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Emily Dickinson's "The Soul's Superior instants"

Emily Dickinson's poems remain a vital part of my poet worldview. They dramatize the human spirit via deep attention to life's details.

Emily Dickinson - age 17

Emily Dickinson - age 17

Introduction and Text of "The Soul's Superior instants"

The speaker in Emily Dickinson’s "The Soul’s Superior instants" makes the singular claim that the soul’s most important moments come in snippets of solitude when the Great Creator lifts that soul to exalted heights, giving it assurance that it is immortal and will continue to exist throughout eternity.

Dickinson’s special focus on immortality informed many of her poem. The final word in the final line in this poem will likely bring to mind the final line and word from the first stanza her poem, "Because I could not stop for Death": "The Carriage held but just Ourselves – / And Immortality."

In both instances, the quality of the abstract term, "immortality," has become tangible, becoming an entity capable of riding in carriage in "Because I could not stop for Death," and transforming into a "Colossal substance" in "The Soul’s Superior instants." These transformations demonstrate the definite reality of the term for the poet’s speakers in both poems.

With her habitual employment of minimalism, Emily Dickinson has crafted her mystic missive, "The Soul's Superior instants," in four slim quatrains, with her customary slant rimes, halting dashes, and non-traditional capitalization and punctuation.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The Soul's Superior instants

The Soul's Superior instants
Occur to Her – alone –
When friend – and Earth's occasion
Have infinite withdrawn –

Or She – Herself – ascended
To too remote a Height
For lower Recognition
Than Her Omnipotent –

This Mortal Abolition
Is seldom – but as fair
As Apparition – subject
To Autocratic Air –

Eternity's disclosure
To favorites – a few –
Of the Colossal substance
Of Immortality

Commentary

Emily Dickinson’s "The Soul's Superior instants" adds another report to her garden of spiritual verse from the mystical world to assure the earth-bound soul that it is an everlasting, everliving being. This one bit of spiritual knowledge gave this poet special strength that motivated her to explore that issue in many of her poems.

First Stanza: The Soul Alone

The Soul's Superior instants
Occur to Her – alone –
When friend – and Earth's occasion
Have infinite withdrawn –

The speaker observes that as the soul is enjoying one of its most joyful "instants," it does so "alone." All friends have departed from the individual, and she is free to go inward, to experience the bliss that only inner peace and stillness can afford.

It is widely known that Emily Dickinson lived a reclusive life. And although she and her family did entertain often a variety of guests, the poet would make her withdrawal from social events the center of her life.

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Dickinson did not live in anticipation of entertaining guests; she lived for the mystical experiences she was able to encounter in the solitude of her own inner world.

Second Stanza: In the Presence of the All-Powerful

Or She – Herself – ascended
To too remote a Height
For lower Recognition
Than Her Omnipotent –

The speaker then reveals that the soul, "She," in her awareness rises so far to a height, above which nothing exists except for the Divine Omnipotent Reality. She remains a "lower Recognition" only to that Exalted Omnipresence. The speaker capitalizes the pronouns, "She" and "Herself" to indicated their Divine Nature.

The speaker is reporting the events that occur to her Soul—the Divine Spark—that makes up the life and substance of her inner being. She is capable of transcending all sense awareness while in this state of being, as she connects her consciousness with her inner Divine Awareness.

Third Stanza: Quiet Senses Heralding the Light

This Mortal Abolition
Is seldom – but as fair
As Apparition – subject
To Autocratic Air –

The annihilation of her "Mortal" being including sense awareness does not occur often. This occurrence happens somewhat like an "Apparition" appearing to an especially in tune mind. The occurrence depends upon "Autocratic Air."

That specific, rarefied "air" appears to engage out of nowhere, as if the very "Air" itself were calling itself into being. Thus, the air itself becomes a metaphorical description for the nature of Divinity—unseen, unheard, but commanding power and directing events imperceptibly but with definite purpose.

Fourth Stanza: The Blessing of Eternal Life

Eternity's disclosure
To favorites – a few –
Of the Colossal substance
Of Immortality

The speaker then reports that those rare, divine occurrences are similar to missives sent by "Eternity." It is from Eternity that the "disclosure" of certain ideas come. And the most important disclosure that this speaker has received is that "Immortality" is real, final, and is, in fact, "the Colossal substance."

Because of experiencing the deaths of many of her friends and loved ones, Emily Dickinson became centrally focused on the issue of immortality. Her intuition told her that even though the physical body dies, there must be some vestige of being that does not die. She invested her life to trying to find out if those leanings were true.

Every time a friend or relative of Dickinson was dying, she pressed them to find out what they were experiencing as their soul leaving the body drew near. As Emily’s little nephew, Gilbert, at only eight years old lay dying, he cried out, "Open the Door, open the Door, they are waiting for me!" About that event, Aunt Emily, in her letter #873 to Elizabeth Holland, has asked, "Who are waiting for him, all we possess we would give to know?"

Emily would certainly have given all she "possess[ed]" to know what little Gilbert saw. But still even tough she could not divine what that might have been, she knew it was something beyond the physical, material, earthly level of being. And that knowledge guided her life and her life’s work of creating her little poetic dramas that acted as repositories for her insight into her mystical observations and studies.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Linda Sue Grimes

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