Exultation is the going

In this poem Dickinson describes the elation in the first moments after death, when the soul leaves the parochial limits of the known for the eternal unknown.  To further understand the extent of the exultation, you might wish to refer to  ‘The Soul has Bandaged moments’, which explores the sinister restrictions that the soul endures.  My commentary and annotations , on this poem, centre on the word ‘soul’, which I feel has two strands of meaning:

(a) the colloquially emotive one for a person; and

(b) the spiritual. 

Exultation is the going

Of an inland soul to sea,     In the case of (a), Dickinson presents the overwhelming enthusiasm of the landlubber leaving for the open sea, whilst (b) is the journey of the soul after death.  

Past the houses — past the headlands —  Looking at language analysis of the vocabulary, one sees that the structural repetition of the adverb ‘past’ (a) gives a sense of being on a boat and smoothly passing recognisable landmarks, and (b) seems to refer to leaving commonplace and earthly connections.

Into deep Eternity —    (a) serves to bring the sea’s depth to mind whilst (b) enhances how the spirit’s journey is infinite.

Bred as we, among the mountains,    Particularly prosaic

Can the sailor understand    Humorously, the critical response to this rhetorical question is both yes and no!  In the (a) reading, the living seafarer would probably answer ‘no’.  However, if the ‘sailor’ in the (b) interpretation is the personification of God, the answer must be ‘yes’, because he is omniscient. 

The divine intoxication    Godlike, heavenly, unearthly connotations.

Of the first league out from land?    A league can be defined as the distance that one can see from the deck; so this is the point at which one loses sight of land.   For the (a) reading, this is an unique moment for the landlubber, whilst in the (b) reading, this is the point at which the ship’s passenger ‘shuffle[s] off the mortal coil’ (Hamlet)!  

See my Dickinson main page, for those recurring features of language, form and structure which characterise Emily Dickinson’s poetry.


Please go to the Dickinson tab for the  drop-down menu on her poems A-Z or click on the following:

Poems A-G

Poems H-J

Poems K-Z


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