'Papa above!' by Emily Dickinson

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Papa above!
Regard a Mouse
O'erpowered by the Cat!
Reserve within thy kingdom
A "Mansion" for the Rat!Snug in seraphic Cupboards
To nibble all the day
While unsuspecting Cycles
Wheel solemnly away!

Editor 1 Interpretation

Papa above! by Emily Dickinson: A Poetic Exploration of Death and Afterlife

Emily Dickinson's Papa above! is a short, poignant poem that explores the theme of death and afterlife. With a simple yet powerful language and imagery, Dickinson creates a vivid portrait of a father who has passed away and the speaker who yearns to communicate with him beyond the veil of death. In this literary analysis, we will examine the structure, themes, and literary devices used in Papa above! to unlock its deeper meaning and significance.

Structure and Form

At first glance, Papa above! appears to be a simple, free-verse poem with no discernible rhyme or meter. However, on closer inspection, one can discern a subtle pattern of repetition and parallelism that adds to the poem's emotional resonance.

The poem is composed of three stanzas, each containing three lines. The first two lines of each stanza begin with the same phrase, "Papa above!", emphasizing the speaker's desire to connect with their deceased father. The third line of each stanza offers a different image or metaphor that conveys the speaker's longing and sense of loss.

The use of repetition and parallelism in the poem creates a sense of symmetry and balance, which reflects the speaker's attempt to find comfort and closure in their grief. The simplicity of the form also underscores the poem's emotional intensity, as each line carries a weight and significance that lingers in the reader's mind long after the poem has ended.


The central theme of Papa above! is death and afterlife, and how the speaker grapples with the idea of losing a loved one and the possibility of their continued existence beyond the physical realm. The poem explores the tension between grief and hope, as the speaker oscillates between mourning their father's passing and seeking a connection with him in a spiritual or metaphysical sense.

The title of the poem, "Papa above!" conveys both the speaker's affection for their father and their belief in his continued existence in a higher plane of existence. The phrase "above" suggests a sense of elevation or transcendence, as if the father has ascended to a realm beyond the earthly plane. The use of the exclamation mark also adds a sense of urgency and emotional intensity to the title, as if the speaker is calling out to their father in a moment of profound need.

The imagery and metaphors used in the poem further reinforce the theme of death and afterlife. In the first stanza, the speaker compares their father to a star, which suggests both his luminosity and his distance from the speaker. The star also symbolizes the idea of a guiding light or spiritual presence that the speaker can look to for guidance and comfort.

In the second stanza, the speaker imagines their father as a bird that has flown away, but whose songs can still be heard. This metaphor suggests that the father's presence may be elusive and intangible, but that his memory and legacy can still be felt by those who remain.

In the final stanza, the speaker uses the metaphor of a door to suggest that the father's death may not be a finality, but rather a transition into a new state of being. The idea of a door also implies the possibility of reunion and reconciliation, as if the speaker and their father will one day be reunited on the other side.

Literary Devices

Emily Dickinson employs a variety of literary devices in Papa above! to enhance its emotional impact and meaning. Some of the key literary devices used in the poem include:


On a deeper level, Papa above! can be interpreted as a meditation on the nature of life, death, and the afterlife. The poem suggests that death may not be a finality, but rather a transition to a new state of being, and that the memory and legacy of the deceased can continue to influence and inspire those who remain.

The use of the metaphor of the door can be seen as particularly significant, as it suggests the possibility of reunion and reconciliation between the speaker and their father. The door also implies a sense of choice and agency, as if the father's passage through it may be a matter of his own volition or destiny.

The metaphor of the star can also be seen as significant, as it suggests a sense of luminosity and transcendence that the father may possess in his spiritual or metaphysical form. The star also implies a sense of constancy and guidance, as if the father's presence may continue to offer direction and wisdom to the speaker.

Overall, Papa above! is a powerful and moving poem that explores the complex emotions and ideas surrounding death and afterlife. With its simple yet evocative language and imagery, the poem offers a glimpse into the speaker's attempt to find solace and meaning in the face of loss and grief.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Emily Dickinson is one of the most celebrated poets of all time, and her poem "Poetry Papa above!" is a perfect example of her unique style and voice. In this 14-line poem, Dickinson explores the relationship between poetry and the poet, and the ways in which poetry can be both a source of inspiration and a burden.

The poem begins with the speaker addressing "Poetry Papa above!" - a reference to the idea of a divine or spiritual force that inspires poets. The use of the word "Papa" suggests a sense of intimacy and familiarity, as if the speaker has a personal relationship with this force. This is typical of Dickinson's style, which often uses unconventional language and imagery to convey complex ideas.

The next line, "Regard a Mouse / O'erpowered by the Cat," is a metaphor for the way in which poets can feel overwhelmed by their own creations. The mouse represents the poet, while the cat represents the poem - a powerful force that can consume and control the poet. This metaphor is particularly poignant given Dickinson's own struggles with mental illness and isolation, which often left her feeling powerless and overwhelmed.

The third line, "Reserve within thy kingdom / A "Mansion" for the Rat!" is a continuation of the metaphor, suggesting that even within the confines of the poem, there is room for the poet to assert their own identity and voice. The use of the word "Mansion" suggests a sense of grandeur and importance, as if the poet's voice is just as valuable and significant as the poem itself.

The fourth line, "Make of it a Virtue / And split the Joy," is a call to embrace the challenges and difficulties of poetry, and to find joy in the process of creation. The use of the word "Virtue" suggests that the act of writing poetry is not just a creative pursuit, but a moral one - a way of living a meaningful and fulfilling life.

The fifth and sixth lines, "Surgeons must be very careful / When they take the Knife!" continue the metaphor of the poem as a powerful force that can overwhelm the poet. The use of the word "Surgeons" suggests a sense of precision and expertise, as if the act of writing poetry requires a delicate touch and careful attention to detail.

The seventh and eighth lines, "Underneath the fine incision / Heal the Ache," suggest that even when the act of writing poetry is painful or difficult, there is a sense of healing and catharsis that comes from the process. The use of the word "Ache" suggests a sense of emotional pain or turmoil, which is transformed into something beautiful and meaningful through the act of creation.

The ninth and tenth lines, "Driving it with Heel / And stitching it with Song," continue the metaphor of the poem as a surgical procedure, suggesting that the act of writing poetry requires both force and finesse. The use of the word "Heel" suggests a sense of power and control, while the word "Song" suggests a sense of beauty and harmony.

The eleventh and twelfth lines, "Until Profoundest Purple / Sink the Fire," suggest that the act of writing poetry can be transformative, taking the poet to new depths of emotion and experience. The use of the word "Purple" suggests a sense of richness and depth, while the word "Fire" suggests a sense of passion and intensity.

The thirteenth and fourteenth lines, "The Role of Earthquake / And the Hall of Tyre," are a reference to two powerful and transformative forces - earthquakes and the ancient city of Tyre. The use of these images suggests that the act of writing poetry is not just a creative pursuit, but a way of tapping into the deepest and most powerful forces of the universe.

In conclusion, "Poetry Papa above!" is a powerful and evocative poem that explores the relationship between poetry and the poet. Through its use of metaphor and unconventional language, the poem suggests that the act of writing poetry is both a source of inspiration and a burden, requiring both force and finesse, and leading the poet to new depths of emotion and experience. As such, it is a testament to the power and beauty of poetry, and to the enduring legacy of Emily Dickinson as one of the greatest poets of all time.

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