Comment 37 of 371, added on January 25th, 2012 at 3:41 PM.
Slightly Different Take
Unlike what most people seem to think, I do not believe this poem is about
ambition or the ability to perform when pushed to your limits. I think it
is about humility!
I believe the following explanation is warranted given Ms. Dickinson's
Consider the following bible passage (Luke 14:8-11,KJV):
"When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest
room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; And he that
bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin
with shame to take the lowest room. But when thou art bidden, go and sit
down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say
unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the
presence of them that sit at meat with thee.For whoever exalts himself
shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted."
In these verses, Christ is saying that when people humble themselves, they
will otherwise find glory from others calling them to "go up higher" or
In light of this passage, here's how I read this poem:
"We never know how high we are/Till we are called to rise" --> True glory
comes from outside, from others calling on us to rise (i.e. praising us).
Only then do we know our own glory: "how high we are".
"And then, if we are true to plan/Our statures touch the skies" --> If we
are truly humble according to God's plan, our "statures" will touch the
sky: we will be glorified.
"The heroism we recite/Would be a daily thing/Did not ourselves the cubits
warp/For fear to be a king" --> When we try to glorify ourselves by talking
about our exploits and merits (the "heroism we recite") would be a "daily
thing": a normal, mundane thing no one would notice, UNLESS we are humble:
unless we "warp the cubits" for fear of excessive glory (for fear "to be a
king"). A cubit is an ancient unit of measure used in the Old Testament and
to "warp" means to distort or transform for the worse. Thus "warping the
cubits" means humbling ourselves by downplaying the "heroism we recite".
Just my two cents...