I will specifically be dealing with religion in regards to Dickinson’s poems. The overall theme of these quotes revolve around Dickinson’s theory that faith for some, is a trend, rather than devotion.
Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.
When examining this poem, I first noticed that Dickinson was attempting to set up a contrast between herself and the majority. “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church” attempts to relate to the institutionalization of the church. By noting that some go to church, the tone of this statement leads the reader to believe that she does not approve with this action. As the poem continues, Dickinson mentions, a Bobolink (which is a bird) and an orchard, which make up her choir and church. This brings in transcendentalist themes, as it seems Dickinson is referring to nature as her church, and that God exists within it. Even in the last stanza, Dickinson notes that in her church, which is broken away from all traditional ties, God exists, and that instead of going to Heaven, she has been there all along. Therefore, by her statement, “all along” it seems as if she is referring to nature as her “heaven on earth.”
I never lost as much but twice
And that was in the sod.
Twice have I stood a beggar
Before the door of God!
Angels – twice descending
Reimbursed my store –
Burglar! Banker – Father!
I am poor once again.
In this poem, we view Dickinson as she talks about losing her faith, repeatedly. In this instance, the “wealth” she refers to is, in fact, her belief in God. However, God plays an interesting part in this poem, as it seems he is the burglar, stealer of money, and banker, giver of money. Thus this poem could reflect a time where Dickinson was going though a difficult life experience. This emotion also seems to reflect through the tone that Dickinson is presenting. Overall, I believe this poem describes Dickinson’s freedom when it comes to her relationship with God. She is able to lost faith, then regain it, whenever she pleases. This is not reflective of her Puritian upbringing, thus further showing that she has broken the ties of her society, and, in doing so, gained a stronger connection with her diety.
“Faith” is a fine invention
For Gentlemen who see!
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency!
The first thing I noticed when reading this poem was the word faith is written with quotation marks. This sets a negative connotation for a word such as faith, as usually faith absolute in it’s meaning, and surrounding the word with quotation marks sets up a tone where the word is used in a sarcastic sense. Furthermore, we notice that she notes faith is an invention by “Gentlemen who see!” only furthering the negative connotation for the word, as faith is never viewed as an invention, but rather an inherent feeling that people simply develop. Therefore, I believe that Dickinson is attacking those that are not truly devout in their faith, and only invented it in order fit in the high society, as she referred to the men as gentlemen. Finally, Dickinson further criticizes them, as she states that whenever an emergency should present itself, the will drop their faith and, instead, will turn to science to provide relief.
I enjoyed reading this short blurb for a poem. For me, it carries so much meaning in such a few short lines. It’s interesting that Dickinson puts the word faith in quotation marks. Why does she do this? Perhaps to emphasize that it is not an absolute… that it is, in fact, an invention of sorts. Perhaps to emphasize the ambiguity of faith. It is not a tangible thing such as a microscope, it is something that man created. I think that Dickinson is directly comparing the idea of faith with the functionality of a microscope. She seems to almost undercut the idea of faith, because it is not “fine” for those who cannot see. Faith is only a luxury that gentlemen can see, or understand, or comprehend. Microscopes on the other hand are available to anyone and everyone. They are fact, firm, and accessible. They are not some idea concocted by man.
Furthermore, what exactly does Dickinson mean by faith? Faith in what? I feel like it is such a general term that can be applied to anything. Faith in yourself, faith in a relationship, faith in God, faith in the world. Perhaps it is faith in anything and everything that Dickinson refers to? You can only have faith in something if you can see your vision, or your belief.
Is her message positive? I’m not so sure… She seems to think that it takes time, or some extra agency to reach this idea of “faith.” Since she says that “microscopes are prudent in an emergency,” that makes me feel as though faith takes time and patience.
By beginning with the word “Faith” in quotation marks makes me feel as though this is another literary way for Dickinson to create humor. It is as if she is laughing at “Faith” in context to religion. I find that she is laughing at it in a satirical way because it was created by “Gentlemen who see!” meaning men that are supposedly educated but have narrow-minded points of view. She is clearly commenting on the educated man, as if showing that once you are educated in religion, you become narrow-minded in what you perceive and believe, as she has emphasized on the word “see” by putting it in italics. I feel like Dickinson has absolutely no faith in religion. So if she doesn’t, does this mean she believes in science instead? Science is supposed to be seen as factual and true, as it is tangible with numbers and logic proving it all. Faith on the other hand is not tangible but solely based on feeling and readings that could be made up by other humans. I feel like there is a pro-science feel in this poem, but I still question whether Dickinson is just mocking faith or perhaps she is mocking science and faith, the two constantly debatable topics in the world. Her language and the way in which this poem is extremely short, as if the speaker felt like there was not much need to elaborate more on either to prove a point or opinion, makes me also believe she could be mocking both topics. By using the word “Microscopes” the speaker gives a perfect representation of science in general, as a microscope can look at things in more detail and therefore provide tangible evidence.
Jennifer Gage Edison
Religious Influences on Emily Dickinson:
Puritanism and Transcendentalism in Her Poetry