Poems, Series Two, by Emily Dickinson

IV. Time and Eternity.


Let down the bars, O Death!

The tired flocks come in

Whose bleating ceases to repeat,

Whose wandering is done.

Thine is the stillest night,

Thine the securest fold;

Too near thou art for seeking thee,

Too tender to be told.


Going to heaven!

I don’t know when,

Pray do not ask me how, —

Indeed, I ’m too astonished

To think of answering you!

Going to heaven! —

How dim it sounds!

And yet it will be done

As sure as flocks go home at night

Unto the shepherd’s arm!

Perhaps you ’re going too!

Who knows?

If you should get there first,

Save just a little place for me

Close to the two I lost!

The smallest “robe” will fit me,

And just a bit of “crown;”

For you know we do not mind our dress

When we are going home.

I ’m glad I don’t believe it,

For it would 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.


At least to pray is left, is left.

O Jesus! in the air

I know not which thy chamber is, —

I ’m knocking everywhere.

Thou stirrest earthquake in the South,

And maelstrom in the sea;

Say, Jesus Christ of Nazareth,

Hast thou no arm for me?



Step lightly on this narrow spot!

The broadest land that grows

Is not so ample as the breast

These emerald seams enclose.

Step lofty; for this name is told

As far as cannon dwell,

Or flag subsist, or fame export

Her deathless syllable.


Morns like these we parted;

Noons like these she rose,

Fluttering first, then firmer,

To her fair repose.

Never did she lisp it,

And ’t was not for me;

She was mute from transport,

I, from agony!

Till the evening, nearing,

One the shutters drew —

Quick! a sharper rustling!

And this linnet flew!


A death-blow is a life-blow to some

Who, till they died, did not alive become;

Who, had they lived, had died, but when

They died, vitality begun.


I read my sentence steadily,

Reviewed it with my eyes,

To see that I made no mistake

In its extremest clause, —

The date, and manner of the shame;

And then the pious form

That “God have mercy” on the soul

The jury voted him.

I made my soul familiar

With her extremity,

That at the last it should not be

A novel agony,

But she and Death, acquainted,

Meet tranquilly as friends,

Salute and pass without a hint —

And there the matter ends.


I have not told my garden yet,

Lest that should conquer me;

I have not quite the strength now

To break it to the bee.

I will not name it in the street,

For shops would stare, that I,

So shy, so very ignorant,

Should have the face to die.

The hillsides must not know it,

Where I have rambled so,

Nor tell the loving forests

The day that I shall go,

Nor lisp it at the table,

Nor heedless by the way

Hint that within the riddle

One will walk today!


The Battle-Field.

They dropped like flakes, they dropped like stars,

   Like petals from a rose,

When suddenly across the June

   A wind with fingers goes.

They perished in the seamless grass, —

   No eye could find the place;

But God on his repealless list

   Can summon every face.


The only ghost I ever saw

Was dressed in mechlin, — so;

He wore no sandal on his foot,

And stepped like flakes of snow.

His gait was soundless, like the bird,

But rapid, like the roe;

His fashions quaint, mosaic,

Or, haply, mistletoe.

His conversation seldom,

His laughter like the breeze

That dies away in dimples

Among the pensive trees.

Our interview was transient —

Of me, himself was shy;

And God forbid I look behind

Since that appalling day!


Some, too fragile for winter winds,

The thoughtful grave encloses, —

Tenderly tucking them in from frost

Before their feet are cold.

Never the treasures in her nest

The cautious grave exposes,

Building where schoolboy dare not look

And sportsman is not bold.

This covert have all the children

Early aged, and often cold, —

Sparrows unnoticed by the Father;

Lambs for whom time had not a fold.


As by the dead we love to sit,

Become so wondrous dear,

As for the lost we grapple,

Though all the rest are here, —

In broken mathematics

We estimate our prize,

Vast, in its fading ratio,

To our penurious eyes!



Death sets a thing significant

The eye had hurried by,

Except a perished creature

Entreat us tenderly

To ponder little workmanships

In crayon or in wool,

With “This was last her fingers did,”

Industrious until

The thimble weighed too heavy,

The stitches stopped themselves,

And then ’t was put among the dust

Upon the closet shelves.

A book I have, a friend gave,

Whose pencil, here and there,

Had notched the place that pleased him, —

At rest his fingers are.

Now, when I read, I read not,

For interrupting tears

Obliterate the etchings

Too costly for repairs.


I went to heaven, —

’T was a small town,

Lit with a ruby,

Lathed with down.

Stiller than the fields

At the full dew,

Beautiful as pictures

No man drew.

People like the moth,

Of mechlin, frames,

Duties of gossamer,

And eider names.

Almost contented

I could be

’Mong such unique



Their height in heaven comforts not,

Their glory nought to me;

’T was best imperfect, as it was;

I ’m finite, I can’t 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 ’t was a meaner size,

Then I had counted it until

It pleased my narrow eyes

Better than larger values,

However true their show;

This timid life of evidence

Keeps pleading, “I don’t know.”


There is a shame of nobleness

Confronting sudden pelf, —

A finer shame of ecstasy

Convicted of itself.

A best disgrace a brave man feels,

Acknowledged of the brave, —

One more “Ye Blessed” to be told;

But this involves the grave.



Triumph may be of several kinds.

There ’s triumph in the room

When that old imperator, Death,

By faith is overcome.

There ’s triumph of the finer mind

When truth, affronted long,

Advances calm to her supreme,

Her God her only throng.

A triumph when temptation’s bribe

Is slowly handed back,

One eye upon the heaven renounced

And one upon the rack.

Severer triumph, by himself

Experienced, who can pass

Acquitted from that naked bar,

Jehovah’s countenance!


Pompless no life can pass away;

    The lowliest career

To the same pageant wends its way

    As that exalted here.

How cordial is the mystery!

    The hospitable pall

A “this way” beckons spaciously, —

    A miracle for all!


I noticed people disappeared,

When but a little child, —

Supposed they visited remote,

Or settled regions wild.

Now know I they both visited

And settled regions wild,

But did because they died, — a fact

Withheld the little child!



I had no cause to be awake,

My best was gone to sleep,

And morn a new politeness took,

And failed to wake them up,

But called the others clear,

And passed their curtains by.

Sweet morning, when I over-sleep,

Knock, recollect, for me!

I looked at sunrise once,

And then I looked at them,

And wishfulness in me arose

For circumstance the same.

’T was such an ample peace,

It could not hold a sigh, —

’T was Sabbath with the bells divorced,

’T was sunset all the day.

So choosing but a gown

And taking but a prayer,

The only raiment I should need,

I struggled, and was there.


If anybody’s friend be dead,

It ’s sharpest of the theme

The thinking how they walked alive,

At such and such a time.

Their costume, of a Sunday,

Some manner of the hair, —

A prank nobody knew but them,

Lost, in the sepulchre.

How warm they were on such a day:

You almost feel the date,

So short way off it seems; and now,

They ’re centuries from that.

How pleased they were at what you said;

You try to touch the smile,

And dip your fingers in the frost:

When was it, can you tell,

You asked the company to tea,

Acquaintance, just a few,

And chatted close with this grand thing

That don’t remember you?

Past bows and invitations,

Past interview, and vow,

Past what ourselves can estimate, —

That makes the quick of woe!


The Journey.

Our journey had advanced;

Our feet were almost come

To that odd fork in Being’s road,

Eternity by term.

Our pace took sudden awe,

Our feet reluctant led.

Before were cities, but between,

The forest of the dead.

Retreat was out of hope, —

Behind, a sealed route,

Eternity’s white flag before,

And God at every gate.


A Country Burial.

Ample make this bed.

Make this bed with awe;

In it wait till judgment break

Excellent and fair.

Be its mattress straight,

Be its pillow round;

Let no sunrise’ yellow noise

Interrupt this ground.



On such a night, or such a night,

Would anybody care

If such a little figure

Slipped quiet from its chair,

So quiet, oh, how quiet!

That nobody might know

But that the little figure

Rocked softer, to and fro?

On such a dawn, or such a dawn,

Would anybody sigh

That such a little figure

Too sound asleep did lie

For chanticleer to wake it, —

Or stirring house below,

Or giddy bird in orchard,

Or early task to do?

There was a little figure plump

For every little knoll,

Busy needles, and spools of thread,

And trudging feet from school.

Playmates, and holidays, and nuts,

And visions vast and small.

Strange that the feet so precious charged

Should reach so small a goal!


Essential oils are wrung:

The attar from the rose

Is not expressed by suns alone,

It is the gift of screws.

The general rose decays;

But this, in lady’s drawer,

Makes summer when the lady lies

In ceaseless rosemary.


I lived on dread; to those who know

The stimulus there is

In danger, other impetus

Is numb and vital-less.

As ’t were a spur upon the soul,

A fear will urge it where

To go without the spectre’s aid

Were challenging despair.


If I should die,

And you should live,

And time should gurgle on,

And morn should beam,

And noon should burn,

As it has usual done;

If birds should build as early,

And bees as bustling go, —

One might depart at option

From enterprise below!

’T is sweet to know that stocks will stand

When we with daisies lie,

That commerce will continue,

And trades as briskly fly.

It makes the parting tranquil

And keeps the soul serene,

That gentlemen so sprightly

Conduct the pleasing scene!


At Length.

Her final summer was it,

And yet we guessed it not;

If tenderer industriousness

Pervaded her, we thought

A further force of life

Developed from within, —

When Death lit all the shortness up,

And made the hurry plain.

We wondered at our blindness, —

When nothing was to see

But her Carrara guide-post, —

At our stupidity,

When, duller than our dulness,

The busy darling lay,

So busy was she, finishing,

So leisurely were we!



One need not be a chamber to be haunted,

One need not be a house;

The brain has corridors surpassing

Material place.

Far safer, of a midnight meeting

External ghost,

Than an interior confronting

That whiter host.

Far safer through an Abbey gallop,

The stones achase,

Than, moonless, one’s own self encounter

In lonesome place.

Ourself, behind ourself concealed,

Should startle most;

Assassin, hid in our apartment,

Be horror’s least.

The prudent carries a revolver,

He bolts the door,

O’erlooking a superior spectre

More near.



She died, — this was the way she died;

And when her breath was done,

Took up her simple wardrobe

And started for the sun.

Her little figure at the gate

The angels must have spied,

Since I could never find her

Upon the mortal side.



Wait till the majesty of Death

Invests so mean a brow!

Almost a powdered footman

Might dare to touch it now!

Wait till in everlasting robes

This democrat is dressed,

Then prate about “preferment”

And “station” and the rest!

Around this quiet courtier

Obsequious angels wait!

Full royal is his retinue,

Full purple is his state!

A lord might dare to lift the hat

To such a modest clay,

Since that my Lord, “the Lord of lords”

Receives unblushingly!



Went up a year this evening!

I recollect it well!

Amid no bells nor bravos

The bystanders will tell!

Cheerful, as to the village,

Tranquil, as to repose,

Chastened, as to the chapel,

This humble tourist rose.

Did not talk of returning,

Alluded to no time

When, were the gales propitious,

We might look for him;

Was grateful for the roses

In life’s diverse bouquet,

Talked softly of new species

To pick another day.

Beguiling thus the wonder,

The wondrous nearer drew;

Hands bustled at the moorings —

The crowd respectful grew.

Ascended from our vision

To countenances new!

A difference, a daisy,

Is all the rest I knew!



Taken from men this morning,

Carried by men today,

Met by the gods with banners

Who marshalled her away.

One little maid from playmates,

One little mind from school, —

There must be guests in Eden;

All the rooms are full.

Far as the east from even,

Dim as the border star, —

Courtiers quaint, in kingdoms,

Our departed are.


What inn is this

Where for the night

Peculiar traveller comes?

Who is the landlord?

Where the maids?

Behold, what curious rooms!

No ruddy fires on the hearth,

No brimming tankards flow.

Necromancer, landlord,

Who are these below?


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 ’t was 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.


Till the End.

I should not dare to leave my friend,

Because — because if he should die

While I was gone, and I— too late —

Should reach the heart that wanted me;

If I should disappoint the eyes

That hunted, hunted so, to see,

And could not bear to shut until

They “noticed” me — they noticed me;

If I should stab the patient faith

So sure I ’d come — so sure I ’d come,

It listening, listening, went to sleep

Telling my tardy name, —

My heart would wish it broke before,

Since breaking then, since breaking then,

Were useless as next morning’s sun,

Where midnight frosts had lain!



Great streets of silence led away

To neighborhoods of pause;

Here was no notice, no dissent,

No universe, no laws.

By clocks ’t was morning, and for night

The bells at distance called;

But epoch had no basis here,

For period exhaled.


A throe upon the features

A hurry in the breath,

An ecstasy of parting

Denominated “Death,” —

An anguish at the mention,

Which, when to patience grown,

I ’ve known permission given

To rejoin its own.



Of tribulation these are they

Denoted by the white;

The spangled gowns, a lesser rank

Of victors designate.

All these did conquer; but the ones

Who overcame most times

Wear nothing commoner than snow,

No ornament but palms.

Surrender is a sort unknown

On this superior soil;

Defeat, an outgrown anguish,

Remembered as the mile

Our panting ankle barely gained

When night devoured the road;

But we stood whispering in the house,

And all we said was “Saved”!


I think just how my shape will rise

When I shall be forgiven,

Till hair and eyes and timid head

Are out of sight, in heaven.

I think just how my lips will weigh

With shapeless, quivering prayer

That you, so late, consider me,

The sparrow of your care.

I mind me that of anguish sent,

Some drifts were moved away

Before my simple bosom broke, —

And why not this, if they?

And so, until delirious borne

I con that thing, — “forgiven,” —

Till with long fright and longer trust

I drop my heart, unshriven!


The Forgotten Grave.

After a hundred years

Nobody knows the place, —

Agony, that enacted there,

Motionless as peace.

Weeds triumphant ranged,

Strangers strolled and spelled

At the lone orthography

Of the elder dead.

Winds of summer fields

Recollect the way, —

Instinct picking up the key

Dropped by memory.


Lay this laurel on the one

Too intrinsic for renown.

Laurel! veil your deathless tree, —

Him you chasten, that is he!

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