Emily Dickinson or The Smoldering Fire of Passion

I taste a liquor never brewed —

From Tankards scooped in Pearl —

Not all the Vats upon the Rhine

Yield such an Alcohol!


Inebriate of Air — am I —

And Debauchee of Dew —

Reeling — thro endless summer days —

From inns of Molten Blue —


When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee

Out of the Foxglove’s door —

When Butterflies — renounce their “drams” —

I shall but drink the more!


Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats —

And Saints — to windows run —

To see the little Tippler

Leaning against the — Sun —


Emily Dickinson seems to use this poem to tell a “story” about the joys of earthly delights. The “liquor never brewed” that she tastes represents, maybe, a state of euphoria, a mystical state even, in which she lets herself enter to experience the full beatitude of breathing (“Inebriate of Air — am I -“), touching (“Debauchee of Dew -“), tasting (the honey of the “drunken Bee”) – living.

These very passionate feelings about the “material” joys of life can be somewhat unexpected when reading Emily Dickinson, who in her last years, reportedly, never even left her room. Considering other poems that she authored and considering her recluse life, one can expect an ode to the joys of the “spiritual” life, the life of the mind. Here, instead, we find reverberations of a mystical William Blake, reminding us of his visions and ecstatic states. This four-stanza poem is almost a pantheistic ode to a glorious, all-embracing nature that can inebriate our senses.

Dickinson’s independence, her rebellion against conformity, her lust for life can never be stopped, nor “cured” by anything. She will continue on “drinking” even after “Seraphs swing their snowy Hats — / And Saints — to windows run -.” She will continue to love life until the day she is no more.

The punctuation used here is unusual (a characteristic of dickinsonian poems). There are no periods, no commas, no semicolons, in short, no sign that would actually stop or pause the phrase – except for two exclamation marks. This shows the openness of the poem, the dashes giving it an open ending, and a possible continuation outside the boundaries of words. The two exclamation marks suggest to the reader the state of excitement the poet is experiencing. There is no doubt in her words, no pain, no sorrow, and no regret. Only pure, unapologetic, passionate love.

Emily Dickinson may not be as exuberant as Walt Whitman, but here, even the well-thought, condensed, and tight stanzas cannot hide her enormous passion for life. Just like the smoldering ashes cannot hide completely the deep fire burning quietly underneath them.

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