‘For each ecstatic instant’ is a short lyric by Emily Dickinson about the relationship between pleasure and pain, joy and suffering. The Earl of Rochester, in the seventeenth century, had asked, ‘All this to love and rapture’s due; / Must we not pay a debt to pleasure too?’ In ‘For each ecstatic instant’, Emily Dickinson answers with a resounding, if regretful, Yes.
For each ecstatic instant
We must an anguish pay
In keen and quivering ratio
To the ecstasy.
For each beloved hour
Sharp pittances of years —
Bitter contested farthings —
And Coffers heaped with Tears! Read the rest of this entry
‘Safe in their Alabaster Chambers’ is about one of Emily Dickinson’s favourite themes: death. But, as so often with an Emily Dickinson poem, her treatment of this perennial theme is far from straightforward.
Safe in their Alabaster Chambers –
Untouched by Morning –
And untouched by noon –
Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection –
Rafter of Satin – and Roof of Stone!
Grand go the Years – in the Crescent – above them –
Worlds scoop their Arcs –
And Firmaments – row –
Diadems – drop – and Doges – surrender –
Soundless as dots – on a Disk of Snow – Read the rest of this entry
‘As imperceptibly as grief’ describes the passing of summer, which happens so slowly and subtly that it is almost missed. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing: it happens ‘as imperceptibly as Grief’, suggesting that something is coming to a close but brighter times are just coming into view. An unusual take on the onset of autumn, admittedly, but one of the many reasons why Emily Dickinson’s poems repay closer analysis: they avoid the obvious take on things, and offer a strikingly individual perspective on the natural world.
As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away –
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like Perfidy –
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature spending with herself
Sequestered Afternoon –
The Dusk drew earlier in –
The Morning foreign shone – Read the rest of this entry