I have annotated this poem with observations on form, structure and language as well as context, tone and theme; there is analysis and interpretation.
This Emily Dickinson poem begins with a categoric statement that rebuts the view that there is nothing beyond the physical world. My personal reading of the poem’s meaning becomes clear in my annotations on the last few lines. Please do not hesitate to contact me to say why you agree/disagree – I would love to have a discussion on this poem!
text in black –– annotations in red
The Poem: The World is not Conclusion
This World is not Conclusion. The apparent omission of the determiner ‘a’ draws us to seeing the capitalised ‘Conclusion’ even more as a proper noun and thereby further develops the irony that this world is not all there is. The full stop becomes ironic in its finality!
A Species stands beyond —
Invisible, as Music — The analogy with music is a strong affirmation of Dickinson’s belief, as well as being a concise example of how it is possible to ‘intuit’ when there is no experience through our senses: music – which can be heard but not seen – is a metaphor for knowing without empirical evidence. This encapsulates the Trancendental Movement’s argument against empiricism.
But positive, as Sound —
It beckons and it baffles — the balanced, alliterated antithesis admirably suits the contradictory experience of the believer.
Philosophy — don’t know — What a humorously ungrammatical, ironic line!
And through a Riddle, at the last —
Sagacity, must go —
To guess it, puzzles scholars —
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of generations
And Crucifixion, shown —
Faith slips — and laughs, and rallies —
Blushes, if any see — Faith is presented as a feminine personification …
Plucks at a twig of Evidence — …which seeks confirmation in the insubstantial and …
And asks a Vane, the way — …through ever-changing, unreliable sources. To be analytical, note the metaphorical language of ‘twig’ and weather ‘Vane’ and the personification in ‘blushes’ and ‘plucked’
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit — Dickinson’s indisputable criticism of organised religion is evident here: gesture, not substance and …
Strong Hallelujahs roll — stirring expressions of praise and joy, instead of being a recognition of God, together become a means of persuasion, a rolling bandwagon which has its own impetus.
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth The last two lines put all into perspective. The Marquis de Sade and Marx had both previously likened religion to opium. In this extended, corporeal metaphor, Dickinson takes this idea further by referring to various human activities as being opiates that…
That nibbles at the soul — … fail to numb aching personal experience: the various opiates are enumerated in the poem as being contempt, crucifixion, organised religion, philosophy, academia and faltering faith; the suffering of personal experience gradually wears away the spiritual integrity of the soul.
My critical commentary only deals with some features of the poem. For further consideration of Emily Dickinson’s poetical style, do have a look at my Dickinson main page.
MY OTHER PAGES ON EMILY DICKINSON’S WORK
Please go to the Dickinson tab for the drop-down menu on her poems A-Z or click on the following: