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Analysis and comments on Safe in their Alabaster Chambers by Emily Dickinson

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Comment 9 of 29, added on March 31st, 2007 at 11:52 PM.

The babbling bee and the piping of the sweet birds need not be for/to the
dead. The stolid ear could be to those above who cannot hear - in fact it
makes more sense that the bee does NOT babble in the ear of the dead who
are below in their tombs. At least that is how I first read the poem.
Same with the ignorant cadence - it is of the birds not the dead.

Jarl Anderson from Canada
Comment 8 of 29, added on December 27th, 2005 at 10:26 PM.

She is talking about unborn birds still lying in their shells.

Billb from China
Comment 7 of 29, added on December 5th, 2005 at 9:01 AM.

We prefer the amended version of this poem, as the incorporation of the
theme of the entire cosmos emphasises the concept that we are all
relatively insignificant.

Vicky, Fiona & Katharine from United Kingdom
Comment 6 of 29, added on November 14th, 2005 at 6:38 PM.

Poem Analysis: Draft 1
Safe in their Alabaster Chambers –
This line is referring to a person in their grave. Alabaster means
either expensive and beautiful or cold and unfeeling. Chambers is
referring to a tomb, the home of a person who is dead. The Alabaster
Chamber could also be referring to the type of coffin- separate research
shows that an Alabaster Chamber is a coffin made out of cold, very
expensive translucent white material. This line is ironic because of the
word safe. Is a person who is dead really safe? How is being dead safe?

Untouched by Morning
When a person is in their grave, they are away from the wetness and
darkness of early mornings. Life goes on with out them; the world above is
unconcerned with what goes on below them.
And untouched by Noon –
And they are protected from the hot sun in the noon. The time passes
them by each day.
Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection –
This line had religious references. (allusion) Jesus Christ said in
the Bible that the meek would inherit the earth and enter into the kingdom
of heaven. However, this line is also ironic. If the dead have been
resurrected, then why are they still lying in their graves, asleep? Maybe
they are still waiting to go to heaven.
Rafter of satin,
This line is referring to the coffin that the person is buried in. The
rafter of satin- like the rafters of a building, high above which is lined
with satin, the inside cover of the coffin.
And Roof of stone.
This line is referring to the tomb stone. This is saying how the dead
see rafters of satin, but the living only see the stone that marks the
place of the person’s grave.

Light laughs the breeze
This line seems like spring. The light laughter of the breeze
(personification) indicates a light living feeling.
In her Castle above them –
The breeze is above the dead, in the beautiful world which is like a
Babbles the Bee in a stolid Ear,
The Bees are babbling (personification) in a stolid, or impassive and
unresponsive ear. This mean that the bees and the birds mentioned in the
next line are talking and singing to try to bring comfort to the dead who
are solemn and sad. However, the dead can not hear them so their attempt
at comfort is useless.
Pipe the Sweet Birds in ignorant cadence –
This is similar to the previous line, the birds are ignorant to the
fact that the dead can not hear them, yet they sing anyway.
Ah, what sagacity perished here!
The definition of sagacity is the quality of being sagacious; quickness or
acuteness of sense perceptions; keenness of discernment or penetration with
soundness of judgment; shrewdness. This could be referring to the
knowledge and wisdom of the dead. They know that they can hear nothing,
and know what happens when a person dies. However, they can not tell us
what they know.
Poem Analysis: Draft 2
The first stanza is the same as Draft 1
Safe in their Alabaster Chambers –

Untouched by Morning –

And untouched by Noon –

Lie the meek members of the Resurrection –

Rafter of Satin – and Roof of Stone!

The tone and mood of the second stanza in this draft changes completely
from the first draft- in the first draft, it was talking about spring and
birds singing, giving it a lighter mood. However, in this draft, it talks
more about the death and surrender, giving it a darker tone.
Grand go the Years – in the Crescent – above them –
This line refers to the grand passage of time. The dead are buried
and stay there while time and life progresses with out them.
Worlds scoop their Arcs –
This line is also referring to the passage of time. As time goes on,
many nations make their mark on the world. New things are developed and
the world changes, all the while continuing without mention of the dead.
And Firmaments – row –
Again, time passes. The definition of firmament is the vault or
expanse of the heavens; the sky. The sky continues to move with the
rotations of the earth, the world does not stop revolving for death.
Diadems – drop – and Doges – Surrender –
Diadems refer to crowns and Doges means former rulers of Venice and
Genoa, or rulers. This passage means that history continues to define
itself and undergoes transformations. Kings loose their crowns, and the
rulers of Venice and Genoa loose wars and surrender. The have no effect on
the world, and no effect on the eternal beings. The dead continue to lie
in their graves. They have not been resurrected, meaning that Christ did
not keep his promise. Emily may have been feeling unconnected with God,
feeling that he had left her, his will for nature was meaningless when the
birds sang and the bees babbled for no reason. She may have felt like he
did not care about her or meek people.
Soundless as dots - on a Disk of Snow –
This line could be referring to the people who have died in wars.
When Emily wrote this draft, it was at the beginning of the Civil War.
Maybe she was considering all of the people who would die in the war. They
would lie as dots on the ground (from a birds eye view). They would not
make any sounds or any movements.

Elysha from United States
Comment 5 of 29, added on November 3rd, 2005 at 1:39 PM.

I really found the use of dashes in this poem enhances the subject matter -
as they suggest the fragility and relative unstableness of life compared to

Emma A from United Kingdom
Comment 4 of 29, added on September 23rd, 2005 at 9:27 AM.

Be sure you look up the revised poem. It is much more profound in its
revision of the second verse and more true to Emily Dickinson's vision. a
comparison of the earlier and later draft would make a good topic for a

Susan from United States
Comment 3 of 29, added on April 19th, 2005 at 9:40 AM.

Alabaster chambers are not just coffins they are coffins made out of a cold
and very expensive translucent white mineral, some thing like gypsum.

I think when she says, Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection,
it refers to Christ's promise that the meek would inherit the earth and
enter heaven, i think she means they are still waiting, because otherwise
they wouldn't be still lying there, they would have been resurrected.

In stanza 2 it mentions bees and birds, suggesting/symbolizes spring, which
is the season of birth and life, this is a contrast with the feelings of
death and loneliness portrayed. The birds and bees sing and 'babble' but
the dead do not hear because their ears are stolid (impassive,

The Puritan tradition in which she was brought up, has the idea that God's
will can be seen in the working of nature, the birds are ignorant and know
nothing of the dead, and their efforts to comfort the dead are meaningless
because the dead do not hear. I think that emily felt as though God had
left her side. Gods will shown by nature was meaningless, God does not care
for her or the others, (the meek).

As for the perished sagacity, i am not sure although it sounds as if maybe
the wisdom known by the dead as to what happens when die, is lost here
because obviously they cant tell us.

Jess from Australia
Comment 2 of 29, added on January 27th, 2005 at 9:23 PM.

Here's what I got from the poem:

Alabaster chambers are coffins, the "rafter of satin" being the satin
lining on the coffin lid and "roof of stone" being the gravestone above.

The members of the Resurrection (the dead people) are sleeping, untouched
by time, and the world above is unconcerned with their passing; it goes on,
and they aren't aware of what goes on in it ("Babbles the Bee in a stolid

A year later she revised the poem and added a verse; it was the start of
the Civil War.

Lisa from United States
Comment 1 of 29, added on January 9th, 2005 at 8:11 PM.

I really like this poem. It is very solemn and provokes a strong image of
someone lying in their coffin.

Max from United States

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Information about Safe in their Alabaster Chambers

Poet: Emily Dickinson
Poem: 216. Safe in their Alabaster Chambers
Volume: Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
Year: 1955
Added: Jan 9 2004
Viewed: 12223 times
Poem of the Day: Jan 29 2002

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