Emily Dickinson: ‘Our lives are Swiss – ‘

Our lives are Swiss –

So still – so Cool –

Till some odd afternoon

The Alps neglect their Curtains

And we look farther on!

Italy stands the other side!

While like a guard between –

The solemn Alps –

The siren Alps

Forever Intervene!

This poem is separated into three sentences/thoughts, each ending with an exclamation point.

1) “Our lives are Swiss – / So still – so Cool – / Till some odd afternoon / The Alps neglect their curtains / And we look farther on!”

This first exclamatory sentence tells us of the excitement of unobstructed vision. Normally our vision is hindered by something, but “curtains.”

2) Italy stands on the other side!” 

This second exclamatory sentence tells us what we can see now that our vision is clarified and without hindrance. We see Italy–which represents a warmth. It can even be taken as a representation of Eden or Paradise. Dickinson was deeply tied to the Christian faith, but her poetry shows that she had deep struggles and questions of the faith. Here we see one of her struggles as the third thought will show us.

3) “While like a guard between – / The solemn Alps – / The siren Alps / Forever intervene!”

In this final exclamatory sentence, Dickinson the poet despairs at our eternal separation from this beautiful Eden. The key word in this sentence is ‘forever.’ If we take Italy to represent Eden, why, as Christians, would we be separated form Paradise forever? Yes, Adam and Eve sinned, and we are all sinful by nature and are worthy of condemnation. BUT GOD. We are saved by grace through faith of the resurrected Christ. We are justified by his blood. We are made worthy of eternal life with God by the cross. We are not separated from Eden for forever. Here, we see Dickinson’s struggle with the faith.

Her poetry, while being short, is nothing but beautiful. It is deep and questioning at heart. It causes us to contemplate sincerely as any great poetry should.

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3 thoughts on “Emily Dickinson: ‘Our lives are Swiss – ‘

  1. Thanks for sharing Dickinson’s poem. No doubt, Helen Vendler’s commentary has helped deepen your understanding and appreciation of her poetry. You say, “We are not separated from Eden forever.” Actually, the story of the Bible gives no indication that we ever return to Eden. The story is forward moving rather than cyclical, beginning in a Garden (Eden). and ending in a City (New Jerusalem). Milton emphasizes that Paradise, as a place, is lost but it can be possessed within the human breast through loving obedience to God.

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