What a day for Emily. I thought we were going to have a regular biscuits-and-eggs, “Hope is the Thing with Feathers”- morning. Nope. Today’s topics are love and crucifixion.
#549, c. 1862
That I did always love
I bring thee Proof
That till I loved
I never lived — Enough —
That I shall love alway —
I argue thee
That love is life —
And life hath Immortality —
This — dost thou doubt — Sweet —
Then have I
Nothing to show
But Calvary —
Emily is having an argument, either with someone else or with herself. She brings proof and arguments as if to a court of law. The integrity of her love stands in the docket. Someone doubts her heart. Emily advances an argument to this doubter with the statement that her capacity to love is a function of her ability to live, both in body and in spirit. As in earlier poems, she offers that her love (as a verb) is not something she directs or controls. It emanates out of her with the same spontaneous force as her spirit. Love exists with the same involuntary movement as Emily’s lungs drawing breath.
Let’s assume for the moment that this is a discussion between Emily and another person. We can construct the detractor’s claim. That person is asking to know how can he or she be the sole and extraordinary object of Emily’s love. The doubter has questioned whether Emily’s love is the eternal, specific and steadfast truth that she claims.
Emily’s fidelity is on trial here.
Someone has accused her of trifling with her affections. (There could only be another woman on the opposing side of this argument. They need so much reassurance, all the time.) Emily’s defense is to say: “My love is bigger than time or circumstance.” This is the classic guy-style argument that Shakespeare advances in some of his sonnets. The summary message being: “Get over it!” Emily takes it one step farther. She closes with a dramatic flourish, equating her own suffering at the feet of this doubting lover with the pain of the crucified Christ. (Shakespeare would never nail himself to the cross, I’m pretty sure.) Just to illustrate how really, truly vast and immortal is her love, she equates her love, the loss, the transcendence that comes after the excruciating passage through the abyss . . . to the Passion of Christ. No other analogy will do.
Her point in selecting this image is to underscore that either they both believe in this love or she will suffer the agonies of slow death. Not just any death, but the ultimate sacrifice, which is the voluntary death so that others may live. That’s how much she loves. For the sake of love, she is willing to die to grant life to others. That’s what she’ll do to shape her own life around the acceptance and belief in this love. There must be absolute acceptance. Nothing less than the fate of the world depends on it.
Emily can be very convincing when she wants to be.