Poems, Series Three, by Emily Dickinson

IV. Time and Eternity.


This world is not conclusion;

  A sequel stands beyond,

Invisible, as music,

  But positive, as sound.

It beckons and it baffles;

  Philosophies don’t know,

And through a riddle, at the last,

  Sagacity must go.

To guess it puzzles scholars;

  To gain it, men have shown

Contempt of generations,

  And crucifixion known.


We learn in the retreating

  How vast an one

Was recently among us.

  A perished sun

Endears in the departure

  How doubly more

Than all the golden presence

  It was before!


They say that ‘time assuages,’ —

  Time never did assuage;

An actual suffering strengthens,

  As sinews do, with age.

Time is a test of trouble,

  But not a remedy.

If such it prove, it prove too

  There was no malady.


We cover thee, sweet face.

  Not that we tire of thee,

But that thyself fatigue of us;

  Remember, as thou flee,

We follow thee until

  Thou notice us no more,

And then, reluctant, turn away

  To con thee o’er and o’er,

And blame the scanty love

  We were content to show,

Augmented, sweet, a hundred fold

  If thou would’st take it now.



That is solemn we have ended, —

  Be it but a play,

Or a glee among the garrets,

  Or a holiday,

Or a leaving home; or later,

  Parting with a world

We have understood, for better

  Still it be unfurled.


The stimulus, beyond the grave

  His countenance to see,

Supports me like imperial drams

  Afforded royally.


Given in marriage unto thee,

  Oh, thou celestial host!

Bride of the Father and the Son,

  Bride of the Holy Ghost!

Other betrothal shall dissolve,

  Wedlock of will decay;

Only the keeper of this seal

  Conquers mortality.


That such have died enables us

  The tranquiller to die;

That such have lived, certificate

  For immortality.


They won’t frown always, — some sweet day

  When I forget to tease,

They’ll recollect how cold I looked,

  And how I just said ‘please.’

Then they will hasten to the door

  To call the little child,

Who cannot thank them, for the ice

  That on her lisping piled.



It is an honorable thought,

  And makes one lift one’s hat,

As one encountered gentlefolk

  Upon a daily street,

That we’ve immortal place,

  Though pyramids decay,

And kingdoms, like the orchard,

  Flit russetly away.


The distance that the dead have gone

  Does not at first appear;

Their coming back seems possible

  For many an ardent year.

And then, that we have followed them

  We more than half suspect,

So intimate have we become

  With their dear retrospect.


How dare the robins sing,

  When men and women hear

Who since they went to their account

  Have settled with the year! —

Paid all that life had earned

  In one consummate bill,

And now, what life or death can do

  Is immaterial.

Insulting is the sun

  To him whose mortal light,

Beguiled of immortality,

  Bequeaths him to the night.

In deference to him

  Extinct be every hum,

Whose garden wrestles with the dew,

  At daybreak overcome!



Death is like the insect

  Menacing the tree,

Competent to kill it,

  But decoyed may be.

Bait it with the balsam,

  Seek it with the knife,

Baffle, if it cost you

  Everything in life.

Then, if it have burrowed

  Out of reach of skill,

Ring the tree and leave it, —

  ’T is the vermin’s will.



’T is sunrise, little maid, hast thou

  No station in the day?

’T was not thy wont to hinder so, —

  Retrieve thine industry.

’T is noon, my little maid, alas!

  And art thou sleeping yet?

The lily waiting to be wed,

  The bee, dost thou forget?

My little maid, ’t is night; alas,

  That night should be to thee

Instead of morning! Hadst thou broached

  Thy little plan to me,

Dissuade thee if I could not, sweet,

  I might have aided thee.


Each that we lose takes part of us;

  A crescent still abides,

Which like the moon, some turbid night,

  Is summoned by the tides.


Not any higher stands the grave

  For heroes than for men;

Not any nearer for the child

  Than numb three-score and ten.

This latest leisure equal lulls

  The beggar and his queen;

Propitiate this democrat

  By summer’s gracious mien.



As far from pity as complaint,

  As cool to speech as stone,

As numb to revelation

  As if my trade were bone.

As far from time as history,

  As near yourself today

As children to the rainbow’s scarf,

  Or sunset’s yellow play

To eyelids in the sepulchre.

  How still the dancer lies,

While color’s revelations break,

  And blaze the butterflies!


The Spirit.

’T is whiter than an Indian pipe,

  ’T is dimmer than a lace;

No stature has it, like a fog,

  When you approach the place.

Not any voice denotes it here,

  Or intimates it there;

A spirit, how doth it accost?

  What customs hath the air?

This limitless hyperbole

  Each one of us shall be;

’T is drama, if (hypothesis)

  It be not tragedy!


The Monument.

She laid her docile crescent down,

  And this mechanic stone

Still states, to dates that have forgot,

  The news that she is gone.

So constant to its stolid trust,

  The shaft that never knew,

It shames the constancy that fled

  Before its emblem flew.


Bless God, he went as soldiers,

  His musket on his breast;

Grant, God, he charge the bravest

  Of all the martial blest.

Please God, might I behold him

  In epauletted white,

I should not fear the foe then,

  I should not fear the fight.


Immortal is an ample word

  When what we need is by,

But when it leaves us for a time,

  ’T is a necessity.

Of heaven above the firmest proof

  We fundamental know,

Except for its marauding hand,

  It had been heaven below.


Where every bird is bold to go,

  And bees abashless play,

The foreigner before he knocks

  Must thrust the tears away.


The grave my little cottage is,

  Where, keeping house for thee,

I make my parlor orderly,

  And lay the marble tea,

For two divided, briefly,

  A cycle, it may be,

Till everlasting life unite

  In strong society.


This was in the white of the year,

  That was in the green,

Drifts were as difficult then to think

  As daisies now to be seen.

Looking back is best that is left,

  Or if it be before,

Retrospection is prospect’s half,

  Sometimes almost more.


Sweet hours have perished here;

  This is a mighty room;

Within its precincts hopes have played, —

  Now shadows in the tomb.


Me! Come! My dazzled face

In such a shining place!

Me! Hear! My foreign ear

The sounds of welcome near!

The saints shall meet

Our bashful feet.

My holiday shall be

That they remember me;

My paradise, the fame

That they pronounce my name.



From us she wandered now a year,

  Her tarrying unknown;

If wilderness prevent her feet,

  Or that ethereal zone

No eye hath seen and lived,

  We ignorant must be.

We only know what time of year

  We took the mystery.


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.


Trying to Forget.

Bereaved of all, I went abroad,

  No less bereaved to be

Upon a new peninsula, —

  The grave preceded me,

Obtained my lodgings ere myself,

  And when I sought my bed,

The grave it was, reposed upon

  The pillow for my head.

I waked, to find it first awake,

  I rose, — it followed me;

I tried to drop it in the crowd,

  To lose it in the sea,

In cups of artificial drowse

  To sleep its shape away, —

The grave was finished, but the spade

  Remained in memory.


I felt a funeral in my brain,

  And mourners, to and fro,

Kept treading, treading, till it seemed

  That sense was breaking through.

And when they all were seated,

  A service like a drum

Kept beating, beating, till I thought

  My mind was going numb.

And then I heard them lift a box,

  And creak across my soul

With those same boots of lead, again.

  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.


I meant to find her when I came;

  Death had the same design;

But the success was his, it seems,

  And the discomfit mine.

I meant to tell her how I longed

  For just this single time;

But Death had told her so the first,

  And she had hearkened him.

To wander now is my abode;

  To rest, — to rest would be

A privilege of hurricane

  To memory and me.



I sing to use the waiting,

  My bonnet but to tie,

And shut the door unto my house;

  No more to do have I,

Till, his best step approaching,

  We journey to the day,

And tell each other how we sang

  To keep the dark away.


A sickness of this world it most occasions

  When best men die;

A wishfulness their far condition

  To occupy.

A chief indifference, as foreign

  A world must be

Themselves forsake contented,

  For Deity.


Superfluous were the sun

  When excellence is dead;

He were superfluous every day,

  For every day is said

That syllable whose faith

  Just saves it from despair,

And whose ‘I’ll meet you’ hesitates

  If love inquire, ‘Where?’

Upon his dateless fame

  Our periods may lie,

As stars that drop anonymous

  From an abundant sky.


So proud she was to die

  It made us all ashamed

That what we cherished, so unknown

  To her desire seemed.

So satisfied to go

  Where none of us should be,

Immediately, that anguish stooped

  Almost to jealousy.



Tie the strings to my life, my Lord,

  Then I am ready to go!

Just a look at the horses —

  Rapid! That will do!

Put me in on the firmest side,

  So I shall never fall;

For we must ride to the Judgment,

  And it’s partly down hill.

But never I mind the bridges,

  And never I mind the sea;

Held fast in everlasting race

  By my own choice and thee.

Good-by to the life I used to live,

  And the world I used to know;

And kiss the hills for me, just once;

  Now I am ready to go!


The dying need but little, dear, —

  A glass of water’s all,

A flower’s unobtrusive face

  To punctuate the wall,

A fan, perhaps, a friend’s regret,

  And certainly that one

No color in the rainbow

  Perceives when you are gone.



There’s something quieter than sleep

  Within this inner room!

It wears a sprig upon its breast,

  And will not tell its name.

Some touch it and some kiss it,

  Some chafe its idle hand;

It has a simple gravity

  I do not understand!

While simple-hearted neighbors

  Chat of the ‘early dead,’

We, prone to periphrasis,

  Remark that birds have fled!


The soul should always stand ajar,

  That if the heaven inquire,

He will not be obliged to wait,

  Or shy of troubling her.

Depart, before the host has slid

  The bolt upon the door,

To seek for the accomplished guest, —

  Her visitor no more.


Three weeks passed since I had seen her, —

  Some disease had vexed;

’T was with text and village singing

  I beheld her next,

And a company — our pleasure

  To discourse alone;

Gracious now to me as any,

  Gracious unto none.

Borne, without dissent of either,

  To the parish night;

Of the separated people

  Which are out of sight?


I breathed enough to learn 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 cool the bellows feels!


I wonder if the sepulchre

  Is not a lonesome way,

When men and boys, and larks and June

  Go down the fields to hay!


Joy in Death.

If tolling bell I ask the cause.

  ‘A soul has gone to God,’

I’m answered in a lonesome tone;

  Is heaven then so sad?

That bells should joyful ring to tell

  A soul had gone to heaven,

Would seem to me the proper way

  A good news should be given.


If I may have it when it’s dead

  I will contented be;

If just as soon as breath is out

  It shall belong to me,

Until they lock it in the grave,

  ’T is bliss I cannot weigh,

For though they lock thee in the grave,

  Myself can hold the key.

Think of it, lover! I and thee

  Permitted face to face to be;

After a life, a death we’ll say, —

  For death was that, and this is thee.


Before the ice is in the pools,

  Before the skaters go,

Or any cheek at nightfall

  Is tarnished by the snow,

Before the fields have finished,

  Before the Christmas tree,

Wonder upon wonder

  Will arrive to me!

What we touch the hems of

  On a summer’s day;

What is only walking

  Just a bridge away;

That which sings so, speaks so,

  When there’s no one here, —

Will the frock I wept in

  Answer me to wear?



I heard a fly buzz when I died;

  The stillness round my form

Was like the stillness in the air

  Between the heaves of storm.

The eyes beside had wrung them dry,

  And breaths were gathering sure

For that last onset, when the king

  Be witnessed in his power.

I willed my keepsakes, signed away

  What portion of me I

Could make assignable, — and then

  There interposed a fly,

With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz,

  Between the light and me;

And then the windows failed, and then

  I could not see to see.


Adrift! A little boat adrift!

  And night is coming down!

Will no one guide a little boat

  Unto the nearest town?

So sailors say, on yesterday,

  Just as the dusk was brown,

One little boat gave up its strife,

  And gurgled down and down.

But angels say, on yesterday,

  Just as the dawn was red,

One little boat o’erspent with gales

Retrimmed its masts, redecked its sails

  Exultant, onward sped!


There’s been a death in the opposite house

  As lately as today.

I know it by the numb look

  Such houses have alway.

The neighbors rustle in and out,

  The doctor drives away.

A window opens like a pod,

  Abrupt, mechanically;

Somebody flings a mattress out, —

  The children hurry by;

They wonder if It died on that, —

  I used to when a boy.

The minister goes stiffly in

  As if the house were his,

And he owned all the mourners now,

  And little boys besides;

And then the milliner, and the man

  Of the appalling trade,

To take the measure of the house.

  There’ll be that dark parade

Of tassels and of coaches soon;

  It’s easy as a sign, —

The intuition of the news

  In just a country town.


We never know we go, — when we are going

  We jest and shut the door;

Fate following behind us bolts it,

  And we accost no more.


The Soul’s Storm.

It struck me every day

  The lightning was as new

As if the cloud that instant slit

  And let the fire through.

It burned me in the night,

  It blistered in my dream;

It sickened fresh upon my sight

  With every morning’s beam.

I thought that storm was brief, —

  The maddest, quickest by;

But Nature lost the date of this,

  And left it in the sky.


Water is taught by thirst;

Land, by the oceans passed;

  Transport, by throe;

Peace, by its battles told;

Love, by memorial mould;

  Birds, by the snow.



We thirst at first, — ’t is Nature’s act;

  And later, when we die,

A little water supplicate

  Of fingers going by.

It intimates the finer want,

  Whose adequate supply

Is that great water in the west

  Termed immortality.


A clock stopped — not the mantel’s;

  Geneva’s farthest skill

Can’t put the puppet bowing

  That just now dangled still.

An awe came on the trinket!

  The figures hunched with pain,

Then quivered out of decimals

  Into degreeless noon.

It will not stir for doctors,

  This pendulum of snow;

The shopman importunes it,

  While cool, concernless No

Nods from the gilded pointers,

  Nods from the seconds slim,

Decades of arrogance between

  The dial life and him.


Charlotte Brontë‘s Grave.

All overgrown by cunning moss,

  All interspersed with weed,

The little cage of ‘Currer Bell,’

  In quiet Haworth laid.

This bird, observing others,

  When frosts too sharp became,

Retire to other latitudes,

  Quietly did the same,

But differed in returning;

  Since Yorkshire hills are green,

Yet not in all the nests I meet

  Can nightingale be seen.

Gathered from many wanderings,

  Gethsemane can tell

Through what transporting anguish

  She reached the asphodel!

Soft fall the sounds of Eden

  Upon her puzzled ear;

Oh, what an afternoon for heaven,

  When ‘Brontë’ entered there!


A toad can die of light!

Death is the common right

  Of toads and men, —

Of earl and midge

The privilege.

  Why swagger then?

The gnat’s supremacy

Is large as thine.


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.



A long, long sleep, a famous sleep

  That makes no show for dawn

By stretch of limb or stir of lid, —

  An independent one.

Was ever idleness like this?

  Within a hut of stone

To bask the centuries away

  Nor once look up for noon?



’T was just this time last year I died.

  I know I heard the corn,

When I was carried by the farms, —

  It had the tassels on.

I thought how yellow it would look

  When Richard went to mill;

And then I wanted to get out,

  But something held my will.

I thought just how red apples wedged

  The stubble’s joints between;

And carts went stooping round the fields

  To take the pumpkins in.

I wondered which would miss me least,

  And when Thanksgiving came,

If father’d multiply the plates

  To make an even sum.

And if my stocking hung too high,

  Would it blur the Christmas glee,

That not a Santa Claus could reach

  The altitude of me?

But this sort grieved myself, and so

  I thought how it would be

When just this time, some perfect year,

  Themselves should come to me.



On this wondrous sea,

Sailing silently,

  Ho! pilot, ho!

Knowest thou the shore

Where no breakers roar,

  Where the storm is o’er?

In the silent west

Many sails at rest,

  Their anchors fast;

Thither I pilot thee, —

Land, ho! Eternity!

  Ashore at last!

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