Monday, September 14, 2009

Victory comes late

Victory comes late--
And is held low to freezing lips--
Too rapt with frost
To take it--
How sweet it would have tasted--
Just a Drop--
Was God so economical?
His Table's spread too high for Us--
Unless We dine on Tiptoe--
Crumbs-- fit such little mouths--
Cherries-- suit Robins--
The Eagle's Golden Breakfast strangles-- Them--
God keep His Oath to Sparrows--
Who of little Love-- know how to starve--
(F 195)

This poem is yet another of Dickinson's that directly challenges the all-loving nature of God, and it has many phrases and themes in common with Dickinson's poems "Success is Counted Sweetest" -- written before this poem-- and "I had been hungry, all the years"- written after this poem. The speaker in "Victory comes late" questions the provision of God, who in the first lines seems to finally offer rescue to one past saving.

Much of Dickinson's language emphasizes the mercy or providence just out of reach. The table remains "spread too high for Us" and the speaker strains "on Tiptoe" to reach what seems to be spread so liberally for the taking. Everything is inches beyond reach, within sight and smell but not accessible. Dickinson famously struggled with the faith or religion of her family and peers, and I believe that she had the sights and scents of faith and religion within her range of senses, but a true feeling of God or a real experience seemed to elude her. Then again, this borders on making the poem autobiographical. That said, I think that the tone of frustration and accusation is at least a slight reflection of the poet's attitude toward deity.

The most twisted part of the poem lies in the inversion of values or stereotypes-- an element of parable-- which are found in the last two lines. The speaker scoffs that "God keeps His Oath to Sparrows-- / Who of little Love-- know how to starve", playing off of a biblical passage from the gospel of Luke. The passage reads "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid: you are worth more than many sparrows" (Luke 12:6-7, NIV). Dickinson's poem, when analyzed through the allusion to the biblical passage, reads all the more haunting and brings the poem from a tone of disappointment to that of betrayal. The dying are analagous to the sparrows, and the sparrows die of "little love", meaning God and his economy are-- to the speaker-- beyond "economical" into downright calloused and deceptive.

Interestingly enough, parallels can be drawn between the concept of the sparrow choking on the eagle's meal and the idea of growing ill from partaking of a banquet feast in "I had been hungry all the years". I might return to this at some point.

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