Sunday, April 16, 2017
That sat it down to rest —
Nor noticed that the Ebbing Day
Flowed silver to the West —
Nor noticed Night did soft descend —
Nor Constellation burn —
Intent upon the vision
Of latitudes unknown.
The angels — happening that way
This dusty heart espied —
Tenderly took it up from toil
And carried it to God —
There — sandals for the Barefoot —
There — gathered from the gales —
Do the blue havens by the hand
Lead the wandering Sails.
A fascinating poem, filled with potential symbolic readings (is that death in the first stanza, the "Ebbing Day," "West," "Night"...). That "torn" and "tattered heart" is still "Intent upon the vision / Of latitudes unknown" — Heaven, if one continues with the pattern of symbolism. If one does, then the word "havens" in the final stanza makes one pause: Did she mean "heavens," and (as we often do when writing) accidentally omit a letter and not notice her "typo"? Or did she intend the unexpected yet beautiful "havens," the word itself a latitude unknown until experienced? Is "havens" here another word for "angels"—quite unexpected, that!
As she worked out her world view in her poetry, she seemed determined to avoid cliches. This relatively early poem (#78 in the Johnson anthology, identified as circa 1859) is a wonder of craft, technique, and attention— itself a haven soothing one's poor, torn, tattered heart. (The book I would love to write would be titled An Atheist Talks to Emily Dickinson.)