712 (Because I could not stop for Death)

Theodore C. Hoepfner: On 712 ("Because I could not stop for Death")

A comment by Richard Chase on Emily Dickinson's "Because I Could not stop for Death," reads in part as follows:

The only pressing technical objection to this poem is the remark that "Immortality" in the first stanza is a meretricious and unnecessary personification and that the common sense of the situation demands that Immortality ought to be the destination of the coach and not one of the passengers. The personification of death, however, is unassailable. In the literal meaning of the poem, he is apparently a successful citizen who has amorous but genteel intentions. He is also God. . . .

The trouble with this remark is that it does not present the common sense of the situation. Emily Dickinson was taught Christian doctrine—not simply Christian morality but Christian theology—and she knew that the coach cannot head toward immortality, nor can one of the passengers. Dickinson here compresses two related but differing concepts: (1) at death the soul journeys to heaven (eternity), and thus the image of the carriage and driver is appropriate; and (2) the soul is immortal, and our immortality, therefore, "rides" always with us as a copassenger; it is with us because the soul is our immortal part and so may be thought of as journeying with us. The poet's language is compact and oblique, but there is no false personification in it. Since the soul is one's true person (essence, not mask). no personification is needed, except possibly what may be involved in the separable concept of the soul itself. Both immortality and death, however, need personification and are given it. The horses' heads are toward eternity, but not toward immortality.

Incidentally, why "amorous but genteel"? To those who believe in an ,afterlife, death may be kind in taking us from a world of proverbial woe into one of equally proverbial eternal bliss; the irony is in the contrast between our fear of death and the kindness of his mission, and it seems unnecessary to call upon an amorous implication. The idea of the "Bride of Christ" may be permissible but it seems far-fetched in the context of the poem as we have it. /96/

From "'Becasue I Could Not Stop for Death,'" American Literature, XXIX (March, 1957), 96.

Thomas H. Johnson: On 712 ("Because I could not stop for Death")

. . . In 1863 Death came into full stature as a person. "Because I could not stop for Death" is a superlative achievement wherein Death becomes one of the great characters of literature.

It is almost impossible in any critique to define exactly the kind of reality which her character Death attains, simply because the protean shifts of form are intended to forestall definition. A poem can convey the nuances of exultation, agony, compassion, or any mystical mood. But no one can successfully define mysticism because the logic of language has no place for it. One must therefore assume that the reality of Death, as Emily Dickinson conceived him, is to be perceived by the reader in the poems themselves. Any analysis can do no more than suggest what may be looked for .

In "Because I could not stop for Death" Emily Dickinson envisions Death as a person she knew and trusted, or believed that she could trust. He might be any Amherst gentleman, a William Howland or an Elbridge Bowdoin, or any of the coming lawyers or teachers or ministers whom she remembered from her youth, with whom she had exchanged valentines, and who at one time or another had acted as her squire. . . . /222/ The carriage holds but the two of them, yet the ride, as she states with quiet emphasis, is a last ride together. Clearly there has been no deception on his part. They drive in a leisurely manner, and she feels completely at ease. Since she understands it to be a last ride, she of course expects it to be unhurried. Indeed, his graciousness in taking time to stop for her at that point and on that day in her life when she was so busy she could not possibly have taken time to stop for him, is a mark of special politeness. She is therefore quite willing to put aside her work. And again, since it is to be her last ride, she can dispense with her spare moments as well as her active ones. . . .

She notes the daily routine of the life she is passing from. Children playing games during a school recess catch her eye at the last. And now the sense of motion is quickened. Or perhaps more exactly one should say that the sense of time comes to an end as they pass the cycles of the day and the seasons of the year, at a period of both ripeness and decline. . . . How insistently "passed" echoes through the [third] stanza! She now conveys her feeling of being outside time and change, for she corrects herself to say that the sun passed them, as it of course does all who are in the grave. She is aware of dampness and cold, and becomes suddenly conscious of the sheerness of the dress and scarf which she now discovers that she wears. . . . /223/

The two concluding stanzas, with progressively decreasing concreteness, hasten the final identification of her "House." It is the slightly rounded surface "of the Ground," with a scarcely visible roof and a cornice "in the Ground." To time and seasonal change, which have already ceased, is now added motion. Cessation of all activity and creativeness is absolute. At the end, in a final instantaneous flash of memory, she recalls the last objects before her eyes during the journey: the heads of the horses that bore her, as she had surmised they were doing from the beginning, toward—it is the last word—"Eternity." . . . Gradually, too, one realizes that Death as a person has receded into the background, mentioned last only impersonally in the opening words "We paused" of the fifth stanza, where his services as squire and companion are over. In this poem concrete realism melds into "awe and circumference" with matchless economy. /224/

From Emily Dickinson: An Interpretive Biography (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1955), pp. 222-224.

Richard Chase: On 712 ("Because I could not stop for Death")

Emily Dickinson's poems on death are scattered in clusters through the two volumes which contain her poetic works. Drawn together in one of the several orders that suggest themselves, they constitute a small body of poems equal to the most distinguished lyric verse in English.

She is surely unparalleled in capturing the experience of New England deathbed scenes and funerals. Of this kind the three best poems are "How many times these low feet staggered," "I heard a fly buzz when I died," and "I felt a funeral in my brain." Her most successful device in these poems is her juxtaposition of the sense of the mys- /246/ tery of death with the sense of particular material stresses, weights, motions, and sounds so that each clarifies and intensifies the other:

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.

                        [#280—Poems, 1896, p. 168]

Few other writers have expressed such astonishing loneliness as this.

The objection has been made that no poet ought to imagine that he has died and that he knows exactly what the experience is like. The objection does not apply, at any rate, to "I heard a fly buzz," since the poem does not in the least strive after the unknowable but deals merely with the last sensations of consciousness. . . . /247/

[The differing versions] remind the reader of the textual difficulties in the Dickinson canon which are still to be cleared up. "I heard a fly buzz" has again and again been reprinted in the altered version of the early Todd Higginson editions. This version substitutes "round my form" for "in the room" (second line), preferring an insipidity to an imperfect rhyme. It reads "The eyes beside" instead of "The eyes around," substitutes "sure" for "firm," and says in place of "witnessed in the room," "witnessed in his power." Both "sure" and "power" have generalized moralistic and honorific connotations which Higginson and Mrs. Todd thought (perhaps rightly) would be more pleasing to late Victorian readers than the poet's more precise, concrete words. These editors left the fourth stanza intact but wrote the third stanza thus:

I willed my keepsakes, signed away

    What portion of me I

Could make assignable—and then

    There interposed a fly.

                        [#465—Poems, 1896, p. 184]

To gain a rhyme, that is, they did not scruple to add the gratuitous and poetically neutral "Could make" and to sacrifice the voiced "s" sound which the poet had provided in "It was." Higginson and Mrs. Todd did not publish this poem at all until Poems, Third Series, in 1896. This leads one to conjecture that they thought it unusually awkward in its versification and that, consequently, when they did get around to publishing it, they edited it with unusually free hands. These are questions which can be an- /248/ swered only by the much desired definitive edition of Emily Dickinson's work.

Of the several poems which describe death as a gentleman visitor or lover the most familiar is also incomparably the best ["Because I could not stop for Death"]. . . . The only pressing technical objection to this poem is the remark that "Immortality" in the first stanza is a meretricious and unnecessary personification and that the common sense of the situation demands that Immortality ought to be the destination of the coach and not one of the /249/ passengers. The personification of death, however, is unassailable. In the literal meaning of the poem, he is apparently a successful citizen who has amorous but genteel intentions. He is also God. And though as a genteel citizen, his "civility" may be a little hollow—or even a confidence trick—as God his "civility" is that hierarchic status which he confers upon the poet and for which she gladly exchanges the labor and leisure of the less brilliant life she has been leading.

The word "labor" recalls Emily Dickinson's idea that life is to be understood as the slow labor of dying; now this labor is properly put away. So is the leisure, since a far more desirable leisure will be hers in "eternity." The third stanza is a symbolic recapitulation of life: the children playing, wrestling (more "labor") through the cycle of their existence, "in a ring"; the gazing grain signifies ripeness and the entranced and visionary gaze that first beholds the approach of death of which the setting sun is the felicitous symbol.

The last two stanzas are hardly surpassed in the whole range of lyric poetry. The visual images here are handled with perfect economy. All the poem needs is one or two concrete images—roof, cornice—to awake in our minds the appalling identification of house with grave. Even more compelling is the sense of pausing, and the sense of overpowering action and weight in "swelling" and "mound." This kinaesthetic imagery prepares us for the feeling of suddenly discerned motion in the last stanza, which with fine dramatic tact presents us with but one visual image, the horses' heads. There are progressively fewer visible objects in the last three stanzas, since the seen world must be /250/ made gradually to sink into the nervously sensed world—a device the poet uses to extraordinary effect in the last stanza of "I heard a fly buzz." /251/

From Modern Poetry and the Tradition, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1939.

Eunice Glenn: On 712 ("Because I could not stop for Death")

The central theme [of "Because I could not stop for Death"] is the interpretation of mortal experience from the standpoint of immortality. A theme stemming from that is the defining of eternity as timelessness. The poet uses these abstractions— mortality, immortality, and eternity—in terms /585/ of images. How successfully, then, do these images fulfill their intention, which is to unite in filling in the frame of the poem?

In the first two lines Death, personified as a carriage driver, stops for one who could not stop for him. The word "kindly" is particularly meaningful, for it instantly characterizes Death. This comes with surprise, too, since death is more often considered grim and terrible. The third and fourth lines explain the dramatic situation. Death has in the carriage another passenger, Immortality. Thus, in four compact lines the poet has not only introduced the principal characters metaphorically, but she has also characterized them in part; in addition, she has set the stage for the drama and started the drama moving. It may be noted; in passing, that the phrase, "And Immortality," standing alone, helps to emphasize the importance of the presence of the second passenger.

In the first line of the second stanza, "slowly drove" and "knew no haste" serve to amplify the idea of the kindliness of the driver, as well as the intimacy which has already been suggested by "held just ourselves." In the fourth line, "For his civility" further characterizes the polite, kindly driver. The second, third and fourth lines tie in perfectly with the first two lines of the poem: she who has not been able to stop for Death is now so completely captivated by his personality that she has put away everything that had occupied her before his coming.

The third stanza contains a series of heterogeneous materials: children, gazing grain, setting sun. But under the poet's skillful treatment these materials, seemingly foreign to one another, are fused into a unit and reconciled. How? Not, obviously, by simply setting them side by side, but by making them all parts of a single order of perception. They are all perceived as elements in an experience from which the onlooker has withdrawn. In its larger meaning this experience is Nature, over which, with the aid of death, the individual triumphs. "Gazing grain," shifting "gazing" from the dead woman who is passing to a common feature of Nature at which she is astonished, gives the grain something of the fixity of death itself, although the grain is alive. /586/ This paradox is highly significant in the context of the poem: "grain" symbolizes life, mortality; "gazing" suggests death, immortality. "Setting sun" is no less powerful in its suggestion of the passage of time; and "the school where children played, / Their lessons scarcely done" makes a subtle preparation for it.

In the next stanza the house, appearing as a "swelling of the ground," the roof "scarcely visible" and the cornice, "but a mound," suggest the grave, a sinking out of sight. "Paused" calls to mind the attitude of the living toward the lowering of a coffin into the ground, as well as other associations with the occurrence of death.

"Centuries" in the last stanza refers, of course, to eternity. "Each feels shorter than the day" ties in with "setting sun" in the third stanza and suggests at the same time the timelessness of eternity. Indeed, an effective contrast between the time of mortality and the timelessness of eternity is made in the entire stanza.

"Horses' heads" is a concrete extension of the figure of the carriage, which is maintained throughout the poem. The carriage is headed toward eternity, where Death is taking the passenger. The attitude of withdrawal, or seeing with perspective, could not have been more effectively accomplished than it has been by the use of the slowly-moving carriage. Remoteness is fused with nearness, for the objects that are observed during the journey are made to appear close by. At the same time, a constant moving forward, with only one pause, carries weighty implications concerning time, death, eternity. The person in the carriage is viewing things that are near with the perspective of distance, given by the presence of Immortality.

The poem could hardly be said to convey an idea, as such, or a series of ideas; instead, it presents a situation in terms of human experience. The conflict between mortality and immortality is worked out through the agency of metaphor and tone. The resolution of the conflict lies in the implications concerning the meaning of eternity: not an endless stretch of time, but something fixed and timeless, which interprets and gives meaning to /587/ mortal experience. Two seemingly contradictory concepts, mortality and immortality, are reconciled, because several seemingly contradictory elements which symbolize them are brought into reconciliation.

The interaction of elements within a poem to produce an effect of reconciliation in the poem as a whole, which we have observed in these analyses, is the outstanding characteristic of "Metaphysical" poetry. This poetry Cleanth Brooks defines as that in which "the opposition of the impulses which are united is extreme" or, again, that "in which the poet attempts the reconciliation of qualities which are opposite or discordant in the extreme." I have no intention of forcing this classification upon the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Indeed, I have no intention of forcing any classification upon her; I have tried to focus more upon the mechanics of her poetry. It seems fairly clear however, . . . that she is free from the limitations of the romantic poet, which she is generally mistaken to be. She does not employ metaphor only for illustration or decoration of some "truth," as the romantic poet usually does. She does not merely introduce an element of paradox, as the romantic poet tends to do; rather she succeeds in bringing it to the surface and in reconciling seemingly contradictory concepts. She does not use disparate materials sparingly and put them down in juxtaposition without blending them, as the romantic poet is often inclined to do. And her liberty in the use of words would hardly be sanctioned by the typically romantic poet, for fear of being "unpoetic" and not "great" and "beautiful."

The kind of unity, or reconciliation that we have been observing at work in these poems is chiefly responsible for their success. Proof of this is found in the fact that the few poems of Emily Dickinson's that are not successful show no evidence of the quality; and some others that are only partially successful show less of it. In this sense we are justified in referring to Emily Dickinson as a metaphysical poet. /588/

From "Emily Dickinson's Poetry: A Revaluation," The Sewanee Review, LI (Autumn, 1943), 585-588.

Ankey Larrabee: On 712 ("Because I could not stop for Death")

Allen Tale is indisputably correct when he writes (in Reactionary Essays) that for Emily Dickinson "The general symbol of Nature . . . is Death." Death is, in fact, her poetic affirmation. Yet he continues with a questionable declaration: ". . . and her weapon against Death is the entire powerful dumb-show of the puritan theology led by Redemption and Immortality."

It is true that she is forced to experience and deal with nature before she can turn her back on it, but redemption and immortality are for her neither weapon nor protection. If these concepts deserve any place at all, it is rather because they are avenues of escape from death. In her love poems, as well as in the group dealing with time and eternity, she returns constantly to her preoccupation with death—both as it is incorporated in all of nature, and as it encompasses it on all sides. Here she faces and resolves the issue many times, but never wholly with what Tale is pleased to call her "puritan theology."

Certainly the love poems provide the more personally representative passages from which to draw an argument against Tate's statement. A recurrent theme in these poems is the separation of two lovers by death, and their reunion in immortality. But Emily Dickinson's conception of this immortality is centered in the beloved himself, rather than in any theological principle. . . . The immortality which concerns her arises directly from her connection with a second person, and never exists as an abstract or Christian condition. . . . /115/

In this same way, redemption is also reduced to the simplest personal equation. In these poems redemption, as such, is never mentioned; rather, the awareness of it permeates the entire section. Redemption for Emily Dickinson is too synonymous with immortality to receive much individual distinction. There is little talk of heaven or hell, except as they exist within the poet herself. . . .

It is not the "dumb-show of the puritan theology" which protects the poet, but her own redefinition of Christian values. This redefinition is not important because of any radical deviation from the church's precepts, but because the catchwords of pulpit and hymnal have been given an intimate and casual interpretation. She speaks of Death's coming for her, yet has him arrive in a carriage to take her for an afternoon's drive. She writes of Calvaries, but they are "Calvaries of Love"; the grave is "my little cottage." . . . The familiar and comforting words that, for her, spell everyday life are used to mask unrealized abstractions. It is by contracting the illimitable spaces of after-life to her own focus, that she can find peace, for "their height in heaven comforts not." She fills the abyss with her talk of tea and carriages and the littleness of time. Puritan theology may have given her a fear of the loneliness of death, the Bible and hymnal may have provided her with patterns and phrases, but these equip her with terminologies, molds in which her personal conceptions can take form, rather than actual Christian conceptions.

Death for Emily Dickinson, therefore, was an uncomfortable lacuna which could in no way be bridged, except by transposing it into a more homely metaphor. Death as a caller, the grave as a little house—these are a poetic whistling in the dark. In a safe and ordered microcosm, she found death an ungoverned and obsessing presence. It could be neither forgotten nor accepted in its present form. Death had possessed too many of her friends to be reckoned with as a complete abstraction. But when she translated this oppression into a language of daily routine, she could blot out the reality of death with pictures conjured up by the surrounding images:

What if I file this mortal off,

See where it hurts me,—that's enough,—

And wade into liberty?

                [#277—Poems, 1891, p. 107] /116/

 

    . . . this is said to be

But just the primer to a life

Unopened, rare, upon the shelf

Clasped yet to him and me.

                [#418—Poems, 1890, p. 132]

 

I sing to use the waiting. . .

And tell each other how we sang

To keep the dark away.

                [#850—Poems, 1896, p.170]

The idea of filing it off, of wading into death and its liberty, of calling death a primer, or of singing away eternity, is the balance of known with unknown which Emily Dickinson must portion out to herself before she can rest.

Allen Tale is on the right track in referring to death as her "general symbol of Nature." It is the logical culmination of nature, and the greatest example of the change which is constantly moving through nature. Emily Dickinson regards nature as resembling death in that it can, for the moment, be brought within her garden walls, but still spreads around her life and beyond her door, impossible to hold or to measure. Both are forces which must be discussed and rehearsed constantly. They are too present and compelling to be pushed into the recesses of the mind. The brute energy of both must be leashed to the minutely familiar. Emily Dickinson's wild nights are bound and her fears assuaged with the images of her immediate reality. But this immediate reality is made up of her personal terms, and has come from her own heart, not from the tenets of her church. /1171/

From "Three Studies in Modern Poetry," Accent, III (Winter, 1943), 115-117.

Yvor Winters: On 712 ("Because I could not stop for Death")

There are a few curious and remarkable poems representing a mixed theme, of which ["Because I could not stop for Death"] is perhaps the finest example. . . . /288/ In the fourth line we find the familiar device of using a major abstraction in a somewhat loose and indefinable manner; in the last stanza there is the semi-playful pretence of familiarity with the posthumous experience of eternity. so that the poem ends unconvincingly though gracefully, with a formulary gesture very roughly comparable to that of the concluding couplet of many an Elizabethan sonnet of love; for the rest the poem is a remarkably beautiful poem on the subject of the daily realization of the imminence of death—it is a poem of departure from life, an intensely conscious leave-taking. In so far as it concentrates on the life that is being left behind, it is wholly successful; in so far as it attempts to experience the death to come, it is fraudulent, however exquisitely, and in this it falls below her finest achievement. Allen Tate, who appears to be unconcerned with this fraudulent element, praises the poem in the highest terms; he appears almost to praise it for its defects: "The sharp gazing before grain instils into nature a kind of cold vitality of which the qualitative richness has infinite depth. The content of death in the poem eludes forever any explicit definition . . . she has presented a typical Christian theme in all its final irresolution, without making any final statement about it." The poem ends in irresolution in the sense that it ends in a statement that is not offered seriously; to praise the /289/ poem for this is unsound criticism, however. It is possible to solve any problem of insoluble experience by retreating a step and defining the boundary at which comprehension ceases, and by then making the necessary moral adjustments to that boundary; this in itself is an experience both final and serious, and it is the experience on which our author's finest work is based. /290/

From "Emily Dickinson and the Limits of Judgement," In Defense of Reason, 3rd ed. (Denver: Alan Swallow, 1947), pp. 283-299.

Allen Tate: On 712 ("Because I could not stop for Death")

One of the perfect poems in English is The Chariot, /13/ and it exemplifies better than anything else [Emily Dickinson] wrote the special quality of her mind. . . . If the word great means anything in poetry, this poem is one of the greatest in the English language; it is flawless to the last detail. The rhythm charges with movement the pattern of suspended action back of the poem. Every image is precise and, moreover, not merely beautiful, but /14/ inextricably fused with the central idea. Every image extends and intensifies every other. The third stanza especially shows Miss Dickinson's power to fuse, into a single order of perception, a heterogeneous series: the children, the grain, and the setting sun (time) have the same degree of credibility; the first subtly preparing for the last. The sharp gazing before grain instils into nature a kind of cold vitality of which the qualitative richness has infinite depth. The content of death in the poem eludes forever any explicit definition. He is a gentleman taking a lady out for a drive. But note the restraint that keeps the poet from carrying this so far that it is ludicrous and incredible; and note the subtly interfused erotic motive, which the idea of death has presented to every romantic poet, love being a symbol interchangeable with death. The terror of death is objectified through this figure of the genteel driver, who is made ironically to serve the end of Immortality. This is the heart of the poem: she has presented a typical Christian theme in all its final irresolution, without making any final statement about it. There is no solution to the problem; there can be only a statement of it in the full context of intellect and feeling. A construction of the human will, elaborated with all the abstracting powers of the mind, is put to the concrete test of experience: the idea of immortality is confronted with the fact of physical disintegration. We are not told what to think; we are told to look at the situation.

The framework of the poem is, in fact, the two abstractions, mortality and eternity, which are made to as- /15/ sociate in perfect equality with the images: she sees the ideas. and thinks the perceptions. She did, of course, nothing of the sort; but we must use the logical distinctions, even to the extent of paradox. if we are to form any notion of this rare quality of mind. She could not in the proper sense think at all, and unless we prefer the feeble poetry of moral ideas that flourished in New England in the eighties, we must conclude that her intellectual deficiency contributed at least negatively to her great distinction. Miss Dickinson is probably the only Anglo-American poet of her century whose work exhibits the perfect literary situation— in which is possible the fusion of sensibility and thought. Unlike her contemporaries, she never succumbed to her ideas, to easy solutions, to her private desires. /16/

. . . No poet could have invented the elements of The Chariot; only a great poet could have used them so perfectly. Miss Dickinson was a deep mind writing from a deep culture, and when she came to poetry, she came infallibly.

Infallibly, at her best; for no poet has ever been perfect, nor is Emily Dickinson. Her unsurpassed precision of statement is due to the directness with which the abstract framework of her thought acts upon its unorganized material. The two elements of her style, considered as point of view, are immortality, or the idea of permanence, and the physical process of death or decay. Her diction has two corresponding features: words of Latin or Greek origin and, sharply opposed to these, the concrete Saxon element. It is this verbal conflict that gives to her verse its high tension; it is not a device deliberately seized upon, but a feeling for language that senses out the two fundamental components of English and their metaphysical relation: the Latin for ideas and the Saxon for perceptions—the peculiar virtue of English as a poetic tongue. Only the great poets know how to use this advantage of our language.

Like all poets, Miss Dickinson often writes out of habit; /22/ the style that emerged from some deep exploration of an idea is carried on as verbal habit when she has nothing to say. . . . .

But she never had the slightest interest in the public. Were four poems or five published in her lifetime? She never felt the temptation to round off a poem for public exhibition. Higginson's kindly offer to make her verse "correct" was an invitation to throw her work into the public ring—the ring of Lowell and Longfellow. He could not see that he was tampering with one of the rarest literary integrities of all time. Here was a poet who had no use for the supports of authorship-flattery and fame; she never needed money. /23/

She had all the elements of a culture that has broken up, a culture that on the religious side takes its place in the museum of spiritual antiquities. Puritanism, as a unified version of the world, is dead; only a remnant of it in trade may be said to survive. In the history of puritanism she comes between Hawthorne and Emerson. She has Hawthorne's matter, which a too irresponsible personality tends to dilute into a form like Emerson's; she is often betrayed by words. But she is not the poet of personal sentiment; she has more to say than she can put down in anyone poem. Like Hardy and Whitman she must be read entire; like Shakespeare she never gives up her meaning in a single 1ine.

She is therefore a perfect subject for the kind of criticism which is chiefly concerned with general ideas. She exhibits one of the permanent relations between personality and objective truth, and she deserves the special attention of our time, which lacks that kind of truth.

She has Hawthorne's intellectual toughness, a hard, definite sense of the physical world. The highest flights to God, the most extravagant metaphors of the strange and the remote, come back to a point of casuistry, to a moral dilemma of the experienced world. There is, in spite of the homiletic vein of utterance, no abstract speculation, nor is there a message to society; she speaks wholly to the individual experience. She offers to the unimaginative no riot of vicarious sensation; she has no useful maxims for men of action. Up to this point her resemblance to Emerson is slight: poetry is a sufficient form of /24/ utterance, and her devotion to it is pure. But in Emily Dickinson the puritan world is no longer self-contained; it is no longer complete; her sensibility exceeds its dimensions. She has trimmed down its supernatural proportions; it has become a morality; instead of the tragedy of the spirit there is a commentary upon it. Her poetry is a magnificent personal confession, blasphemous and, in its self-revelation, its implacable honesty, almost obscene. It comes out of an intellectual life towards which it feels no moral responsibility. Mather would have burnt her for a witch. /25/

From Reactionary Essays on Poetry and Ideas (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936), pp. 13-16, 22-25.

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