On Choosing the Poems
First, some numbers to indicate the sheer scope of this topic. Dickinson’s Lexicon lists four major meanings for “Paradise” in Dickinson’s work and finds 59 references in her poetry (there are 25 in her letters). It lists seven meanings for “Eden,” the last of which is
Now; today; mortality; time of temptation; this life; present time; [historical] Amherst, Massachusetts; home of the Dickinson family.
J1657/Fr1734 Eden is that old fashioned House / We dwell in every day
and finds 20 references in the poetry (there are 25 in her letters). Even more pervasive is “Heaven,” which has eleven major meanings and a whopping 161 references (123 in the letters).
Scholars have identified several sources for this pervasive poetic imagery of Paradise. Rebecca Patterson contends that Emily Dickinson studied Paradise Lost “as a poetic textbook,” and so garnered images of Eden and Hell. Eleanor Heginbotham’s examination of an 1819 edition of Paradise Lost, with the name “E Dickinson” penciled on the flyleaf, confirms this assertion. The edition contains many markings that might be by Dickinson and, if so, point to the passages and ideas that struck her most in creating what she calls, in a daring poem dated 1873, “Paradise, fictitious” (F1314, J1260). For Heginbotham, Dickinson arrives at her “Paradise Fictitious” by recognizing “that Milton’s apostasy, as some see it, was close to her own.” Heginbotham explains,
perhaps most of all, she was influenced by Milton’s Satan tumbling through space, testing bridges to Paradise, observing the human love he would never share, railing at his stupid cohorts, and attempting with bravado and silver words to outwit the God who denied him Heaven, Eden, and Earth.
Patrick Keane examines Dickinson’s conception of Paradise in terms of her Romantic and Transcendental predecessors and concludes she held to
a God immanent rather than transcendent, and salvation as a daily process rather than a static end-state.
Her modern inheritor, he notes, is “Wallace Stevens, who, in “Sunday Morning,” imagines his female persona asking if she shall not “find in comforts of the sun,” in any “balm or beauty of the earth/ Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?”
Taking a slightly different approach, Barton Levi St. Armand contextualizes what he calls Dickinson’s “Paradise Deferred” as extrapolated from her “marriage poems” with the novel, The Gates Ajar (1868), by contemporary writer Elizabeth Stuart Phelps. Sharing a background in Calvinist belief which both of them questioned, Dickinson and Phelps explore the “nature of the heaven to come and the substitution of a warm domestic paradise for the cold orthodox stereotype of a city of pearl and jasper.”
Reading through a psychoanalytical lens, Louise Simons emphasizes what she calls Dickinson’s “Willed Paradise” through a close reading of “Paradise is of the Option” (F1125, J1069), a poem Dickinson includes in a letter to Higginson dated June 9, 1866 (L319). Examining the Freudian process of condensation she spies in the poem, Simons concludes:
“Paradise,” then, becomes Dickinson’s metaphor for creative, or artistic, escape from the deprivations of the temporal world. The artist eludes that which is unbearable or unrewarding in reality through creation of a hallucinative world of fantasy, or recompense. … the poet is able, by an act of willed creativity, to exert the force needed to gain an Edenic home for her created “self” to occupy.
But Robert Weisbuch argues that this willed Paradise is only one pole of “the major split in Dickinson’s metaphysical attitudes,” which swing between
Dickinson’s Emersonian insistence on the availability of the Eternal in the temporal … a matter of will and daring, [and claims that] are often transformed into possibilities that tantalize only to torture. The speaker is on a quest in which the goal is always beyond realization; or worse, the moment in which ordinary life is transcended crumbles back into chronos and heaven is revoked.
Naming this idea Dickinson’s “portable Paradise,” Weisbuch suggests that we do not try to reconcile these divergent visions but
take our cue from Dickinson’s endless end and forever-quester and refuse the desire to fit all together perfectly. Still, Dickinson’s attitudes do join in the constant belief that skepticism and doubt somehow strengthen faith, for this is a poet who insists that “Faith is Doubt” (L 912 [to Susan Dickinson about 1884]).
What is – "Paradise" –
Who live there –
Are they "Farmers" –
Do they "hoe" –
Do they know that this is
And that I – am coming – too –
Do they wear "new shoes" – in
Is it always pleasant – there –
Wont they scold us – when
we're +hungry –
Or tell God – how cross we are –
You are sure there's such a
As "a Father" – in the sky –
So if I get lost – there – ever –
Or do what the Nurse
calls "die" –
I shant walk the
"Jasper" – barefoot –
Ransomed folks – wont laugh
at me –
Maybe – "Eden" a'nt so lonesome
As New England used
Link to EDA manuscript. Originally in Poems: Packet XV, Fascicle 9. Includes 29 poems, written in ink, ca. 1862. Houghton Library – (79) What is – "Paradise" J215, Fr241. Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. First published in Bolts of Melody (1945), 85, as four quatrains, from a transcript of A (a tr249), with the alternative adopted.
Dickinson copied this poem into Fascicle 9 in the 5th place sometime in summer 1861. It is written in the common meter and in the voice of an inquisitive child who approaches this large theological and metaphysical issue–what is Paradise?–with disarmingly concrete questions like who lives there, how do they eat, do they farm, is it always pleasant? It is a strategy Dickinson often uses for giving voice to what is not proper to question in adult circles and probing the problems she sees in doctrine and conventional wisdom.
The comic effect derives from the concreteness of the speaker’s questions. Why ask about farmers first and their signal occupation of hoeing? One connection may be the novel, The Gates Ajar by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, in which Barton Levi St. Armand finds many notions echoed by Dickinson. For example, Phelps’s Aunt Winifred, a character who speaks for religious belief, actually defends the notion of celestial farmers to the farmer Deacon Quirk to overcome his fundamentalism.
Dickinson would have appreciated this bit of New England humor. More specifically, her speaker is concerned with food production and consumption, an issue with metaphorical implications, given Dickinson’s series of poems during this period about starvation and deprivation in life. The third line of the first stanza is also funny but suggestive. The speaker asks if the occupants of Paradise know that “this is Amherst” and that she will be joining them. In what sense is “Amherst” “Paradise”? The implication is that this speaker can only imagine exalted concepts like heaven in earthly and mundane terms. The effect is one of reversal: the exalted is domesticated and the domestic takes on a somewhat mystical character.
Whether the speaker is going to “Paradise” after death opens a very deep and fraught question. The Calvinists of Dickinson’s Congregational church believed, at least nominally, in predestination, the doctrine that before time, God chose those destined for salvation and all the rest were damned. People had to “work out” their eternal fates, scrutinizing their lives for “signs” of predestination. This caused no end of anxiety and pain. In a letter dated 13 February 1859 to Mrs. Joseph Haven, Dickinson reported,
Mr S. [Julius Hawley Seelye (1824-1895), minister and professor at Amherst College] preached in our church last Sabbath upon “predestination,” but I do not respect “doctrines,” and did not listen to him, so I can neither praise or blame.” (L200).
The “Ransomed folks” she refers to are those saved and, thus, predestined, like Susan Dickinson, but the adjective “ransomed” is ironic and cast doubt on the logic of this doctrine.
In the third stanza, the speaker questions the existence of God as “a Father – in the sky” and fears getting lost. She also implicitly contrasts the traditional Biblical view of heaven with her more homey one. “Jasper” refers to the description of heaven from Revelation 21:18-19:
And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass.19 And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald …
Several scholars read the last few lines of this poem as an indication that Dickinson found “Amherst” and “New England” lonely. Certainly, by 1854, when she did not convert as did her friends and family during several of the many religious revivals that swept through Amherst, she withdrew and became more isolated from her community. But the comment also sounds ironic; from a theological view, in what sense could “Eden” or “Paradise” be lonely? Isn’t it supposed to be the acme of a believer’s life and faithful journey? Dickinson’s liberal use of quotation marks for theological references turn them into rhetorical figures or citations, immediately suspect as real or positive.
Taking up the fair Ideal,
Just to cast her down
When a fracture – we discover –
Or a splintered Crown –
Makes the Heavens portable –
And the Gods – a lie –
Doubtless – "Adam" – scowled at
For his perjury!
Cherishing – our poor Ideal –
Till in purer dress –
We behold her – glorified –
Comforts – search – like this –
Till the broken creatures –
We adored – for whole –
Stains – all washed –
Transfigured – mended –
Meet us – with a smile –
Link to EDA manuscript. Originally in Poems: Packet XXVII, Fascicle 19. Includes 13 poems, written in ink, ca. 1862. Houghton Library – (145b) Taking up the fair Ideal, J428, Fr386. Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. First published in Bolts of Melody (1945), 221, as four quatrains, from a transcript of A (a tr411).
Dickinson copied this poem into Fascicle 19 in the 8th place sometime in autumn 1862. Its form is unusual. Each stanza has 8 lines of mostly 7575 syllables rhyming abcbdefe. It’s as if the form gestures to the familiar common meter of the hymn, but cannot quite get there. Something is off in formal terms, which echoes the slippage in concepts as well.
Scholars regard this as a meditation on idealism. Thus, E. Miller Budick observes:
To dismiss idealism too lightly is, in Dickinson’s view, an error. But to fixate on the ideal, to live entirely within and for the immaterial realm of an ideal universe, is a problem of equal magnitude.
Susan Kornfeld observes:
The poem charts a transformation of idealism into faith: the first stage is belief in an ideal; next, disillusionment as we collide with earthly reality; then a new way of thinking that learns to see this world as an imperfect image of a better one; and finally, faith that we will be transfigured after death and our beloveds (God, people) transfigured into perfection, too.
The internal references, however, suggest that the “fair ideal” in question is not abstract or general but is the notion of paradise or heaven. If that is the case, is this poem, then, an instance of Dickinson questioning her own questioning of the religious idea of paradise or heaven, as happens in the previous poem, though in a humorous and tongue-in-cheek way?
Should we abandon the idea of paradise just because we discover flaws in it, the speaker asks herself and us. Such flaws have serious effects. They make “the Heavens portable –,” a wonderful phrase taken up by Robert Weisbuch, which could mean, the idea of heaven becomes bearable, and/or able to be carried or transported (into other belief systems?). But more potently, such flaws make “the Gods – a lie–,” an idea Dickinson toyed with in the previous poem, though the plural form of “Gods” cast us into a pagan realm (unless she means the Trinity). The example she gives of Adam blaming Eden for his fall also brings us into the precincts of the biblical paradise.
But, the poem continues, it is difficult to live without ideals, however “poor” and fractured they are. We should cherish them until–and here is where the poem takes major turn–they are purified, “glorified,” “washed” and “Transfigured – mended.” What forces effect this transformation are not specified–could it be a function of our inability to perceive the ideal beyond its tarnished incarnation? The verb “washed” connotes the conventional imagery of saints “washed in the blood of the lamb/Christ” (Revelation 87:14) and made pure. Through this language Dickinson invokes traditional Christian images of salvation leading to heaven–but her version does not explicitly mention God or Christ.
The gendered pronouns are conspicuous in this poem and offer another way to approach it. From the second line, the speaker genders the ideal female, and dubs it “fair,” a word often used to describe female beauty. Kornfeld expands on this hint, sensing “the figure of a real person lurking just beneath it, especially in the idea of 'the broken creatures— / We adored – for whole'” but rejected when we perceived their flaws and imperfections. Kornfeld finds that Dickinson “takes comfort” in what she calls this “Platonic” approach, that “the problem is with the medium not the entity” or ideal. The speaker clearly wants to take comfort but her skepticism is deep.
Budick, E. Miller. Emily Dickinson and the Life of Language: A Study in Symbolic Poetics. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985: 116-17.
Kornfeld, Susan. “Taking up the fair Ideal.” the prowling bee 10 December 2012.
Me – Come! My dazzled face
In such a shining place!
Me – hear! My foreign Ear
The sounds of Welcome – there!
The Saints forget
Our bashful feet –
My Holiday, shall be
That They – remember me –
My Paradise – the fame
That They – pronounce my name –
Link to EDA manuscript. Originally in Poems: Packet XXVII, Fascicle 19. Includes 13 poems, written in ink, ca. 1862. Houghton Library – (146a, b) It would never be Common – more – I said, J430, Fr388; Me – Come! My dazzled face, J431, Fr389. Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
First published in Poems (1896), 164, as five two-line stanzas.
Dickinson copied this poem into Fascicle 19 in the 11th position, sometime around autumn 1862, placing it one poem after the previous poem about embracing tarnished ideals. They are linked by the notion of heaven. This extraordinary poem gives us a clearer sense of how Dickinson envisioned Paradise in 1862.
We are immediately struck by the opening exclamations: “Me – Come!” and “Me – hear!” and the repeated possessives in the last stanza, “My Holiday” and “My Paradise.” They are terms of self-possession and self-recognition that link this poem to others written during this period with similar assertive and ringing diction, such as “Title divine – is mine!” (F194, J1072) and “Mine – by the Right of the White Election!” (F411, J528).
The speaker seems to be looking around at Heaven and asking, “Who? Me?” to what are obviously invitations into “such a shining place.” These sounds of welcome contrast sharply with other poems that imagine the speaker’s ambivalent reception in Heaven. For example, in “If I’m lost – now – ” (F316, J256), the speaker describes Angels touching “me with their fleeces, /Almost as if they cared.” By contrast, in this poem, the speaker is either greeted by God himself, which would account for her “dazzled face” (see Exodus 34:29-30 where the face of Moses “shone” after his talk with God on Mt. Sinai), and/or is “dazzled” by what it sees–the precincts of heaven.
In this reading, Dickinson’s particular form of Paradise seems religiously conventional – a place where the “Saints” in heaven “pronounce my name” as a token of her salvation. Cynthia Wolff reads this poem quite differently.
This may seem at first to be a poem about the entrance into Heaven; however, the allusion to “feet,” which in this poem are anything but “bashful,” signals that the subject is in reality the kind of “Election” conferred upon poets … The salient feature of such poems is the speaker’s self-achieving, self-supporting isolation.
Wolff alludes to the lines, “The Saints forget / Our bashful feet–,” which suggests that the speaker is shy about salvation and entering Paradise and doesn’t put herself forward. But “feet” often refer to poetic meter, which, as Wolff observes, in this poem is far from bashful and is rather assertive, emphasizing through repeated spondees: “Me… Me…My … My…” The speaker defines Paradise as “the fame,” which rhymes perfectly with “my name.” Hard to get more direct than that.
Wolff, Cynthia. Emily Dickinson. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., Inc. 1988, 198.
I never felt at Home – Below –
And in the Handsome skies
I shall not feel at Home -
I know –
I dont like Paradise –
Because it's Sunday – all the time –
And Recess – never comes –
And Eden'll be so lonesome
Bright Wednesday Afternoons –
If God could make a visit –
Or ever took a Nap –
So not to see us – but they
Himself – a Telescope
Perennial beholds us –
Myself would run away
From Him – and Holy Ghost – and all –
But there's the "Judgment Day"!
Link EDA manuscript. Originally in Poems: Packet XXVI, Fascicle 15 (part). Includes 8 poems, written in ink, dated ca. 1862. Houghton Library – (143a) I never felt at Home – Below – J413, Fr437. Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. First published in Saturday Review of Literature, 5 (9 March 1929), 751, and Further Poems (1929), 43, from the fascicle (B), with stanza 1 in five lines (in later collections, as a quatrain).
Dickinson made two manuscripts of this poem in 1862. One was lost; the other she copied into Fascicle 15 in the 15th place sometime in the autumn. It is written in a fairly regular common meter of 8686 with fairly regular rhymes and a strong enjambment between stanzas 3 and 4, which is the dramatic crux of the poem.
Many scholars hear Dickinson’s child voice in this poem and align it with “What is – 'Paradise' –,” the first poem in our cluster. They read it as a rejection of what Barton Levi St. Armand calls “the Sunday School heaven,” which, like the lead characters in Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’s novel, The Gates Ajar, Dickinson felt “was silly when subjected to a commonsense scrutiny.”
In this poem, the grumpy child voice extrapolates from her discomfort “below” an assurance of discomfort “above.” She explains that she “don’t like Paradise!” for very good child-like reasons: it’s always Sunday, a day when children have to “behave” and sit still in Church, but never recess. (One is reminded of the White Witch’s reign in Narnia where it is always winter and never Christmas!) Here, Eden is imagined as “lonesome,” where, in the earlier poem is was not as lonesome as Amherst.
But then the real reason and real horror emerge: God never naps or goes on visits but is like “a telescope Perennial” always watching us. Susan Kornfeld rightly observes that this conception of “an omnipresent, all-seeing, omniscient deity” would be particularly “alarming” for a very private person like Dickinson. It is also, as she notes, a version of Jeremy Bentham’s “panopticon,” a design for prisons built around a central tower that can observe all the prisoners but they cannot see into it. Michel Foucault calls the panopticon “the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form.” Larry Olpin argues that this arresting description of God “both gives him inflated power and at the same time reduces him.”
By the end of the poem, however, the speaker wants to run away from all this but realizes there is no escape; there is always a day of reckoning. A poem that began in wry humor ends in a kind of existential terror. The speaker feels alienated and not at “home,” a potent word and concept in Dickinson’s world, on earth or in heaven. The “Handsome skies” of the opening lines and the very concept of “Paradise” become a form of entrapping surveillance.
Kornfeld, Susan. “I never felt at home below.” the prowling bee. 6 April 2013.
Olpin, Larry. “Hyperbole and Abstraction (The Comedy of Emily Dickinson): Part II.” Dickinson Studies 50 (Bonus 1984) 1-37, 6.
St. Armand, Barton Levi. Emily Dickinson and Her Culture: The Soul’s Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984, 62-63.
My Faith is larger than the
So when the Hills decay –
My Faith must take the
To show the Sun the way –
+'Tis first He steps opon the
And then – opon the Hill –
And then abroad the
World He go
To do His Golden Will –
And if His Yellow feet should
The +Bird would not arise –
The Flowers would +slumber on
their Stems –
No Bells have Paradise –
How dare I, therefore, stint
On which so vast depends –
Lest +Firmament should fail
for me –
The Rivet in the Bands
+You see +Day + sleep opon + Universe • Deity
Link to EDA manuscript. Originally in Poems: Packet XXXI, Fascicle 23. Includes 20 poems, written in ink, ca. 1862. Houghton Library – (168a) My Faith is larger than the Hills, J766, Fr489. Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. First published in Further Poems (1929), 58, with the alternatives not adopted.
Dickinson copied this poem into Fascicle 23 in the 11th position sometime in late 1862. It is written in almost perfect common meter of 8686 syllables rhyming abcb. But as Shira Wolosky notes, the poem’s
subject, diction, and metric is decisively hymnal, but [its] purport is a denial of doubt which argues its presence.
Likewise, Bettina Knapp argues:
Strangely enough, the more Dickinson seems compelled to prove the depth of her faith, the greater is her recourse to antithetical imagery, coloration, dissonant nouns, and adverbs.
I am primarily interested in the allusion to “Paradise” in this poem in relation to “Faith,” but it’s not clear that what Dickinson means by that last term is the conventional notion of religious faith these scholars assume.
The poem is an illustration of the speaker’s faith and the claim that it is “larger than the Hills.” “Hills” is an interesting standard of measurement, conventionally being not very big, certainly smaller than the mighty mountains Dickinson often refers to in poems and letters, such as the Himalayas or Cordilleras. The Lexicon finds seven frequent meanings of the word and the two resonant phrases. The first is “hill of knowledge,” meaning the challenge of learning (see L 5) and the second is “Hill of Science” from the second poem listed in both Johnson’s and Franklin’s collection, “Sic transit gloria mundi” (F2, J2), dated 1852. It is a funny, satirical poem in which the speaker quips:
I climb the "Hill of Science,"
I "view the landscape o'er;"
Such transcendental prospect,
I ne'er beheld before!
The quoted phrase refers to the allegorical poem, “The Hill of Science. A Vision” by the English writer Anna Letitia Barbauld, published in 1773, which recounts a dream of people attempting, and mostly failing, to climb a hill on which is located the Temple of Truth. Jack Capps lists a reference to Barbauld in Dickinson’s Letter 146, dated 21 December 1853. Without getting too sidetracked, there is ample evidence that “Hills” in this poem suggest a faith not in religion but in science.
Furthermore, to prove her contention about the extent of her faith, the speaker describes an extraordinary moment: when the “Hills decay,” an ambiguous phrase that might mean they fade from view in the darkness. This is the moment her faith grabs the “Purple Wheel” of the carriage of the rising sun to show it “the way,” making sure it will rise again. The second stanza beautifully charts the voyage of the sun, first hitting the weather vane on the steeple of the church, then illuminating “the Hill,” and then going “abroad … To do his Golden Will.”
This is, as Susan Kornfeld notes, “a variant on the chariot of Helios,” the ancient sun god, sometimes conflated with Apollo, who drove his chariot across the sky each day. The movement of the sun, we learned in the post on Time, was Dickinson’s primary metaphor for time and closely associated with her ideas of eternity and heaven. St. Armand gathers many allusions in Dickinson’s marriage poems and the Master Letters into a grand narrative he calls the “solar myth” or “The Romance of Daisy and Phoebus,” which he dubs “the most powerful inner fact in the evolution of Dickinson’s sensibility.” Here, though, the speaker takes the role of Phoebus, not the role of daisy, guiding the sun and making sure it rises to another day. What kind of “faith” does this profoundly world-sustaining activity describe? Is the speaker appropriating god-like qualities to herself?
Stanza three describes what happens if the sun fails or “missteps.” Birds and/or Days “would not arise,” flowers would not open because “No Bells have Paradise” to wake them. Paradise here is the natural world of the garden. And it has no bells to wake up sleepy flowers or poets, as Dickinson was woken by her stern father ringing a bell at an ungodly early hour (see her satiric poem about imagining a place “Where bells no more affright the morn” [F114, J112]).
In the fourth stanza, the speaker, feeling confident of having made her proof, concludes that she cannot “stint” such a faith “On which so vast depends” and offers us one more image that moves in a direction opposite from religious faith: she is “The Rivet in the Bands” that holds up the whole shebang: the “Firmament/Universe/Deity.” Kornfeld concludes:
If she fails in her faith, the machinery of the world is weakened.
But what does she mean by “faith”?
Knapp, Bettina. Emily Dickinson. New York: Continuum, Frederick Ungar, 1989, 135-37.
Wolosky, Shira. Emily Dickinson: A Voice of War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984, 15-17.
Kornfeld, Susan. “My Faith is larger than the Hills.” the prowling bee. 21 August 2013.
"Heaven" has different
Signs – to me –
Sometimes, I think that Noon
Is but a symbol of the Place –
And when again, at Dawn,
A mighty look runs round
And settles in the Hills –
An Awe if it should be
Opon the Ignorance steals –
The Orchard, when the Sun is on –
The Triumph of the Birds
When they together Victory make –
Some Carnivals of Clouds –
The Rapture of +a finished Day
Returning to the West –
All these – remind us of the
That Men call "Paradise" –
Itself be fairer – we suppose –
But how Ourself, shall be
Adorned, for a Superior Grace –
Not yet, our eyes can see –
+Concluded Day –
Link to EDA manuscript. Originally in Poems: Packet XXV, Fascicle 28. Includes 23 poems, written in ink, dated ca. 1862. Houghton Library – (140a) "Heaven" has different Signs – to me -, J575, Fr544. Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. First published in Further Poems (1929), 55, with the alternative adopted.
Dickinson copied this poem into Fascicle 28 in the 21 position sometime in spring 1863. It is what scholars call a “definition” poem, in which Dickinson proposes an abstract concept in the first line and then explores it, often through imagery.
Like the previous poem, this poem is written in a regular common meter, with little disturbance. The two poems are also linked by the allusions to “hills.” In seeking to define “Heaven,” the speaker looks at its different “signs” and “symbols:” noon, the point in Dickinson’s mystic day of maximum light and, thus, a symbol of eternity. Dawn, the very beginning of the day brings an “Awe” that “steals” over our ignorance of spiritual things: a premonition of what heaven “should be like.” An orchard, filled with sunlight and birdsong, a sound triumphant and victorious, but over what? And, finally, “Some Carnivals of Clouds.”
The fourth stanza sums this concept up in a word heavily freighted with religious or, at least, spiritual significance: “The Rapture of a finished Day / Returning to the West.” The alliteration of mobile r’s anchored by the d sound and wistful w sound gives these lines a strong sense of completion and satisfaction. But that momentary rest is ruffled by the phrase “that Men Call” and the placing of Paradise in quotation marks, taking it out of the gorgeous, sensual concreteness of experienced nature and rendering it a concept, a rhetorical figure.
The lingering skepticism continues in stanza 5, where the speaker supposes that “Paradise” is a place fairer than the burgeoning orchard or garden. But the poem ends on a note of personal doubt: how “Ourself,” as individual and collective, will be “adorned, for a Superior Grace” than the one vouchsafed for us on earth, is not something we can as yet discern.
By 1868, Dickinson will conclude:
Paradise is that
Many owned before –
Occupied by each
Then reversed the
Bliss is frugal of
Adam taught her
Bankrupt once through
his excesses –
Hallen, Cynthia, ed. Emily Dickinson Lexicon. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 2007.
Heginbotham, Eleanor. “’Paradise Fictitious’: Dickinson’s Milton.” Emily Dickinson Journal 7.1 (Spring 1998): 55- 70, 55-56.
Keane. Patrick. “Natural Supernaturalism: Emily Dickinson’s Variations on the Romantic Theme of an Earthly Paradise.” Numéro Cinq V.12 December 2014.
Patterson, Rebecca. Emily Dickinson’s Imagery. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1979, 172-73, 186.
Simons, Louise. “Emily Dickinson’s Willed Paradise: In Defeat of Adam and Repeal.”
American Imago 42. 2 (Summer, 1985): 165-182, 176.
St. Armand, Barton Levi. “Paradise Deferred: The Image of Heaven in the Work of Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.” American Quarterly 29. 1 (Spring, 1977): 55-78, 56-57.
Robert Weisbuch, “Dickinson’s Portable Paradise: ‘Utmost is relative.’” Ultimate Reality and Meaning 15.2 (June 1992): 112-125.