CU 01

Emily Dickenson’s poem #670 (my source)


One need not be a Chamber — to be Haunted —
One need not be a House —
The Brain has Corridors — surpassing
Material Place —


Far safer, of a Midnight Meeting
External Ghost
Than its interior Confronting —
That Cooler Host.


Far safer, through an Abbey gallop,
The Stones a’chase —
Than Unarmed, one’s a’self encounter —
In lonesome Place —


Ourself behind ourself, concealed —
Should startle most —
Assassin hid in our Apartment
Be Horror’s least.


The Body — borrows a Revolver —
He bolts the Door —
O’erlooking a superior spectre —
Or More —

A later version, with excruciating differences:


One need not be a chamber to be haunted,

One need not be a house;

The brain has corridors surpassing

Material place.


Far safer, of a midnight meeting

External ghost,

Than an interior confronting

That whiter host.


Far safer through an Abbey gallop,

The stones achase,

Than, moonless, one’s own self encounter

In lonesome place.


Ourself, behind ourself concealed,

Should startle most;

Assassin, hid in our apartment,

Be horror’s least.


The prudent carries a revolver,

He bolts the door,

O’erlooking a superior spectre

More near. 



The Extent of the Flesh                 Rick Stephens



Known only as Poem 670, this work of Emily Dickenson’s is worth more insight than its flat title might indicate…There are indeed many “Corridors – surpassing” in the human soul.  The deep and even ominous innards of humanity are all in the brain.  But that is a large step for one poetess to make, is the author’s reputation up to it?  I would surely hope so.  She is quite famous for these ventures beyond the boundary of what most can accept; this particular poem is no different.  It carries much more than its name weight in esoteric philosophy.  From the very beginning, it can be found that death is not only a two way door, but a secret passageway into the ego of a man. 

There is a link with death here that is more than a craft of words, and that throughout the poem, many such examples of morbidity draw this conclusion.  It is quite bizarre that such a concept should present itself.  It could very well be a guilty conscience that is what haunt’s a person, with murder weighing heavily one one’s mind; yet so much says that this is just a tiny fraction of the terror.  But, it has been said, that life on this earth is merely a shade of death: the eventual progression through this invisible door is not avoidable.  Another analogy is that these “Corridors” are likened in a rat maze, where men scramble to find an exit, to find answers to these random questions of our existence, yet all pathways are a dead end.  Dickenson perhaps takes the position that death is not in its own, an answer, that even the soul cannot discover the formula for truth.  Furthermore if the souls never truly leave, then, even in the vastest of labyrinths, there will be some encounters that defy expectation, and yes, therefore, reality.

So much is left out of this basic, if not grand, hypothesis.  This madrigal is the form of fear, in assassins, ghouls, and even perhaps a hint of vampires (“through an Abbey gallop,” [9] it speaks of fleeing to a church for protection).  The constant theme of fear is well put, for all things of which they speak are beyond your control: assassins, ghosts, vampires, and most importantly, your mind.  The brain processes all figures and forms indiscriminately, all as outside sources, very little is actually cognizant.    The truth that has been revealed is what may come to the surface as one becomes more aware of what the brain really sees. That is the true horror among horrors!

Now, a feature about Dickenson’s poems is that they can take so many different forms, some obvious, mundane, some ludicrous, far fetched.  Dickenson herself, in all probability, realized this the most.  And if there were to be comparisons, or a contrast, between all these theories, it would be much more apparent the objective of any particular poem.  A daunting undertaking indeed, seeing as Dickenson’s personal life (the only solid evidence for study, principally) is not very accurately remarked. Given that this poem centers on the mind, it can be stated with some conviction that all of this exercise is for naught.  “O’erlooking a superior spectre—\ Or More—” (19-20), what is this specter?  It could be understood as the fundamental hopelessness of understanding, the emptiness of the universe, the darker lines in the human figure, and our ghastly compulsions? 

All of this fear comes from the evil borne from the source of man’s psychological fear: of being out of control, of not possessing control over the world.  It is a very important consideration, for “far safer” is a phrase that denotes the level of ability to maintain status quo, despite how it is used in much more monotonous language. Whether or not these are real problems is not the focus, but rather that they are manifestations of extremely dangerous and uncontrollable entities.  But man is not different than these imagined beasts, for here Dickenson is constantly pointing to the depths of the human mind for the source and power of these creatures.  Could she be merely speaking of the more acutely effected persons, those who suffer extreme paranoia, psychosis, or the like?  The constant flux of rhythm in the poem could be a slight tip off to the fact that this is not entirely the case, and that many less suspicious citizens are close to this sphere of dark influences as well.  There is overall, less of the actual poem’s content in the even syllable lines, and if considered, are told as a short description of a poor, homeless person.  Not a story of supernatural implicitness, but neither is a short tale of a guilt ridden crook, killed in his apartment, which is the other half of this poem, contained in the odd syllable lines.  It is so very interesting that both of these people are in such terrible circumstances, and both are just as likely to be completely forgotten, but their misery is not a singular phenomenon.  Dickens states that this sorrow is in everyone, the spirit of sorrow lurking in the psyche. Yes, again it must be understood that these demon’s, whether real or imagined, are just the focal points of the cold empty shell of humanity that is on this earth.  

As was mentioned before Dickenson uses such drastic ways to make aware some important features, thus making the sporadic highlighting of different nouns is quite a tricky aspect to analyze.  However, nouns are not the only words to be capitalized in a randomized fashion (of which there are twenty-two); there are four adjectives and one verb which are capitalized.  Two more adjectives which are used to begin a line and thus are automatically capitalized are not included, the obvious enjambment of these two lines is sufficient to consider them (Material Place/External Ghost [4/6]).  All the time it stands out, but these words are really nothing but distraction.  They do not imply more than what they are.  Regardless of their symbolic value, it is used to give this ethereal poem some physical aspects and to tie it down to this reality which has been largely popularized and accepted.  But, in doing so, makes these two competing philosophies even more similar.  By likening this reality to an unsolvable puzzle, the only direction the argument can take is one of futility, of utter fear of any hope or security, a much popularized ideology in today’s society.  The simple variation in the Rhyme scheme indicated the importance of the first and fourth stanzas, both speaking of the intrinsic alter ego in people, one which is impossible to remove, a bane to sanity.  That which is a spirit of depravity; this is an idea that many persons entertained in that time period, shortly after the Civil War in America, when death and chaos were far spread still. 

Did she consider that this uncertain time would eventually return to the tragedy of this epic and bloody period in our countries history; the bottom line question in regards to Dickenson’s writing in a future context.  That is what is indeed in between the lines, but the assumption is postulated upon the existence of unwritten lines, a whole previous stanza, which is omitted.  The poem follows the characters immediate revelation instead.  The only evidence to present is the abruptness of the poem’s contents in more clear tones, coupled with the existence of an off rhyme in those two highlighted stanzas.  If one were to produce a first stanza, which was not to  actually written, but implied, which was rhymed in a-b-c-b, then two pairs of three stanzas would fit together.  The poem has such a good flow from the nothingness and into the unwritten future– recall the ending hyphen – that this seems to be appropriate.  And if this flow continues in a way suggested by this radical theory, then nothing constrains it to only one period of time.  The history up to that point is the first stanza, and the hyphen in the last line creates a starting place for the future.  

Death, the one thing which ends all other ends, and birth, which begins all beginnings, is dogmatic theology challenged by this elegant, if not disturbing, poetry.  It puts the entire existence of humanity in each person.  This prevents the destruction of that system of thought, and furthermore promotes the timelessness of mortality.  Ironic, even paradoxical, but the moments in life are the moments to be remembered for eternity.  The vastness of such a concept is what haunts the minds of men, but it is quite a fitting place for it, the abode all these identities are stockpiled within.  Death in that labyrinth only pushes you into its depths, not removing you forever from the living.  Thus we are in the flesh, a constituted identity of the past and the future, and the brain is the core of that ever elusive concept ‘self’.

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