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Victory comes late, Analysis



Author: Poetry of Emily Dickinson Type: Poetry Views: 1812

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Victory comes late,

And is held low to freezing lips

Too rapt with frost

To take it.

How sweet it would have tasted,

Just a drop!

Was God so economical?

His table's spread too high for us

Unless we dine on tip-toe.

Crumbs fit such little mouths,

Cherries suit robins;

The eagle's golden breakfast

Strangles them.

God keeps his oath to sparrows,

Who of little love

Know how to starve!








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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

.: :.

This is about when her close friend had died from war.

| Posted on 2015-03-18 | by a guest


.: Victory Comes Late :.

This is without a doubt one of Dickinson's most obscure poems, but is one of few that directly deals with God and religion. Before even looking at the poem in any greta detail, it is vital to understand the main image used in the poem, of the 'sparrow'. In 'Matthew 10. 29', "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall to the ground without your father. The very hairs on your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows." And in 'Luke, 12.19', "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings? And not one of them is forgotten before God."

The image of the sparrow - in the biblical context - is meant to symbolise that God is mindful of "all creatures great and small". Sparrows are cheap, unimportant creatures, yet God keeps his eye on them and is not blind to any in his world. More importantly however, is the realisation that if God loves even the smallest, insignificant creature, then he deffinately loves us, humans, at the top of the chain of being. There is no proof that Dickinson was aware of this image, although it is very likely she was. It was a popular image, even used by Shakespeare in "Hamlet", who declares "there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow" (V.2.257).

So, the questions in being are - does Dickinson agree with this idea? Or, does she reject God's "oath to sparrows".

The opening line of the poem, "Victory comes late", suggests life as a struggle, a hard battle, and we only achieve victory (what we strive for in life, our aims, our rewards) when it is too late. By the time we recieve a celebratory drink, our lips of "Too rapt with frost/To take it" - there is also an image here, of a mortally wounded soldier on a battlefield, being given a drink, his head merely raised form the floor - a cup being held to his lips as his life coldly slips away. And when we do get what we wanted in life, we are unable to enjoy it, we are focussed on the forethcoming death. If we had recieved victory earlier in life then it would have tasted "sweeter" - even "Just a drop" would of been better than none at all. We do not ask for much.

"Was God so economical?" - Why was God so mean? If we lead a good life as a 'good' Christian (or any other faith), then why are we tormented so? Why has God teased us in this way?

"His table spread too high for us" - God provides for us, all the food (image of love, reward, sustainance, spiritiual nutrition) is there, but we cannot attain it, unless we "Dine on tiptoe", by which way we can never fully enjoy it, we are concentrating more on achieveent, than enjoyment.

"Crumbs fit such little mouths" - Becase God's banquet is set too high for us to reach, we only ever get the crumbs which have fallen from the table. But, are these suitable for us? We are so small and insginificant on a cosmic scale - do these crumbs satisfy us to the extend required? Perhaps we deliberately make our expectations in life modest, to avoid disappointment, but also to make life comfortable, so we can stand firmly, ratehr than balance on tiptoe to get a glipmse of the action.

"Cherries suit Robins" - both in size, and also they match in colour. This image could suggest that God only gives us what we require. Whilst the Sparrow knows "how to starve", the Robin gets by on cherries, and the Eagle (the "king of birds" - the crowned emperor" is capable of killing a small lamb - but a meal this size would strangle, choke, a creature as small as a sparrow or robin. TO quote another poem of Dickinson, God 'rises to our requirement'.

The penultimate line ("God keep His Oath to Sparrows") can be seen as a request, a prayer. Rather than "God keeps", Dickinson begs God to love the sparrow and look after it. If God is capable of this, then the rest of humanity is safe.

P Fransz. Liverpool UK.

| Posted on 2007-02-28 | by a guest




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