The Undivine Abode

Now, this is beautiful. Everyone should read Emily every day.

#751, c. 1863

My Worthiness is all my Doubt
His Merit — all my fear —
Contrasting which, my quality
Do lowlier — appear —

Lest I should insufficient prove
For His beloved Need —
The Chiefest Apprehension
Upon my thronging Mind —

‘Tis true — that Deity to stoop
Inherently incline —
For nothing higher than Itself
Itself can rest upon —

So I — the undivine abode
Of His Elect Content —
Conform my Soul — as ’twere a Church,
Unto Her Sacrament —

Today Emily is feeling small, unworthy. And afraid that whoever or whatever it is that her society, education or culture refers to as “that Deity” is too far away, too perfect, too inconceivable for one thoughtful girl to find her way toward a relationship with this Deity. The concept, if true, is too vast. There is her “thronging Mind” trying to hold it and falling away in fear.

I love it when Emily tell us how her mind works. “The Clutch of Thought” “my thronging Mind” She perfectly exposes a vision of teeming industry in that head of hers. Emily of the diamond sharp mental faculties. I see her mind as a bee hive. Her greatest asset is also her great weakness when faced with an apprehension of the divine. She admits this right up front.

As usual she leads us through her struggle and then opens a flower of new experience, and new next step in her process in the final stanza. Here she introduces a new character, her Soul. Something separate from her identity, as small Emily whose body is “the undivine abode”. The fleshy doorway for Soul does not interest the Deity. The Soul is another matter.

Emily’s vision of Soul is feminine with “Her Sacrament”. She is distinct from the masculine God and “His Merit”. Here the Soul is receptive and malleable. It may conform to meet “His beloved Need”. Little, frail bag-of-bones Emily can’t do it. But she can point to a part of herself she knows within. Her sense of Soul doesn’t come from the sky God or from old mythologies preserved in books. This Soul is Emily’s alone. She knows it by intimate association. Here is Emily’s church, where she may permit this far away God inside. Maybe.

I see this as a brave poem. She is afraid to be separated from God. But she insists in the end that if they’re going to have any kind of relationship at all, it’s going to have to be on her terms. That she can understand. These are the terms or the Sacraments that emanate from the instinctive natural part of her she grasps below thought. That feminine soul that originates within her. This soul she never doubts or questions because it is as much a part of her as the taste of her own spit. This soul is the only thing she knows for sure that makes a church of Little Emily, the meek and the mild.

Be sure to genuflect upon entering.

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