Called to my full

I ’m ceded, I ’ve stopped being theirs;
The name they dropped upon my face
With water, in the country church,
Is finished using now,
And they can put it with my dolls,
My childhood, and the string of spools
I ’ve finished threading too.

Baptized before without the choice,
But this time consciously, of grace
Unto supremest name,
Called to my full, the crescent dropped,
Existence’s whole arc filled up
With one small diadem.

My second rank, too small the first,
Crowned, crowing on my father’s breast,
A half unconscious queen;
But this time, adequate, erect,
With will to choose or to reject,
And I choose—just a throne.

~Emily Dickinson
Image by Peter de Vink via Pexels.

I’ve always read this as a love poem–specifically a poem about marriage. I’ve never been a huge fan of most love poems, and Dickinson’s make me uncomfortable sometimes, particularly when they extol the glories of being married, as if marriage is the completion of a woman. But rereading this now, I wonder if it really has to be a love poem. Maybe…the metaphors and language certainly work for marriage. But ultimately, if it is a love poem, it’s a weird one. There’s no mention of the beloved. The only man in the poem, the only other individual other than the speaker, is the father, who perhaps is just a father but maybe stands in here, too, for God himself.

If that’s the case–if the “father” is God–then this becomes a very different poem. The speaker is making a break from the religion and conventions with which she’s been raised. The end of childhood here is no cause for nostalgia, but the embrace of freedom.

In the middle of the poem, I’m intrigued by the reference to the moon–“Called to my full, / The crescent dropped.” She is living into her full potential, her true, unobscured state.

As the poem continues, the speakers uses the language of royalty and power–“rank,” “queen,” “throne”–and we get a sense that this is not so much a poem about love as personal power. Maybe, if it’s a love poem at all, it’s a love poem to herself, to the changes that have empowered her, brought her to where she is.

I think I like it a lot better this way.