“Dare you see a soul” (F401A, J 365)

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 vanquished Flame’s
It quivers from the
Without a color, but the
Of unannointed Blaze.

Least Village, has it’s
Whose Anvil’s even
Stands symbol for the
finer Forge
That soundless tugs – within –
Refining these impatient
With Hammer, and
with Blaze
Until the Designated
Repudiate the Forge –

Link to EDA original manuscripts: Page 1, Page 2. Part of the Amherst manuscripts. First published in the Atlantic Monthly by Higginson in 1891. Courtesy Amherst College, Amherst, MA.

We discussed this poem in the post for January 8-14 on the Azarian School, where it exemplified the “distilled dramatic monologue” common to that style. In this group of poems, we can focus more specifically on the references to white. In this poem, Dickinson uses her knowledge of white as encompassing all the colors of the spectrum in the speaker’s description of what happens when, in the process of forging metal, “the vivid Ore” defeats the “Fire’s common tint” of red, and quivers “Without a color, but the light/ of unannointed Blaze.” To be “anointed,” according to Dickinson’s Webster’s, means to be prepared or consecrated by oil, an action “of high antiquity. Kings, prophets and priests were set apart or consecrated to their offices by the use of oil. Hence the peculiar application of the term anointed, to Jesus Christ.”

What this definition does not specify is who authorizes or does the anointing – in the case of prophets, kings, priests and Jesus, it is God. To be “unanointed” (notice that Dickinson spells it with two n’s) means to be unconsecrated or not authorized by God or a higher power. Thus, the white heat and the white, rather than red, light of this forge is not authorized by a divine or outside force, but from within the soul or mind of the speaker, the “finer forge” of the second stanza.

But in the stunning final lines, the process of refinement or purification gets so intense that it produces a “Designated Light” that can altogether repudiate (dismiss, renounce) the forge, the physical shaping process, and perhaps symbols altogether. This specially distinguished light can be seen as a positive form of the “unanointed Blaze,” less ritualistic and more administrative, earthly, and the extremest form of purified, self-authorized white. It’s hard not to hear “or’s,” as in choices or contradictions or refusals to choose, in the word “Ores,” which are first “vivid” and then “impatient,” longing for purification.

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