Safe in their Alabaster Chambers —
Untouched my Morning
And untouched by Noon —
Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection —
Rafter of satin,
And Roof of stone.

Light laughs the breeze
In her Castle above them —
Babbles the Bee in a stolid Ear,
Pipe the Sweet Birds in ignorant cadence —
Ah, what sagacity perished here!

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

13 Comments

  1. Frank C. Papaycik says:

    I believe that there are actually three variations of this poem. No one so far has commented on the change of a single world that has profound effect on interpretation “Sleep the meek members…” Johnson v1859″LIE the meek memmbers…” Johnson. 216 1861, “SLEEP the meek members” Mabel Loomis Todd, and “SLEEP the meek members…” Franklin. Todd and Franklin offer only one version; Johnson, at least includes both. Sleep and Lie connote two very different things. One (sleep) is definitely biblical. They fell a sleep in the lord.

    Almost all reputable critiques indicate that the poem is anti-resurrection. This was one of the six or seven poems published in her life time, and in a conservative newspaper. Those editors, while wishing to give it it a more Christian slant, may have enhanced the irony of its anti-resurrection theme by using SLEEP.

    I know of no reputable critic who tries to link the poem to the Civil War. The earlier version predates the Civil War by three years, the later, by a year.

    one of the real problems with Dickinson is that she left so many variation of her poems. The Bible is an Antique Volume alone leaves sixteen possible word choices to describe the “teller”.

    Her Fascicles seemed to be very definitive. Unfortunately, she stopped constructing them and early editors ignored and/or dismantled them.

    regardless, all the versions are magnificent.

  2. Stacey says:

    The author describes the surroundings of the dead, how they are unaffected by each new day, awaiting resurrection. She talks about nature going about its business as usual. I think she is referring to how quickly the dead are forgotten by their peers, and the mental acuity that perishes with them.

  3. brittany says:

    my professor, who i should mention is a priest, has brought up the idea that the chamber could be a nupital chamber…which is a honeymoon suite.

  4. frumpo says:

    The bodies awaiting resurrection are untouched by the world around them.

  5. Jarl Anderson says:

    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.

  6. Billb says:

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

  7. Vicky, Fiona & Katharine says:

    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.

  8. Elysha says:

    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 castle.
    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.

  9. Emma A says:

    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 nature.

  10. Susan says:

    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 paper.

  11. Jess says:

    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, unresponsive)

    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.

  12. Lisa says:

    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 Ear”).

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

  13. Max says:

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

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