Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The sublime ambush in Dickinson's "I know that He exists."

In his discussion of Emily Dickinson's "I know that He exists" (365), Gary Grieve-Carlson summarizes other interpretations in contrast with his own. Yet all these interpretations share what seems to me to be a misreading of an image in the second stanza: while they see God ambushing the speaker, I see the speaker ambushing God. Before reading Grieve-Carlson's interpretation, I already understood this as an example of the trope of hidden truths that seekers only unveil at great cost, as in Friedrich Schiller's "Das verschleierte Bild zu Sais". Dickinson's speaker knows a hidden God exists; the figure of the terrifying sublime captures the danger of "ambushing" Him with "our gross eyes". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 April)

365 I know that He exists.
Emily Dickinson

I know that He exists.
Somewhere — in Silence —
He has hid his rare life
From our gross eyes.

'Tis an instant's play.
'Tis a fond Ambush —
Just to make Bliss
Earn her own surprise!

But — should the play
Prove piercing earnest —
Should the glee — glaze —
In Death's — stiff — stare —

Would not the fun
Look too expensive!
Would not the jest —
Have crawled too far!

No comments: