A solemn thing — it was — I said —
A woman — white — to be —
And wear — if God should count me fit —
Her blameless mystery —

A hallowed thing — to drop a life
Into the purple well —
Too plummetless — that it return —
Eternity — until —

I pondered how the bliss would look —
And would it feel as big —
When I could take it in my hand —
As hovering — seen — through fog —

And then — the size of this “small” life —
The Sages — call it small —
Swelled — like Horizons — in my vest —
And I sneered — softly — “small”!

Analysis, meaning and summary of Emily Dickinson's poem A solemn thing — it was — I said


  1. Elisabeth says:

    I looked up Emily’s poem online once more and found it on Granger’s Online World of Poetry. I analyzed the eight lines the site provided but was puzzled since my memory possessed a different variation of the poem than the one I had found. I “Googled” the poem like I had a year before and found the version I was looking for, which was completely different and I was frustrated that an online “resource” would have the poem incorrect. The first difference that caught my attention was the dashes that frequented the poem in the correct version, which the incorrect version so recklessly lacked. Every line possessed a dash, sometimes two, or in some cases even three. These dashes further accentuated Dickinson’s main theme of death and eternity, with an emphasis on the latter. With so many dashes in the poem I was required to stop and think as I read through it the first time. Why were certain words isolated by means of a dash? Among the words isolated I round “eternity”, “seen”, and “small” particularly interesting. Eternity, being one of the main themes of the poem, was obviously meant to be alone with a dash after it because “Eternity” is indeed forever and the dash allowed me to stop and pause as that thought sunk in. “Seen” took an important meaning because Dickinson was attempting to look forward and sneak a glimpse of eternity. I suppose when she looked, she stopped in awe at what eternity was going to hold for her which is why it is surrounded by a dash on either side as “—seen—“ for it took such an extent of time for her to attempt the greatness of eternity. Lastly, the word “small”, though possessing the definition of tiny, contains a huge meaning in the way that Emily Dickinson employs it in her poem. It is the last word in the poem and is in quotes because it is said by Dickinson. She “sneered—softly—‘small’!” Dickinson says this to the Sages who call life “small” and she is sneering at them because she understands that life is much greater than what we have on earth now. Emily Dickinson recognizes that there is eternity after death, thus providing a greater amount of life than once thought and life can no longer be considered “small”.

    The beginning words of the poem are what intrigued me so greatly in the first place. “A solemn thing—it was—I said—”. What was so solemn? As I sat and pondered that question I moved through the rest of the stanza. “A woman—white—to be—And wear—if God should count me fit—Her blameless mystery.” After deciding that this poem is mostly about eternity and death it was easier to decipher the meaning of all of the poem. Emily Dickinson is talking about herself as the white woman in the poem and is apparently going to wear a garment. Yet, it’s not a garment literally. She is only going to wear her “blameless mystery” or receive eternal life in heaven if “God should count [her] fit.” She calls eternity a “blameless mystery” because she will be not only be pure through the new life she will receive, but she will be living a life that is considered by many to be a “mystery” because no one knows what heaven will look like. This stanza begins by saying “A solemn thing” because whether or not a person goes to heaven is considered by many to be a serious situation. Once God decides where you belong, it’s not going to change. The second stanza begins with “A hollowed thing”. The situation is no longer serious but has changed to holy. “A hollowed thing—to drop a lifeInto the purple well—Too plummetless—that it return—Eternity—until—”. Emily Dickinson switches from talking about herself to talking about what happens after one passes away. The reason that “hallowed” is used in this stanza is because it emphasizes that holiness of deciding when it is time for someone to pass on. Only God can decide when “to drop a lifeInto the purple well”, or in other words when God will remove someone from this world and drop them into eternity. Have you ever looked down into a well that goes extremely deep? Sometimes the hue of the color of the well turns purple because of its depth and Emily Dickinson uses this color to demonstrate that eternity is like a “purple well” and that is “too plummetless” for humans to comprehend. The focus of the next stanza returns to Emily’s opinions and personal thoughts as she “pondered how the bliss would look”. The bliss she is referring to is the soul or life of a human; she is pondering how it would look “And would it feel as big” as a life actually seems to be. She then proceeds to say “When I could take it in my hand—As hovering—seen—through fog—” in order to confirm that she is thoroughly examining the life before her and attempting to measure its greatness by holding it in her hand. And the most fascinating part of it is that she is holding the soul and life of the person from when they lived, not when they are in eternity, which is why the next and last stanza of the poem is the great climax. “And then—”are the first words of the last stanza in which Emily Dickinson requires the reader to pause with the dash that she enters in the poem so that she may truly build up to her final point: “And then—the size of this ‘small’ life— he Sages—call it small—Swelled—like Horizons –in my vest—And I sneered—softly—‘small’!” Dickinson enforces her opinion that life is much bigger than often perceived because when eternity is presented the size of a life swells “like Horizons” and grows bigger than anyone could imagine, including the Sages who “call it small”.

  2. frumpo says:

    The joy and influence of the departed is immense.

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