The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (2024)

*Still in progress*

Favourite lines/poems:

Poems 1–100

Night is the morning's Canvas
Larceny — legacy —
Death, but our rapt attention
To Immortality.

notes: We 'die' every night and 'reborn' every morning

The Guest is gold and crimson
An Opal guest and gray —
Of Ermine is his doublet —
His Capuchin gay —

He reaches town at nightfall —
He stops at every door —
Who looks for him at morning
I pray him too — explore
The Lark's pure territory —
Or the Lapwing's shore!

notes: Personification of the Sunset/Death

Poems 100–200

For each ecstatic instant
We must an anguish pay
In keen and quivering ratio
To the Ecstasy.

For each beloved hour
Sharp pittances of years,
Bitter contested farthings
And coffers heaped with tears.

notes: Describes the relationship of joy and pain

My River runs to thee.
Blue sea, wilt thou welcome me?
My river awaits reply.
Oh! Sea, look graciously.

I'll fetch thee brooks
From spotted nooks.
Say, sea,
Take me!

notes: Emily, as the River, asks the Sea to take her in. The Sea could be interpreted as a lover/God/longing for death.

If I could bribe them by a Rose
I'd bring them every flower that grows
From Amherst to Cashmere!
I would not stop for night, or storm —
Or frost, or death, or anyone —
My business were so dear!

notes: Is about the willingness to do everything in your power to achieve something. The rest of the poem leaves open what that exactly is, but it could be inclusion by people she loves/getting her poetry published/getting into Heaven.

I’ve heard an Organ talk, sometimes
In a Cathedral Aisle,
And understood no word it said
Yet held my breath, the while

And risen up and gone away,
A more Berdardine Girl
Yet know not what was done to me
In that old Hallowed Aisle.

notes: Religious sites have a mesmerizing effect on people

Poems 200–300

The Lamp burns sure — within —
Tho' Serfs — supply the Oil —
It matters not the busy Wick —
At her phosphoric toil!

The Slave — forgets — to fill —
The Lamp — burns golden — on —
Unconscious that the oil is out —
As that the Slave — is gone.

notes: 1. The disconnection between the inner flame and the body 2. Critique of slavery (1861–1865. American Civil War)

You see I cannot see — your lifetime —
I must guess —
How many times it ache for me — today — Confess
How many times for my far sake
The brave eyes film — But I guess guessing hurts —
Mine — get so dim'

Too vague — the face —
My own — so patient — covers —
Too far — the strength —
My timidness enfolds —
Haunting the Heart —
Like her translated faces —
Teasing the want —
It — only — can suffice'

notes: film: "become covered with a thin layer of something"

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons —
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes —

Heavenly Hurt it gives us —
We can find no scar,
But Internal Difference —
Where the Meanings, are —

None may teach it — Any —
‘Tis the Seal Despair —
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air —

When it comes, the Landscape listens —
Shadows — hold their breath —
When it goes, ‘tis like the Distance
On the look of Death —

notes: Unusual symbolism of light – carries a negative meaning

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading — treading — till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through —

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum —
Kept beating — beating — till I thought
My mind was going numb —

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space — began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here —

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down —
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing — then —

notes: I'm losing my mind over this one... And yes, pun intended, it's all an allegory for losing your mind.

'Tis so appalling — it exhilarates —
So over Horror, it half Captivates —
The Soul stares after it, secure —
A Sepulchre, fears frost, no more —

notes: Now we're really getting into her gothic poetry, and the first line is a paradox: so horrifying it was captivating.

"I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one's name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!"

notes: "In essence, it is a poem in praise of quiet, individual contemplation—the kind represented by Dickinson and her poetry itself." (from LitChart)

If your Nerve, deny you —
Go above your Nerve —
He can lean against the Grave,
If he fear to swerve —

That's a steady posture —
Never any bend
Held of those Brass arms —

notes: That's how you send your anxiety to hell in a poetic way, I guess.

Poems 300–400

I reason, Earth is short —
And Anguish — absolute —
And many hurt,
But, what of that?

I reason, we could die —
The best Vitality
Cannot excel Decay,
But, what of that?

notes: She really said, we're going to suffer no matter what and die no matter what, but oh well.

It sifts from Leaden Sieves —
It powders all the Wood.
It fills with Alabaster Wool
The Wrinkles of the Road —
Then stills it’s Artisans — like Ghosts —
Denying they have been —

notes: Who needs Christmas songs, when Emily Dickinson describes snow as Alabaster Wool, snow clouds as Leaden Sieves and the snow covered world as Ghosts — Denying they have been?

Fainter Leaves — to Further Seasons —
Dumbly testify —
We — who have the Souls —
Die oftener — Not so vitally —

notes: Compares the unconscious nature with the pain and suffering that comes from human consciousness.

He fumbles at your Soul
As Players at the Keys
Before they drop full Music on —
He stuns you by degrees —
Prepares your brittle Nature
For the Ethereal Blow
By fainter Hammers — further heard —
Then nearer — Then so slow —
Your Breath has time to straighten —
Your Brain — to bubble Cool —
Deals — One — imperial Thunderbolt —
That scalps your naked Soul —

notes: God/a deity playing with the soul as a pianist plays on a piano.

I felt my life with both my hands
To see if it was there —
I held my spirit to the Glass,
To prove it possibler —

I turned my Being round and round
And paused at every pound
To ask the Owner's name —
For doubt, that I should know the sound —

notes: She describes a state where she's disconnected from her body.

When Plato — was a Certainty —
And Sophocles — a Man —

When Sappho — was a living Girl —
And Beatrice wore
The Gown that Dante — deified —
Facts Centuries before

He traverses — familiar —
As One should come to Town —
And tell you all your Dreams — were true —
He lived — where Dreams were born —

notes: The first stanza gives away that "he" is an antique book.
deified: "personified as a deity"

Exhiliration — is within —
There can no Outer Wine
So royally intoxicate
As that diviner Brand

The Soul achieves — Herself —
To drink — or set away
For Visitor — Or Sacrament —

notes: Describes a state of euphoria that doesn't come from an external source, like wine, but from the soul.

It's coming — the postponeless Creature —
It gains the Block — and now — it gains the Door —
Chooses its latch, from all the other fastenings —
Enters — with a "You know me — Sir"?

notes: Emily Dickinson's death metaphors are always iconic. Who's knocking on your door? The postponeless Creature, well you sure cannot postpone Death. And the Door is a gateway to death.

Poems 400–500

And Something's odd – within –
That person that I was –
And this One – do not feel the same –
Could it be Madness – this?

notes: Same theme as in I felt a Funeral, in my Brain

We grow accustomed to the Dark —
When Light is put away —
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye —

A Moment — We Uncertain step
For newness of the night —
Then — fit our Vision to the Dark —
And meet the Road — erect —

And so of larger — Darknesses —
Those Evenings of the Brain —
When not a Moon disclose a sign ���
Or Star — come out — within —

The Bravest — grope a little —
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead —
But as they learn to see —

Either the Darkness alters —
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight —
And Life steps almost straight.

notes: Compares the eye's adaptability to dark with the mind's adaptability to difficulties

Good Morning — Midnight —
I'm coming Home —
Day — got tired of Me —
How could I — of Him?

Sunshine was a sweet place —
I liked to stay —
But Morn — didn't want me — now —
So — Goodnight — Day!

I can look — can't I —
When the East is Red?
The Hills — have a way — then —
That puts the Heart — abroad —

You — are not so fair — Midnight —
I chose — Day —
But — please take a little Girl —
He turned away!

notes: Probably about death but in an innocent style

However, dear,
Forever might be short, I thought to show —
And so I pieced it, with a flower, now.

notes: It may be a Sue poem...

I showed her Heights she never saw —
"Would'st Climb," I said?
She said — "Not so" —
"With me — " I said — With me?
I showed her Secrets — Morning's Nest —
The Rope the Nights were put across —
And now — "Would'st have me for a Guest?"
She could not find her Yes —
And then, I brake my life — And Lo,
A Light, for her, did solemn glow,
The larger, as her face withdrew —
And could she, further, "No"?

notes: It's definitely a Sue poem.

I live with Him — I see His face —
I go no more away
For Visitor — or Sundown —
Death's single privacy

The Only One — forestalling Mine —
And that — by Right that He
Presents a Claim invisible —
No wedlock — granted Me —

I live with Him — I hear His Voice —
I stand alive — Today —
To witness to the Certainty
Of Immortality —

Taught Me — by Time — the lower Way —
Conviction — Every day —
That Life like This — is stopless —
Be Judgment — what it may —

notes: Taking in Death gave her a sense of immortality and freedom

She dealt her pretty words like Blades —
How glittering they shone —
And every One unbared a Nerve
Or wantoned with a Bone —

She never deemed — she hurt —
That — is not Steel's Affair —
A vulgar grimace in the Flesh —
How ill the Creatures bear —

To Ache is human — not polite —
The Film upon the eye
Mortality's old Custom —
Just locking up — to Die.

notes: In the first stanza there's a woman who hurt the narrator with her words (very sharp imagery if you ask me) and the second stanza tells us that she was unaware of the hurt she caused. And the last one says it's human to be in pain, but when you show signs that you're in pain it's not 'polite' and it's not accepted by society.

To One denied to drink
To tell what Water is
Would be acuter, would it not
Than letting Him surmise?

To lead Him to the Well
And let Him hear it drip
Remind Him, would it not, somewhat
Of His condemned lip?

notes: I like how this one outlines a general concept and doesn't specify what it means by Water. One interpretation could be freedom for example.

Poems 500–600

You cannot put a Fire out —
A Thing that can ignite
Can go, itself, without a Fan —
Upon the slowest Night —

You cannot fold a Flood —
And put it in a Drawer —
Because the Winds would find it out —
And tell your Cedar Floor —

notes: Nature has a sort of untameable, raw power. It's Fire keeps burning regardless of the circ*mstances, and if you try to lock something as powerful as a Flood in a drawer (I love this idea) it will burst out to the floor. And a similar power can be found in the soul.

She hideth Her the last —
And is the first, to rise —
Her Night doth hardly recompense
The Closing of Her eyes —

She doth Her Purple Work —
And putteth Her away
In low apartments in the sod -
As Worthily as We.

To imitate Her life
As impotent would be
As make of Our imperfect Mints,
The Julep — of the Bee —

notes: "For Dickinson purple is her favorite color; a mysterious one, the symbol of divinity and sovereignty, hope and good judgment, royalty and dignity, a source of inspiration and spiritual relieve with its fulfillment, and the color of meditation and pure thought." (Hazha Hassan)

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes —
I wonder if It weighs like Mine —
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long —
Or did it just begin —
I could not tell the Date of Mine —
It feels so old a pain —

I wonder if it hurts to live —
And if They have to try —
And whether — could They choose between —
It would not be — to die —

I note that Some — gone patient long —
At length, renew their smile —
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil —

I wonder if when Years have piled —
Some Thousands — on the Harm —
That hurt them Early — such a lapse
Could give them any Balm —

Or would They go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve —
Enlightened to a larger Pain -
In Contrast with the Love —

The Grieved — are many — I am told —
There is the various Cause —
Death — is but one — and comes but once —
And only nails the eyes —

There's Grief of Want — and Grief of Cold —
A sort they call "Despair" —
There's Banishment from native Eyes —
In sight of Native Air —

And though I may not guess the kind —
Correctly — yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary —

To note the fashions — of the Cross —
And how they're mostly worn —
Still fascinated to presume
That Some — are like My Own —

notes: This is how someone writes in a way that's still reletable after a hundred years

I had been hungry, all the Years –
My Noon had Come – to dine –
I trembling drew the Table near –
And touched the Curious Wine --

'Twas this on Tables I had seen –
When turning, hungry, Home
I looked in Windows, for the Wealth
I could not hope – for Mine --

I did not know the ample Bread –
'Twas so unlike the Crumb
The Birds and I, had often shared
In Nature's – Dining Room --

The Plenty hurt me – 'twas so new –
Myself felt ill – and odd –
As Berry – of a Mountain Bush –
Transplanted – to a Road --

Nor was I hungry – so I found
That Hunger – was a way
Of Persons outside Windows –
The Entering – takes away –

notes: The hunger is a metaphor for wanting something, but when she finally gets it, it loses it's appeal.

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (2024)
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