He fumbles at your spirit
As players at the keys
Before they drop full music on;
He stuns you by degrees,
Prepares your brittle substance
For the ethereal blow,
By fainter hammers, further heard,
Then nearer, then so slow
Your breath has time to straighten,
Your brain to bubble cool,--
Deals one imperial thunderbolt
That scalps your naked soul.
When winds take Forests in their Paws--
The Universe is still.
|I have added the last two lines of this poem, which
omits. It makes the poem even more terrifying and carries His brutality
This is a poem of possession. The question is, possession by
whom or what? I
have classified this under the heading of "God" and suggest that
Dickinson is describing the experience of religious conversion.
possibility is possession by poetic fervor. Dickinson may be describing
the poet's relationship to her own poetic
power or the compulsion to write. The fact that this force is male is
argument against this interpretation; male poets traditionally refer to
their muse or poetic inspiration/fervor as the opposite sex or female.
matter how you interpret the unnamed "He," the way that the images
function and Dickinson's attitude toward the possession are essentially
Dickinson uses the simile
musician's playing to describe God's conversion technique. The initial
approach is tentative; "He fumbles" with the keys, which represent the
spirit or soul, and stuns "by degrees." The words describing the
conversion become increasingly more violent after the "drop" "stuns
"blow," "imperial thunderbolt," "scalps your naked soul." The
culminates in violence of cosmic proportions; winds (God) "take forests
in their Paws." The savagery of God is insisted upon not only because
scalps, which is horrifying enough, but also because he scalps a
victim ("naked soul"). Dickinson uses "paw," rather than hand, as the
final expression of God's ferocity. Think of who or what has paws.
God's blows are spiritual; therefore, the blow of the (piano)
ethereal. (The meaning of ethereal being used here is heavenly
celestial.) Because of God's might and status, the thunderbolt is
"imperial." The full force of God's assault paralyzes the universe,
which "is still." Cynthia Griffin Wolff calls God's approach "the rape
|Dickinson, Online overview
"For each ecstatic instant," p. 2
"I taste a liquor never brewed,"
"Safe in their alabaster chambers,"
"I heard a fly buzz when I died," p.
"It was not death, for I stood up,"
| "A bird came down the walk,"
"I like to see it lap the miles,"
"Pain has an element of blank," p.
"A narrow fellow in the grass," p.
"I'm nobody! Who are you?" p. 9
| "After great pain a formal
feeling comes" (handout)
"The soul selects her own society"
"The heart asks pleasure first,"
"I'll tell you how the sun rose,"
"Presentiment is that long shadow on
the lawn," p. 36
| "Success is counted sweetest"
"I cannot live with you," p. 29
"He fumbles at your spirit," p.
"I felt a cleaving in my mind,"
"My life closed twice before its
close," p. 49
| "Wild nights! Wild nights!"
"She sweeps with many-colored brooms,"
"Hope is the thing with feathers,"
"I felt a funeral in my brain,"
"I had been hungry all the years,"
|"I started Early--took my Dog--"
"My life had stood a loaded gun"
"Because I could not stop for Death,"
"If you were coming in the fall,"
Sample Midtern and Student
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