ELYSIUM is as far as to
The very nearest room,
If in that room a friend await
Felicity or doom.
What fortitude the soul contains,
That it can so endure
The accent of a coming foot,
The opening of a door!
Pam: Elysium can be really near if there’s a friend in it?
Brenna: This one is small yet fascinating. I don’t know what to make of this, but it’s interesting to me that the speaker poses two possibilities for the friend–“felicity or doom”–but only one for what that means to the speaker herself–“elysium.” What if the friend meets doom? This is the Schrodinger’s cat of Emily Dickinson poems–as long as you don’t know whether the friend is meeting felicity or doom, the room contains heaven. And doom. But heaven!
Pam: The speaker is in heaven because there’s a friend nearby. But there’s little regard for the friend’s situation.
Brenna: And how that affects the speaker. So very Emily. Heaven can be in the next room if the friend’s fate turns out well. But if not….she doesn’t offer the alternative. Perhaps it is too painful to consider.
Pam: And the second stanza seems to switch. Now it’s the friend enduring as they’re waiting for the door to open.
Brenna: Oh, I see how you’re reading it–if a friend is nearby, that’s heaven.
Pam: Yes! How do you read it?
Brenna: I read it as, “My friend is in the next room awaiting their fate. Heaven is possibly in that room–if all turns out well for them.” And I read the fortitude as hers while she waits to find out what will happen to the friend.
Pam: Oh, I see! Elysium is friend A going to comfort friend B, who is awaiting fate! That makes far more sense.
Brenna: I hate to say it, but either way she comes across as a bit of a jerk. It’s all about her.
Pam: She does! She’s fond of these tricky constructions, isn’t she?
Brenna: She does love her some convolution in tiny spaces. It’s very pat-myself-on-the-back. Humblebrag!! Emily mastered it long before social media. Reading an Emily Dickinson poem is like crawling around in a very tiny cave.
Pam: See, I read the fortitude as the friend’s awaiting the speaker.
Brenna: Oh, I read it as her waiting to find out–did the friend meet felicity or doom?
Pam: I love how we have such different readings for this short poem. That’s the magic of poetry. We get out what we put in. It can mean what we need it to mean.
Brenna: Yes! Either way you read it, though, she really doesn’t come across so well, does she? “My friend is in an agony of waiting for their own doom but THIS IS ABOUT ME.”
Pam: It is SO HARD when my friend is worrying.
Brenna: You’re having a bad day and that is so rough on me. But maybe I’m totally misreading. What if the elysium, too, is the friend’s perspective? “There could be heaven or hell in this room for my friend.” And then the second stanza, as you were saying, also makes sense from the friend’s perspective. She really does not exactly specify whose perspective this even is. EMILY. Is this poem about her wait, or her friend’s? Is it confusing on purpose? Does she mean for it to be read both ways?? Is the poem, perhaps, saying that when a friend suffers, we suffer, too, and so she actually confuses us as to perspective to create the illusion of being actually IN that situation?? Is she that meta??
What do you think?