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Safe in their alabaster chambers, Analysis

Author: Poetry of Emily Dickinson Type: Poetry Views: 1321

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Safe in their alabaster chambers,

Untouched by morning and untouched by noon,

Sleep the meek members of the resurrection,

Rafter of satin, and roof of stone.

Light laughs the breeze in her castle of sunshine;

Babbles the bee in a stolid ear;

Pipe the sweet birds in ignorant cadences, --

Ah, what sagacity perished here!

Grand go the years in the crescent above them;

Worlds scoop their arcs, and firmaments row,

Diadems drop and Doges surrender,

Soundless as dots on a disk of snow.


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

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Dots on a disc of snow is a very literal observation. When snow falls, the impurities in the air mix with the flakes. The encased black dots, surrounded by whiteness, settle to earth everywhere. In this case the circle of a birdbath could easily be the reason for the disc form. We go from the unthinkably huge rounds of years in a crescent, worlds in arcs and firmaments rowing, to the circle of the Diadems dropping, and end on the prosaic silent dots on the disc of snow in the garden birdbath. It moves from the grand to the prosaic.
The poet made these juxtapositions in the previous two verses as well, because the sleeping who wait for resurrection are surrounded by the completely still and dead cloth and stone. The next verse shows what is taking place outside--nature's movement, breezes and bees and birds, the motions and sounds of life.
Then the third verse expands to the largest motions of passing time, before collapsing back to the most prestigious humans having to surrender to silence, the stillness which is death, and which is always here even in these humble dots.
The last line is not such a puzzle. It is a summation that focuses her sweep down to a point. In the end, we are like those dots, those specks, and are silent.
Shethra Jones-Hoopes

| Posted on 2010-02-04 | by a guest

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The primary reason for Emily's choice of the word "safe" is to express how "unsafe" she feels life to be. Along with the rest of the poem, this word directs us to the uncertainty and constant change which surrounds the living, while the whole question of whether our consciousness survives death is only suggested or affirmed by the words "sleep the meek members of the resurrection" (to eternal life) which simply echoe the words of a Christian priest during a funeral service. One can see the image of a melancholic recluse looking out of her window at nature, rather than a poet Elizabeth Barret Browning or even Allen Ginsberg (for example) unafraid to get into human relationships and write about them!

| Posted on 2010-01-07 | by a guest

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the poem talks about how drad people are safe from every thing (outside) becase they are in chamber specialy good christian also safe from voices (firmaments) its nothing fot them like asnow voice

| Posted on 2009-11-07 | by a guest

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The last line of the poem can only mean that all of these things ("Grand go the years in the crescent above them; Worlds scoop their arcs, and firmaments row, Diadems drop and Doges surrender) are all but "a dot on a disk of snow". Its symbolism showing that of all these things, in time, are nothing but a dot on the disk of snow, that is Time. everything is such a small speck on the face of Time, that everything will come to pass and in the grand scheme of things nothing is really that important that would stand out above all the rest.

| Posted on 2009-04-15 | by a guest

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"Soundless as dots on a disk of snow." Refers to the deeds and utterances of those involved in worldly politics? These are worthless under the scooping arcs of the universe. Dots on discs of snow are like messages written in sand on a beach.

| Posted on 2008-12-18 | by a guest

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"members of the resurrection" I think refers to those who will rise. The resurrection not yet occurring, but being members they intend to.
I don't think words like "stolid" or "alabaster" are meant to imply nothingness. Used in context with the word sleep, it reminds me of a coma. To me it just seems a peaceful wait. A rest before a big event. And nothing, but God could wake them from that well-earned rest. Sort of like falling asleep after a long day.

| Posted on 2008-10-24 | by a guest

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The last lines suggest the soundless (read insignificant) passing of the diadems and doges. The insignificance of individual snowflakes in the grand scheme of a blizzard.

| Posted on 2008-10-23 | by a guest

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This poem is ironic, starting with the first line. In what sense or way are the dead "safe"? Is this the way you would like to be safe? "Alabaster" has two meanings; alabaster is expensive and beautiful; it is also cold and unfeeling. "Chambers" begins the metaphor of the tomb being a home and the dead being asleep; the satin "rafter" lines the coffin lid, and the tomb is stone. If the sleepers are "members of the resurrection," why are they still sleeping or buried in the ground? why are they not risen? Why does time ("morning" and "noon") pass them by? The terms "resurrection" and "meek" call up the promises of Christ that the meek would inherit the earth and enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Stanza two describes the indifference of nature to the dead; it is spring or summer, whose rebirth or fulfillment contrasts with the isolated dead. They do not hear the joyful sounds of nature, for their ears are "stolid" (stolid: unemotional, unresponsive). The birds are ignorant in that they know nothing of the dead. The gifts and accomplishment of the dead are buried too; does this suggest that these gifts and accomplishments are ultimately meaningless? Why does Dickinson use the word "perished"?

It is possible that Dickinson, raised in the Puritan tradition, also has in mind the idea that God's will can be seen in the working of nature. The Puritans saw in every fact of nature the working of God's law; every physical happening paralleled and revealed a spiritual law. If Dickinson was thinking of nature symbolically for signs of God's will and presence, then nature's indifference reveals God's indifference; the references to nature become even more ironic in that case.

The last stanza portrays the "grand" passage of time and the movements of the universe ("world" and "firmaments"). Human history undergoes revolutions: kings lose their "diadems" or crowns; doges, the former rulers of Venice, lose wars. Humanity is indifferent to the dead. They have no effect on or relationship to life in this world, just as they have none to an eternal one. They sleep on; there has been no resurrection. Christ's promise is false.

The last line is baffling, "Soundless as dots on a disk of snow." Frankly, I don't know what it means, nor have any explanations I've heard or read convinced me. This line has received a considerable amount of attention. I do find the image somehow moving and effective and am willing to join those critics who say that it speaks to us at a non-linguistic level. So I leave you to puzzle out a meaning--or not--for this line.

| Posted on 2004-11-15 | by Approved Guest

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