Claim the rank

One dignity delays for all,
One mitred afternoon.
None can avoid this purple,
None evade this crown.

Coach it insures, and footmen, 5
Chamber and state and throng;
Bells, also, in the village,
As we ride grand along.

What dignified attendants,
What service when we pause! 10
How loyally at parting
Their hundred hats they raise!

How pomp surpassing ermine,
When simple you and I
Present our meek escutcheon, 15
And claim the rank to die!

~Emily Dickinson

In looking back over my notes, I see I’d planned to pair this one with Robert Burns’s poem “For a’ That.” As I’ve now done that at least once already, though (maybe twice??), I guess I should give Robert Burns a rest. But I still think the comparison is apt. Though Dickinson is talking about death (because when, really, is she not?), death in this poem is the great equalizer. In death we are all on the same footing, regardless of our status in life.

The soul selects her own society

The soul selects her own society,
Then shuts the door;
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more.

Unmoved, she notes the chariot’s pausing At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat.

I’ve known her from an ample nation Choose one;
Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone.

~Emily Dickinson

I love how the abruptly shifting line lengths mirror the speaker’s certainty in her own right to do as she pleases. She does not need to humor anyone–her relationships are her own to forge and tend.

I also love Dickinson’s complete disregard for rank and title, for all the trappings of this world. Her voice in this poem recalls Robert Burns’s in his poem “For a’ that”:

Is there, for honest poverty,
That hings his head, an’ a’ that?
The coward slave, we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Our toils obscure, an’ a’ that;
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp;
The man’s the gowd for a’ that,

What tho’ on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin-gray, an’ a’ that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man’s a man for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their tinsel show an’ a’ that;
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that:
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His riband, star, an’ a’ that,
The man o’ independent mind,
He looks and laughs at a’ that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s aboon his might,
Guid faith he mauna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities, an’ a’ that,
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a’ that,
That sense and worth, o’er a’ the earth,
May bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet, for a’ that,
That man to man, the warld o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

~Robert Burns