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.


Each that we lose takes part of us;
A crescent still abides,
Which like the moon, some turbid night,
Is summoned by the tides.

~Emily Dickinson

We are carved out, hollowed by our losses. Each one chips away a little more at us, the lost one taking part of us with them to wherever souls go. But there is never nothing left. “A crescent still abides,” a sliver of light, of hope. And maybe, like the moon, it isn’t so much that we’re taken from as we’re obscured, darkened. Maybe everything is still there–just in shadow.

The Moon

THE MOON was but a chin of gold
A night or two ago,
And now she turns her perfect face
Upon the world below.

Her forehead is of amplest blond;
Her cheek like beryl stone;
Her eye unto the summer dew
The likest I have known.

Her lips of amber never part;
But what must be the smile
Upon her friend she could bestow
Were such her silver will!

And what a privilege to be
But the remotest star!
For certainly her way might pass
Beside your twinkling door.

Her bonnet is the firmament,
The universe her shoe,
The stars the trinkets at her belt,
Her dimities of blue.

I wanted to find a moon poem for today, because with the Super Wolf Blood Moon coming tonight, it just felt appropriate. But I also wanted something about friendship, and I think this fits the bill there, too.

This is one of very few Dickinson poems that I feel I can understand on surface level. The narrator is musing on the moon; just a few nights ago, it was a crescent; now it’s full and bright and beautiful. The narrator describes the moon like a friend. She’s beautiful, yes, but the descriptions here don’t really veer into romantic, in my opinion. It’s more like looking at your beautiful friend and feeling lucky to be in her presence.

I’m feeling lucky for a lot of things this year. Lucky that I’m alive during a Super Wolf Blood Moon, which sounds so much like a 1980s cartoon I’m not sure it wasn’t actually one; lucky that I have a warm house to stand in while I peer through the window in my actual in-house library. Lucky to have too many books in my to-read pile. Lucky to have friends in all facets of my life–at church and at work, friends past and friends newer, friends I see around town and friends I know through the internet only.

I have a friend named Brenna. She’s an amazing mother to two smart, hilarious kids. She’s an accomplished baker. She’s a middle school French teacher, which means that she is infinitely patient. She is beautiful. She keeps bees and chickens, thereby making her basically a superhero and witch, and I mean those in the best way. She writes about beauty and pain and strength and makes me believe in all of this and more. She has an encouraging word for every disaster. She has excellent taste in books, jigsaw puzzles, chocolate, and tea. She makes my days better. She is my friend.

I hope that you have a friend like Brenna; I hope that you have somebody you look at the way this poem sees the moon.