Finite Infinity

Finite Infinity

I’ve been having trouble sleeping lately.  It is so frustrating to be tired, so tired and not be able to let go of being awake.  I often get up because after a while lying there tossing and turning and thrashing around makes no sense.

Sometimes I do a crossword.  Sometimes I eat a small snack (or a big one).  Sometimes I read a book.  Sometimes I write.  I try not to use the computer or TV, but sometimes I do that, too.

Recently during one of these sleepless nights, I grabbed a book of poetry by Emily Dickinson.  I’m familiar with many of her poems, but had not read this particular book all the way through. The book is in three sections:  The Poet’s Art, The Works of Love, and Death and Resurrection. I’m pretty sure it was a Thrift Shop find and that it has been on my bedside bookshelf for quite a while.

I found several poems that spoke to me.

As I read, I found many poems that were new to me.  Or maybe I found poems that were new to my heart.

I’m not a Dickinson scholar.  I’m not even a poet (though I may write poetry from time to time), but it seems to me that she struggles quite a bit with issues of faith and eternity.  She seems to be asking if it (heaven, life after death, grace) is real and if it IS real, then how does one wrap one’s mind around the concept of infinity?  Of infinite life and of infinite grace?

Sea of Tranquility
Sea of Tranquility (Photo credit: Storm Crypt)

There is a solitude of space
A solitude of sea
A solitude of death, but these
Society shall be
Compared with that profounder site
That polar privacy
A soul admitted to itself –
Finite infinity.

I love the alliteration of solitude of space and solitude of sea.  I think it makes the word “death” seem more abrupt because our ear might be expecting to hear the word silence (or some similar word).  And what does she mean about polar privacy?  Is it cold and barren?  Or is it diametric opposition between a soul and itself?  We are left with finite infinity.  (Talk about diametric opposition!)


Early summer morning

One Joy of so much anguish
Sweet nature has for me
I shun it as I do Despair
Or dear iniquity –
Why Birds, a Summer morning
Before the Quick of Day
Should stab my ravished spirit
With Dirks of Melody
Is part of an inquiry
That will receive reply
When Flesh and Spirit sunder
In Death’s Immediately –

I’ve tried to write about Joy before.  Several times, in fact.  I have tried write about the feeling of Joy that feels sharp and cutting. ( and  It seems to me that Emily came to the conclusion that we’ll find out on the other side of Death — when Flesh and Spirit sunder. Her words convey her confidence that there IS an afterlife.

Iconic Two Trees, Ventura California

That it will never come again
Is what makes life so sweet.
Believing what we don’t believe
Does not exhilarate.
That if it be, it be at best
An ablative estate –
This instigates an appetite
Precisely opposite.

I admit I had to look up the word “ablative.”  I thought it meant empty or blank.  I was wrong.  It indicates separation from something, separation away from its source.  In this poem, I hear some doubt about what happens after death:  believing what we don’t believe.  This sounds to me that Emily is wrestling with the unbelief.  Emily was the original YOLO person!  If you only have one life every precious second is sweet.  You never know what really happens after you die, so enjoy LIFE.

Dust storm over Kuwait and Southern Iraq, Apri...
Dust storm over Kuwait and Southern Iraq, April 16, 2003 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Death is a Dialogue between
The Spirit and the Dust.
“Dissolve” says Death – the Spirit “Sir
I have another Trust” –

Death doubts it – Argues from the Ground –
The spirit turns away
Just laying off for evidence
An Overcoat of Clay.

In this poem, Emily seems to me to again be standing firmly on the side of Spirit and belief.  This dialogue between Death and Spirit ends with Spirit discarding the Overcoat of Clay.  So there, Spirit says: I’m living on!

English: Weather Vane Beautiful weather vane o...
English: Weather Vane Beautiful weather vane on Low Hall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond—
Invisible, as Music –
But positive, as Sound –
It beckons, and it baffles –
Philosophy – don’t know –
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 –
Plucks at a twig of Evidence –
And asks a Vane, the way –
Strong Hallelujahs roll –
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul –

In this poem Emily seems full of doubt again.  The last two lines “Narcotics cannot still the Tooth That nibbles at the soul –” leaves huge question marks hanging in the air.  She also says “Faith slips—and laughs, and rallies –
Blushes, if any see –” which to me sounds like she is afraid to admit her doubts to herself or to anyone else.  She seems to be consoling herself (and us) that even though philosophers, scholars and generations of people have asked these questions there is scanty evidence for the leap of faith.  I hear hints of her faith in this poem, too, though:  the Species standing beyond Invisible as Music, positive as Sound, Strong Hallelujahs rolling, asking the way — all of these convey to me a sense of hope and of belief.

English: Organ pipes (Bass (8') - Pedal) Itali...
English: Organ pipes (Bass (8′) – Pedal)  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Forever – is composed of Nows –
‘Tis not a different time –
Except for Infiniteness –
And Latitude of Home –

From this—experienced Here –
Remove the Dates – to These –
Let Months dissolve in further Months –
And Years – exhale in Years –

Without Debate – or Pause –
Or Celebrated Days –
No different Our Years would be
From Anno Domini’s –

This poem is a valiant attempt to describe infinity.  More than valiant.  I think she describes it superbly.  This is why we are still reading and discussing and loving Emily Dickinson’s words nearly 130 years after her death.  I love the idea that Forever is composed of Nows.  It isn’t all that different from what we know, except for its infiniteness.  Months dissolve, years exhale and it all goes on forever.  

more ilica waves201
As if the Sea should part
And show a further Sea –
And that – a further – and the Three
But a presumption be –

Of Periods of Seas –
Unvisited of Shores –
Themselves the Verge of Seas to be –
Eternity—is Those—

Again, she paints us an amazingly detailed and mind boggling picture of eternity using just a few words and images.  Seas inside of seas inside of seas and seas with no shores themselves the Verge of Seas — and thus, Emily helps us get a glimpse of Eternity.  

God Bless Emily Dickinson.  I pray that she is at peace and has all her doubts and questions answered and that Infinity is now her reality.


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I am a pianist, musician, music teacher, choir director, mother, wife, daughter, sister, cousin, sister-in-law, friend, neighbor. I enjoy music (of course!), quilting, sewing, beading, traveling, kayaking, camping, biking, hiking, gardening, knitting, scrapbooking, cooking, reading, poetry, drinking good coffee, and having fun with family and friends. NOTE -- Creative Commons License: All work of The Tromp Queen (quirkyjazz, aka Jill) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 Unported License.

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