November 26-December 2, 1862: Poems on Time

On Choosing the Poems

Dickinson's Writing Desk
Dickinson’s Writing Desk

When Dickinson’s first editors grouped her poetry into categories recognizable to a late-nineteenth century readership, they chose “Time and Eternity” as the last of the four sections in which they included many of her most well-known poems. In the 1924 Complete Poems, edited by Dickinson’s niece Martha Dickinson Bianchi, of the 597 poems included, 141 appear in the category of “Time and Eternity.” There are a few major studies of this prevalent theme in her work and, as expected, they do not always agree.

In 1959, Charles Anderson identified what he calls “the trap of time” in a particular group of Dickinson’s poetry about nature and death. What Dickinson discovers, Anderson argues, is

that the essence of the human condition, limiting man’s ability to understand ultimate truths, is the imprisonment of his mind in time rather than the imprisonment of his spirit in a body.

We are trapped because “The human mind can neither understand the earthly time-scheme, nor escape from it.” What releases us from these illusions is the imagination, especially poetic metaphors:

For if time is an illusion, the sun is the conjurer that creates it. Although the poet cannot literally escape out of time, he can recreate the magician by seeing through his sleights with the aid of the imagination.

This approach with its emphasis on the sun as metaphor lends some credence to St. Armand’s focus on Dickinson’s “solar myth” discussed in the Biography section. But Anderson doesn’t get tangled up in biographical suppositions and argues that Dickinson’s explorations of time as subjective and illusory surpass both Calvinist ideas of time and eternity and Romantic notions of transcendence. Rather, he understands Dickinson to assert that,

The poet’s partaking of the creative process is his only path to immortality.

He notes, for example, one of Dickinson’s speakers describing the journey to Heaven as “When I go out of Time” (“The Face I carry with me – last –” [F395, J336]). Dickinson also links the trap of human time, as measured by the sun, to imagery of darkness and light and motion and motionlessness. Thus, “noon,” a time of day that Dickinson references frequently, and summer, her favorite season and the time of maximum light, both figure as a form of “eternity” momentarily perceptible to human senses.

Sharon Cameron’s eloquent study, Lyric Time: Dickinson and the Limits of Genre (1979), explores in detail Dickinson’s engagement with time as subject and form. To explain her approach, Cameron quotes from The Confessions by Augustine  who, thinking about time, says, in part,

Who will hold the heart of man, so that it may stand still and see how steadfast eternity, neither future nor past, decrees times future and those past. Can my hand do this, or does the hand of my mouth by its little words effect so great a thing?

For Cameron,

lyric poems attempt such a stasis, as they slow temporal advance to the difficult still point of meaning,

an attempt she sees over and over in Dickinson’s many complex lyrics about time. Several years later, E. Miller Budick argues the opposite, that Dickinson’s poems

dramatize for us the speaker’s failure to achieve timeless transcendence. … to transcend time and consciousness, the individual, according to Dickinson, will have to work through time, if only to discard it in the end.

In a study from 2000, Youngmi Sohn navigates a middle road, arguing that Dickinson’s

search for a new conception of time for creatures in Time led her beyond the realm of traditional religious framework,

specifically the mortality/immortality dichotomy of Christianity and “absolute, progressional Time” of conventional understandings. In many of Dickinson’s poems, Sohn finds what she calls an ecstatic celebration of the “temporary permanence of the human soul,” a “triumph of temporality” that anticipates the non-linear, non-binary thinking of modern philosophers of time like Martin Heidegger, Henri Bergson and Emanuel Levinas.

Also recognizing Dickinson’s temporality as “modern,” Anderson nevertheless gives a contemporary source for her ideas on time:

There was a volume in her family library, Felix Eberty’s The Stars and the Earth (Boston, 1854), which may have furnished all the impetus her imagination needed. It was a book that made available to laymen the new speculations opened up by astro-physicists … He concluded his discussion of the time-space continuum, as a matter of fact, with a challenge she would hardly have missed: “we leave to the fancy of the poet the prosecution of further details.” … Eberty’s purpose in all this hypothetical speculation was merely in order to arrive at the newer concepts of Time and Space, that they do not exist in any absolute sense, in and for themselves. “Space is . . . a mere condition by which objects are rendered perceptible to us.” “Time . . . is only a mode by which we observe events, and by which their occurrence comes to our knowledge.”

Recently, Cristanne Miller published Reading in Time, a title encompassing her reading of Dickinson within her own historical moment, which in turn includes factoring in the reading Dickinson herself did, especially in the periodicals of her day (a term that itself conjures temporality), and also reading Dickinson’s poetry in aural and musical terms by examining her metrical experiments to show how they both draw on and move beyond the metrical innovations of her day.

Examining Dickinson’s historical, formal as well as thematic use of time is crucial to understanding her brilliance. Peggy O’Brien contends:

Poetry for Dickinson is time made verbal. Moreover, there are almost always in Dickinson several temporal levels in a poem, several plots. At one extreme, we have the purely drum-beating, aural plot. At the other, we usually have a narrative, like the passage from life above ground to under it. In between, though, there is more often than not a narration of the temporal experience of birthing the poem itself, the rhythms, the contractions, if you like, of surviving and growing from crisis, as in “I felt a Funeral in my Brain.” … Losing the temporal framework in which the present sits can appear, at least from the sidelines, to leave a person utterly bereft. Conversely, witnessing the workings of a mind in complete possession of all dimensions of time can feel like being present at creation itself. Many a Dickinson poem is not just an ars poetica but a narrative about the very construction of reality.

In this short poem dated to 1864, Dickinson considers the subjectivity of time in musical terms (according to the Lexicon, a “gammut” is a musical scale):

Pain – expands the Time –
Ages coil within
The minute Circumference
Of a single Brain –

Pain contracts – the Time –
Occupied with Shot
Triplets Gammuts of Eternities
flit – • show – Are as they were not -(F833, J967)

Cynthia Wolff notes that one of Dickinson’s major technique for rendering time, in order to escape it, is parataxis, her habit of placing short clauses one after the other with coordinating rather than subordinating conjunctions, in an imitation of the sheer passage of time. The classic example of this is “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain”(F340, J280) :

And then a Plank in
Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and
down –
And hit a World, at every
+plunge, (Crash –)
And +Finished knowing – then (Got through -)

The poems we have gathered for this week range a bit wider chronologically than usual, because we want to include some of the key poems that explore this profound and prevailing theme.

 

A Clock stopped –
Not the Mantel's –
Geneva's farthest skill
Cant 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 Doctor's –
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 –

     +Stares

Link to EDA manuscript.  Originally in Poems: Loose sheets. A Clock stopped – Not the Mantel's. MS Am 1118.3 (220). Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. First published in Poems (1896), 192, as four quatrains, with the alternative not adopted.

Dickinson copied this poem into Fascicle 11 in the 6th place sometime late in 1861. It is frequently cited in discussions of Dickinson and time because of its implied comparison of a clock stopping to a person dying. Formally, Dickinson manipulates the meter and rhythm to express the momentous but fleeting moment at which life expires and eternity or “noon” begins, the moment at which the human mind escapes the trap of progressive time. All through the poem, the tetrameter lines, usually 8 syllables, have only seven, as if they are also truncated. The first line is divided in half and ends abruptly with the word “stopped.” Similarly, the last line is also divided and shortened. Dickinson wants us to participate rhythmically in this death scene in which human consciousness “quivers out of Decimals,” a word that means, “sum; fraction; amount numbered by tens” according to the Lexicon, “Into Degreeless noon,” an eternity without distinction of numbers or status.

Charles Anderson does an exemplary close reading of this poem, anchoring many of Dickinson’s phrases in their history in her canon so that the poem practically hums with resonances. He notes that Dickinson is at pains to identify the analogous clock, not as an hourglass, which “was too worn a convention,” or a grandfather clock, which was too “old-fashioned,” a quality she “equated with belief.” Rather, “When she was analytical her skepticism used a modern vocabulary, frequently drawn from technology.” Because Dickinson wants “to fit the growing mechanistic temper of her age, though not of Amherst village,” she uses a clock made by the Swiss “as masters of artifice,” one with figures and a pendulum, perhaps a traditional Chalet cuckoo clock.

The ticking of a clock is an audible measure of human time, but when it stops, as Dickinson says in a letter about a thunderstorm, it “made it like Judgment day.” (L471). The figures, like “puppets bowing,” wind down and finally “dangled still.” The pendulum is “snow,” cold and lifeless, the “Gilded” clock hands or “pointers” “nod” or, in her better variant “stare” vacantly. The dying person becomes a “Trinket,” a word Anderson glosses with another comment Dickinson made in a letter, referring to

that strange Trinket of Life, which each of us wear and none of us own (L438).

Anderson glosses “Noon” as Dickinson’s term for heaven, citing her description of a zone “Whose Sun constructs perpetual Noon” (F1020, J1056). But I think “eternity” is a more accurate reading, heaven having too much religion about it. As he says above about Dickinson’s rejection of the old-fashioned as “equated with belief,” this poem suggests the failure of the “Doctor” or “Shopman,” both figures for God, to reanimate the dead/fix the clock. And though it is a modern mechanism, it comes from the Geneva of Calvin and the home of Protestantism.

In its exploration of time in death, the poem does not offer belief in immortality, as the antithesis of mortality, or as consolation. We are left to contemplate “the Seconds slim – Decades of Arrogance between / The Dial life – And Him –.” In these riddling lines Dickinson strives to capture two powerful, crucial wrenchings of time: the slim seconds in which a dying consciousness is said to relive decades of a life, which is “arrogant” because it thought it could evade or dismiss death; and the slim moment of transition from “The Dial life,” human life measures by the illusory order of clock time, to “Him,” some reckoning with a personified force of deity or judgment. Progressive time stops, the face of the clock is turned, like a great dial or sundial, by an invisible hand or the apex of the sun to noon.

Cynthia Wolff notes that “noon” is at the precise center of this poem as it is in seven other poems (F230, J195; F223, J197; F427, J415; F263, J517; F875, J776; F501, J828; J1023; F1034; F1096, J986 and F1104, J1104 also come close). She offers a different reading of the poem under discussion as an exercise in “renunciation,” but one that also sheds light on the challenges of time:

So long as we live on earth, we are in thrall to God’s power as it is exerted through unvarying natural laws. Because we cannot change them, we bow to the tyranny of time … To escape the reach of His power, we must somehow escape his “Design.” “Death’s large – Democratic fingers” [Color – caste – denomination (F836, J970)] offer one release … from both mankind’s values and God’s natural laws [but] we are transported either to oblivion or to an uncertain eternity … If we could “die” alive ––if we could find a way to step out of time without stepping into the wilderness of the hereafter, if we could reject “Design” … Such paradox as this was Dickinson’s achievement: a fusion of infinity and nothingness … [conflating] the freedom, autonomy, isolated arrogance, and absolute egoism of the child with the solemnity and high purpose of the Saint. She invented a new vernacular of “No.”

Sources
Anderson Charles R. “The Trap of Time in Emily Dickinson's Poetry.” ELH 26. 3 (Sep., 1959): 402-424
414-18, 421-24 .

Wolff, Cynthia. Emily Dickinson. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., Inc. 1988, 191-92.

They leave us with the
Infinite.
But He – is not a man –
His fingers are the size
of fists –
His fists, the size of men –

And whom he foundeth, with
his Arm
As Himmaleh, shall stand –
Gibraltar's everlasting Shoe
Poised lightly on his Hand,

So trust him, Comrade –
You for you, and I, for you and – (
- me
Eternity is ample,
And quick enough, if true.

Link to EDA manuscript.  Originally in Amherst – Amherst Manuscript #fascicle 85 – I dreaded that first robin, so – asc:17628 – p. 5. Courtesy of Amherst College, Amherst, MA. First published in Bolts of Melody (1945), 217-18, as three quatrains, like the fascicle copy (B) except that the first three words of line 10 are the last of line 9.

There are two fair copies of this poem, both from 1862. According to R. W. Franklin:

One from the first half of the year [A] has been folded but not addressed or signed (a 470). Dickinson may have retained it because of dissatisfaction with the form of the final lines.

Dickinson copied version B, which we print above, into Fascicle 17 in the 6th place about summer 1862 with the final lines as a quatrain.

Susan Kornfeld reads this poem as part of Dickinson’s exploration of her failed romance, possibly with a married man, and their pledge to wait for “a heavenly marriage.” It echoes poems like “He touched me, so I live to know” (F349) and other similar poems from 1862. It seems to begin in the middle of a conversation with the speaker saying, This is the only option society or conventional morality gives us, and so Kornfeld reads the poem as “an attempt to buck up a potentially wavering lover.” Biography aside, let’s focus on the poem’s depiction of and attitudes towards eternity.

How can we imagine and portray “the Infinite”? The speaker personifies infinity as a “He” who paradoxically “is not a man” but can only be described or imagined in outsized human terms: “His fingers are the size of fists– / His fists, the size of men–.” This progressively enlarging imagery formally structures an infinitely expanding set of comparisons. But the point here may be part of the “trap of time” Charles Anderson outlined: that humans are limited by being in time and in nature, limited to the terms given us by revealed religion, by God and his mouthpieces, and by our senses.

Postcard of Gibralta
Postcard of Gibralta

The second stanza brings this paradox to nature: whoever is “foundeth” (created, constructed, according to the Lexicon) by this personified force shall rise powerfully to unfathomable heights like the Himalaya mountains but also be “poised lightly” and almost tenderly “on his Hand,” rooted firmly in “Gibraltar’s everlasting shoe.” Kornfeld provides an image of Gibraltar, which “does look a bit like a shoe with its heel side up.” It is an arresting image, but again the point here is that we can only imagine infinity in terms of natural superlatives: the highest peak to the lowest spit of land.

Or in terms of arms and hands, conventional imagery for God. In another poem of this period, a despairing speaker asks, “Say, Jesus Christ of Nazareth – / Hast thou no arm for Me?” (“At least– to pray – is left –” [F377, J402]). In a poem dated to 1882, the speaker implies an answer to her earlier plea to the man-god and in this case, it invokes a God who “cannot be found”:

Those – dying
then,
Knew where they
went –
They went to
God's Right Hand –
That Hand is
amputated now
And God cannot
be found – (F1581, J 1551)

It is this skepticism that infects the tone of the final stanza, which gives us an assertion of belief— “Eternity is Ample,” then complicates it with a counter-intuitive time signature, “And quick enough” but then devastatingly undercuts both: “If true.” Can “eternity” be true or untrue, or does the speaker imply a notion of eternity as immortality? Is the untruth of eternity a notion of nothingness? What is “quick” about eternity? The way we enter it (see the previous poem)? “Comrade” seems like a strange form of address to a lover one is trying to console. Dickinson’s only other use of this term occurs in reference to a soldier and his fellow fighters (“He fought like those” [F480, J759] ). Here, the word links the addressee as a fellow combatant in the battle of belief fought on the battlefield of time.

Sources
Kornfeld. Susan.“They leave us with the Infinite.” the prowling bee. 17 October 2012.

A long – long Sleep –
A famous – Sleep –
That makes no show for
Morn –
By Stretch of Limb – or
stir of Lid –
An independant(One –

Was ever + idleness like This?
+Opon a Bank of Ston
To bask the Centuries away –
Nor once look up – for
Noon?

     +Arrogance  +Within a hut of Stone

Link to EDA manuscript.  Originally in Poems: Packet XIX, Fascicle 22. Includes 23 poems, written in ink, dated ca. 1862, Houghton Library – (105b). Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. First published in Poems (1896), 197, with the alternative for line 7 adopted.

Dickinson copied this poem into Fascicle 22 in the 8th place sometime in late 1862. It is written in a fairly regular common meter of 8686 syllables with slants rhymes abcb. It is one of many poems Dickinson wrote throughout her life imagining that “ long … famous Sleep”—death and, thus, it also explores what might happen after death. Its diction ties it to the concerns with time explored in “A Clock stopped –”

In this case, not much happens. The dead person, who probably died in its sleep, does not stretch or stir, a word that echoes the stopping of the clock/heart in “A Clock stopped” discussed above. Rather, the dead  is “independant”[sic] of the living and of human time, but also of religious schemes of salvation and immortality. “Independents” was the name taken by those, like Congregationalists, who emerged in the period before the English Civil War, 1642-1660, and believed that congregations should control religious and church issues. It is a term that takes on additional political significance as a result of the American  “War for Independence” from England.

The voice of the second stanza chides the dead for their “idleness,” a powerful criticism in Puritan New England or, as the variant offers, for their “Arrogance,” another word that links this poem with “A Clock stopped –.” The Lexicon defines “Arrogance” as “Pride; haughtiness; exaggerated self-importance” and “Indifference; aloofness, insensibility; lack of concern.” These dead seem both unconcerned about the Judgment Day, eternity or immortality and perhaps proud of their indifference, “basking the Centuries away” and never once “looking up – for Noon,” Dickinson’s symbol pf eternity.

Is the speaker envious of their independence from human or divine time or critical or shocked?  While a “hut” or “Bank of Stone” doesn’t sound very appealing as a place to sleep for any length of time, “basking” is a word with very strong, pleasurable connotations: “Bathe in warmth, soak up continual hear, relax in the sun” and “Delight; luxuriate; thrive; enjoy the atmosphere.” Dickinson’s Webster’s adds this intriguing idea,

to be at ease and thriving under benign influences; as, to bask in the blaze of day; to bask in the sunshine of royal favor.

Sources

Hallen, Cynthia, ed. Emily Dickinson Lexicon. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 2007

Forever – is composed of Nows –
'Tis not a different time –
Except for Infiniteness –
And Latitude of Home –

From this – experienced Here –
Remove the Dates – to These –
Let Months dissolve in further
Months –
And Years – exhale in Years –

Without +Debate – or Pause –
Or Celebrated Days –
+No different Our Years would be
From Anno Dominies –

     +Certificate   + As infinite

Link to EDA manuscript.  Originally in Poems: Packet XL, Fascicle 32. Includes 21 poems, written in ink, ca. 1862, Houghton Library – (216c). Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. First published in Further Poems (1929), 25, with the alternatives for lines 9 and 11 adopted.

Dickinson copied this definition poem into Fascicle 32 in the 11th place sometime in the second half of 1863; it is a key poem in discussions of Dickinson’s rejection of conventional notions of time. Note that Dickinson shifts metrical time in the course of the poem, using the common meter of 8686 syllables in the first two stanzas and the short meter of 6686 syllables in the last stanza. Although subtle, we are meant to feel this shift in rhythm. Significantly, it occurs in a stanza that argues for the lack of differentiation among “Our Years” if we only could embrace the poem’s opening proposition, “Forever – is composed of Nows,” that eternity consists of the same kind of time as the present moments. So that, while the content of the poem argues for similarity, the form of the poem embodies differences.

Several scholars read this poem in light of a two-line poem Dickinson composed the same year:

Not “Revelation” – ‘tis – that waits,
But our unfurnished eyes – (F500, J685)

The problem is our inability to perceive “revelation,” the time after human time. Like “Forever – is composed of Nows,” this epigram belongs to a group of poems Dickinson wrote in this period that, according to Robert Weisbuch, perceives heaven in the quotidian earth-bound world where

commonplace objects and acts blaze into spiritual significance, and what she memorably called “transport” is a matter of will: “Paradise is of the option,” she proclaims in one letter (L319) and in another, “Eden, always eligible, is peculiarly so this noon” (L391).

But, Weisbuch also notes:

If paradise is available for the right asking in every instant, it lasts only for an instant as well, and its departure makes a newly intolerable gloom of absence. If it is only “our unfurnished eyes” that prevent constant revelation, well, what prevents us then is nothing less than the limits of being human.

Another poem is this group, explored in the post on Religion, also provides important context for Dickinson’s exploration of time. In “You constituted Time –” (F488, J765), the speaker addresses a beloved and says:

I deemed Eternity
A Revelation of Yourself
‘Twas therefore Deity

Here Dickinson suggests that the kind of eternal moment, or momentary revelation of eternity, occurs in relation to the existence of boundless, oceanic love that allows us to glimpse the divine. At the end of this poem, she refers to “my slow idolatry,” implying that her devotion and adoration is somehow “unlawful” and almost heretical (Lexicon), a new form of religion or belief. Similarly, at the end of “Forever – is composed of Nows –” the speaker compares “Our years” imagined as forevers “without Debate – or Pause” to “Anno Dominies,” a phrase that literally means “The year of our Lord” and is used to indicate the kind of earthly time Dickinson wants to escape.

Or does she? The tone in the last two stanzas makes time without measurement or “Celebrated days” sound boring and monotonous. Margaret Freeman offers a different reading of this poem in which what Dickinson is trying to escape is precisely the Calvinist teaching that “life is a journey through human time,” which ends at death, a gate to heaven and immortality or hell and an eternity of pain. Rather, Freeman argues that for Dickinson “time and eternity seem to collapse into one” and eternity is “in time,” as this poem dated 1864 suggests:

Two – were immortal
twice –
The privilege of few –
Eternity – obtained – in Time –
Reversed Divinity – (F855B, J800)

Echoing Charles Anderson, Freeman argues that Dickinson replaced the standard religious teaching about time and eternity with the metaphor of “life is a voyage through space,” non-linear imagery she gleaned from her readings in the new sciences that

saw space as a vast sea, with the planets as boats, circling in sweeps around the sun.

Sources

Freeman, Margaret. “Metaphor Making Meaning: Dickinson’s Conceptual Universe. Journal of Pragmatics 24 (1995): 643-66, 647-49.

Weisbuch, Robert. “Prisming Dickinson; or Gathering Paradise by Letting Go.” The Emily Dickinson Handbook. Eds. Gudrun Grabher, Roland Hagenbüchle, Cristanne Miller. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998: 197-223, 220.

Behind Me – dips Eternity –
Before Me – Immortality –
Myself – the Term between –
Death but the Drift of
Eastern Gray,
Dissolving into Dawn away,
Before the West begin –

'Tis Kingdoms – afterward – they
say –
In perfect – pauseless Monarchy –
Whose Prince – is Son of none –
Himself – His Dateless Dynasty –
Himself – Himself diversify –
In Duplicate divine –

'Tis Miracle before Me – then –
'Tis Miracle behind – between –
A Crescent in the Sea –
With Midnight to the
North of Her –
And Midnight to the
South of Her –
And Maelstrom – in the Sky –

Link to EDA manuscript. Originally in Poems: Packet XVIII, Fascicle 36. Includes 22 poems, written in ink, dated ca. 1863, Houghton Library – (99a). Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. First published in London Mercury, 19 (February 1929), 358-59, and Further Poems (1929), 191.

Dickinson copied this poem into Fascicle 36 in the 8th place sometime in the second half of 1863. It is one of her great philosophical poems on the nature of the afterlife written in the common particular meter, a six line stanza of 886886 syllables rhyming aabccb. The triplets echo the opening image of the almost invisible human speaker as “the term between” two huge abstractions: the endless “dip” of eternity before her birth and the traditional immortality of the soul preached by Christianity that waits for her. “Death,” like a human reduced to a mathematical “term” in an equation, seems dwarfed by these vast eventualities, just a “Drift of Eastern Gray,” not the spectacular blaze of the resurrection.

The poem goes on to consider what “they say” about the “Kingdoms” of Heaven in the second stanza and then returns to the so-called “Miracle” of mortal life before and behind the speaker in the third stanza. It is important to note the tone of voice, which in this poem is carried in part by the very noticeable alliteration, assonance and repetition. In the first stanza, the Bs and Ds lend an explosive emphasis to these weighty concepts. In stanza two breathier Ps cast doubt on the “perfect – pauseless Monarchy – / Whose Prince – is Son of none –.” If we were unsure of the criticism implied here, the unexpected phrase, “Son of none,” with its gloomy assonance heightening the sense of vacuity, clinches it. Then, the Ds return, reinforced by the three repetitions of “Himself,” (echoing the opening, the triplets as well as the Trinity) to make the “Dateless Dynasty” and “Duplicate divine” appear stultifying, a trap. In stanza 3, we hear the rumbling of Ms lashed by the hissing Ss of “Crescent … Sea …South … Sky,” coming together in the perfect storm of “Maelstrom.”

Charles Anderson admires the “highly original” development of light-dark imagery in this poem, how the “term” of the first stanza becomes in the third stanza, a crescent moon reflected in the sea surrounded now by “Midnights” of the North and South, rather than the East and West of the opening. These orientations are significant for Dickinson. The east and west often have spiritual implications of resurrection and crucifixion while north and south often represent earthly concerns of winter/deprivation and summer/fulfillment. The dislocating reversal of moon in the sea and maelstrom in the sky echo the Christian apocalyptic imagery of Revelation 8, as the seventh seal is opened

and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers.

For Anderson, “The very shape of this particular poem in a sense symbolizes the pattern of all her work” with the poet caught between life and death

and inbetween the attempt to rise into the splendid motionlessness of eternity … through the imagination of the artist rather than through philosophical thought or religious faith.

Sources
Anderson Charles R. “The Trap of Time in Emily Dickinson's Poetry.”
ELH 26. 3 (Sep., 1959): 402-424, 421-24.

See also:
Cameron, Sharon. Lyric Time: Dickinson and the Limits of Genre. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979. 74-76.

Wolff, Cynthia. Emily Dickinson. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., Inc. 1988. 292-94.

Sources

Anderson Charles R. “The Trap of Time in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry.” ELH 26. 3 (Sep., 1959): 402-424, 403, 405, 412, 424 note 6.

Budick, E. Miller. “Temporal Consciousness and the Perception of Eternity in Emily Dickinson.” Essays in Literature 10. 2(Fall 1983): 2270-39, 227.

Cameron, Sharon. Lyric Time: Dickinson and the Limits of Genre. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979, 25.

Miller, Cristanne. Reading in Time: Emily Dickinson in the Nineteenth Century. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012.

O’Brien, Peggy. “Telling the Time with Emily Dickinson.” Massachusetts Review 55. 3 September 2014:468-79, 477.

Sohn, Youngmi. The Challenge of Temporality: The Time Poems of Emily Dickinson. New York: Peter Lang, 2000.

Wolff, Cynthia. Emily Dickinson. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., Inc. 1988, 233ff.