Thursday, August 27, 2009

Elysium is as far as to

Just when I think so much of Dickinson is cynical and dark and depressing, I stumble across something like this:

Elysium is as far to
The very nearest Room
If in that Room a Friend await
Felicity or Doom--

What fortitude the Soul contains,
That it can so endure
The accent of a coming Foot--
The opening of a Door--
(F 1590)

There is a tone of torturous expectation in this poem. Restraint is stretched to its very limit, enduring the "accent of a coming Foot" and the build of expectation both in the speaker and the reader. It's a bit mean to leave the reader dangling in anticipation, but it's very Dickinson. The entire premise rests on the simple word "if," and yet that word is highly charged with meaning. The condition-- "If in that Room a Friend await"-- remains unresolved.

The unknown amplifies the anticipation, for perhaps the friend is coming and joy will follow. But then perhaps it is not a friend and all the expectation is for naught. Or worse yet, what if the friend turns out to be no longer a friend and what started in joy or should have been joy will quickly dissolve from "felicity" to "doom." As usual, Dickinson stretches the poem between poles of existence-- in this case felicity and doom-- and leaves the reader hanging. The conclusion that the reader arrives at is something like the old question "Is the glass half-full or half-empty?" and the reader's conclusion to this will reveal more about the reader than it ever does about Dickinson or the speaker in the poem. This is a perfect example of the parable element of open endings. No clear cut resolution exists, and the predicament demands a resolution that the reader must find for himself.

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