I wore an hour ago.


To learn the transport by the pain,

As blind men learn the sun;

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 —

This is the sovereign anguish,

This, the signal woe!

These are the patient laureates

Whose voices, trained below,

Ascend in ceaseless carol,

Inaudible, indeed,

To us, the duller scholars

Of the mysterious bard!



I years had been from home,

And now, before the door,

I dared not open, lest a face

I never saw before

Stare vacant into mine

And ask my business there.

My business, — just a life I left,

Was such still dwelling there?

I fumbled at my nerve,

I scanned the windows near;

The silence like an ocean rolled,

And broke against my ear.

I laughed a wooden laugh

That I could fear a door,

Who danger and the dead had faced,

But never quaked before.

I fitted to the latch

My hand, with trembling care,

Lest back the awful door should spring,

And leave me standing there.

I moved my fingers off

As cautiously as glass,

And held my ears, and like a thief

Fled gasping from the house.



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.


I know that he exists

Somewhere, in silence.

He has hid his rare life

From our gross eyes.

’T is an instant’s play,

’T is a fond ambush,

Just to make bliss

Earn her own surprise!

But should the play

Prove piercing earnest,

Should the glee glaze

In death’s stiff stare,

Would not the fun

Look too expensive?

Would not the jest

Have crawled too far?


Melodies Unheard.

Musicians wrestle everywhere:

All day, among the crowded air,

  I hear the silver strife;

And — waking long before the dawn —

Such transport breaks upon the town

  I think it that “new life!”

It is not bird, it has no nest;

Nor band, in brass and scarlet dressed,

  Nor tambourine, nor man;

It is not hymn from pulpit read, —

The morning stars the treble led

  On time’s first afternoon!

Some say it is the spheres at play!

Some say that bright majority

  Of vanished dames and men!

Some think it service in the place

Where we, with late, celestial face,

  Please God, shall ascertain!


Called Back.

Just lost when I was saved!

Just felt the world go by!

Just girt me for the onset with eternity,

When breath blew back,

And on the other side

I heard recede the disappointed tide!

Therefore, as one returned, I feel,

Odd secrets of the line to tell!

Some sailor, skirting foreign shores,

Some pale reporter from the awful doors

Before the seal!

Next time, to stay!

Next time, the things to see

By ear unheard,

Unscrutinized by eye.

Next time, to tarry,

While the ages steal, —

Slow tramp the centuries,

And the cycles wheel.


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