Emily Dickinson: ‘Earth would have been too much, I see’

Lent is when Christians step away from the world root to ourselves more firmly in the heart of God. Reading poetry is a practice that helps me shift to a quieter, deeper source. Here’s a poem by Emily Dickinson that touches on Lenten themes with her reference to “sabachthani” (“Why have you abandoned me?”) and Christ’s crucifixion. One early critic of Dickinson said that if she exhibits toward God “an Emersonian self-possession,” it is because of her unflinching and radically egalitarian candor.

XXIV
Too Much
by Emily Dickinson

I should have been too glad, I see,
Too lifted for the scant degree
Of life’s penurious round;
My little circuit would have shamed
This new circumference, have blamed
The homelier time behind.

I should have been too saved, I see,
Too rescued; fear too dim to me
That I could spell the prayer
I knew so perfect yesterday, —
That scalding one, “Sabachthani,”
Recited fluent here.

Earth would have been too much, I see,
And heaven not enough for me;
I should have had the joy
Without the fear to justify, —
The palm without the Calvary;
So, Saviour, crucify.

Defeat whets victory, they say;
The reefs in old Gethsemane
Endear the shore beyond.
‘Tis beggars banquets best define;
‘Tis thirsting vitalizes wine, —
Faith faints to understand.

For more, see Poems by Emily Dickinson

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