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bigbuckeasyway
06-27-2007, 10:48 AM
Behind Me—dips Eternity


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Behind Me—dips Eternity—
Before Me—Immortality—
Myself—the Term between—
Death but the Drift of Eastern Gray,
Dissolving into Dawn away,
Before the West begin—

'Tis Kingdoms—afterward—they say—
In perfect—pauseless Monarchy—
Whose Prince—is Son of None—
Himself—His Dateless Dynasty—
Himself—Himself diversify—
In Duplicate divine—

'Tis Miracle before Me—then—
'Tis Miracle behind—between—
A Crescent in the Sea—
With Midnight to the North of Her—
And Midnight to the South of Her—
And Maelstrom—in the Sky—

Emily Dickinson

bigbuckeasyway
06-27-2007, 11:01 AM
This is another death poem that I have difficulty understanding. I guess in the first stanza, "me" refers to death. I do not understand the last line in the first stanza "Before the West begin--" . What does "the West" mean?

the second stanza is more difficult. what is she talking about?

In the third stanza, I am inclined to guess that "me" refers to death and "Miracle" refers to eternity or imortality. The image "a crescent in the Sea" also refers to death. Then waht does "Maelstrom" mean? does it also mean death?

In short, generally speaking, I know it is about death, but what on earth does each line mean? Can any one help me to break it down line by line?

bigbuckeasyway
06-29-2007, 10:24 PM
I am inclined to think that this poem is the reflection of death himself. There are three heroes in this poem: death, eternity, and imorality. Death first introduce himself and goes on to tell us something about eternity and imortality. death is `transient, while eternity and imortality are dateless dynasty. Two images are difficult to understand: A Crescent in the Sea—, and And Maelstrom—in the Sky— .

I guess these two images are all images of death.

BecomingBeth
12-31-2007, 04:50 PM
Perhaps an unusual topic for one of her poems, but Jesus Christ might fit all the lines. The fist stanza entirely, and then the second with the "Kingdom of Heaven" perhaps. And a Prince who was "Son to none" and instead "In Dulicate divine" would perhaps refer to Jesus consubstantiation -- that he and God were one in existence, the Son not born of man.

Emily herself said that she sometimes wished there was no immortality because it would be nice to cease to exist. That indicates that she believed, and it also encourages me to believe that she might consider the arch of her own immortality as having a certain parallelism with that of Jesus's (since it her belief would likely be that immortality is through belief in him). She often pondered the nature of human existence, thought of herself as having spiritual immortality, and perhaps explored the source of that immortality.

BecomingBeth
12-31-2007, 04:51 PM
Perhaps an unusual topic for one of her poems, but Jesus Christ might fit all the lines. The fist stanza entirely, and then the second with the "Kingdom of Heaven" perhaps. And a Prince who was "Son to none" and instead "In Dulicate divine" would perhaps refer to Jesus's consubstantiation -- that he and God were one in existence, the Son not born of man.

Emily herself said that she sometimes wished there was no immortality because it would be nice to cease to exist. That indicates that she believed, and it also encourages me to believe that she might consider the arch of her own immortality as having a certain parallelism with that of Jesus's (since it her belief would likely be that immortality is through belief in him). She often pondered the nature of human existence, thought of herself as having spiritual immortality, and perhaps explored the source of that immortality.

Christina Luk
03-04-2015, 03:26 PM
While I agree with the posts above in that the poem refers to both death and Jesus Christ, I would put forth a different candidate for the actual subject, which is the self. When Dickinson begins the poem "Behind Me - dips Eternity," she speaks in the first person. This may be Dickinson the poet or it may be a poetic persona, in either case what stands out is that the speaker lives in but a brief flash between Eternity and Immortality, and Death is "but the Drift of Eastern Gray" that dissolves away with "Dawn." To sum up the first stanza then: I live between eternity, which stretches into the past behind me, and immortality, which stretches into the future in front of me. If life can be thought of as having just the span of a single night in comparison to the infinite expanse of time, then dying must be like the night skies fading with the first lights of dawn.

To answer the question, what does "the West" mean? I believe "the West" marks the boundary of mortality and self-hood. To oversimplify a tad: the meeting of West and East in the moment of Dawn represents the meeting of mortality and immortality in the moment of Death.

The second stanza moves on to describe "Kingdoms - afterward," which, when we consider the end of the first stanza, probably means "Kingdoms [after death]." In context with the rest of the poem, however, the plurality of "Kingdoms" can be understood to mean that God rules both Eternity and Immortality, though the emphasis of the poem is not so much on God as it is on the self that exists between the two. As for the "Prince," it is, as as BecomingBeth said, likely a reference to Jesus Christ, who joins with God "In Duplicate Divine," to form presumably the Holy Trinity. I would argue for this interpretation rather than for one that stresses Jesus's consubstantiation, if only on grammatical grounds, the subject of the second stanza being God, whose son is Jesus, who himself (returning to the original subject) is Divine. But this, of course, is up for debate and interpretation.

In light of the second stanza, the "Miracle[s]" before and behind the speaker are the two Kingdoms of God. Between the two, "A Crescent in the Sea-"! This is a beautiful line that serves to describe the predicament of the self or the speaker. For me, two interpretations jump out upon first reading. The first is that the "Crescent in the Sea" is the reflection of a crescent moon, since the word as such strong lunar associations. The second is that it refers to the crescent shape of a wave, and I mean not just the form of a wave as it curls inward, but the space between two waves that happens to catch light and reflect a crescent shape. The genius of this line, the real poetic genius of it, is that both interpretations are concurrently plausible. What's to stop it from meaning a wave that catches the reflection of the moon? Framed this way, you may think of the wave as a physical body, a mortal coil if you will, which houses the immortal soul that stands apart and above the turmoils of life as the moon stands apart from the sea, affecting but never being affected. But during life, during the night, the soul is caught in the waves and battered by the "Maelstrom—in the Sky," which is itself an interesting image because it could mean pandemonium, disorder, but also, literally, whirlpool. Within the conceit of the poem, "Maelstrom" may represent adversity, confusion or chaos that cannot be overcome but only weathered. The sheer scope of this Maelstrom is given by North and South, suggesting that while life is short (bounded east-west) the troubles you face in life are infinite (north-south). However, the speaker is not defeated; rather than diminishing her, the enormity of chaos, eternity and immortality serves instead to underscore the strength and integrity of the speaker, who may be small and insignificant, but who is also brilliantly alive.